Group travel and strangers as roommates: What's it really like?

  The crew from Run Morocco: Gorges & Sahara 2014

The crew from Run Morocco: Gorges & Sahara 2014

"Group travel" is sometimes used as a dirty word, conjuring visions of crowded tour buses, faceless tour guides and rigidly scheduled itineraries. The idea can also sound intimidating to a solo traveler who assumes that everyone else will show up with a partner. Plus, what are the chances that you'll even like any of those people? 

In our experience, it turns out that chances are pretty darn high. When you find the right niche (like, you know, running), group travel is an amazing way to connect and quickly bond with like-minded people. It also allows you to access incredible places and experiences without having to waste time and energy on the logistics which, for those with a job and perhaps a family too, is a big deal. And as far as those solo traveler fears go, forget them: the vast majority of our runners show up knowing absolutely no one (though within the first few hours that all changes!).

But, we know you'd rather hear from the people who go on the trips, not the people who create the trips. So we've interviewed two RE alum who joined us - solo! - in Morocco a few years ago. Cepee and Annette each brought along varying levels of travel experience and running ability, and both had reservations about traveling with a group. Read to find out about their pre-trip worries, on-trip experiences and their enduring post-trip friendship (and business!).

 

Describe your general travel experience prior to your RE trip. Had you done any group travel before?

CEPEE: In 2014 I joined Rogue Expeditions on their trip to Morocco; I was 34 years old and had been to Morocco twice already. I started traveling abroad when I was 17 and had mostly traveled on my own before joining their trip. I have always enjoyed the freedom and benefits that solo travel provide. It’s perfect for slow travel, you can create your own itineraries and immerse yourself into local culture very quickly. For me, group travel always appeared to cover too much ground too quickly, was overpriced, and focused more on sightseeing than cultural immersion.

Some of the places I had visited were the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, England, Italy, Mexico, Argentina, Czech Republic, Iran, U.A.E, Turkey, Portugal, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Canada, Colombia, Austria, Belgium, and Iceland.

ANNETTE: My travel resume at that time was filled with vacations through North America, Europe and Caribbean. Not too shabby…  I mainly traveled by myself  or with 1-2 others, meeting up in different locations. On occasion, I experienced traveling with small groups of 5 for those birthday/wedding trips. 

 

When you registered for Run Morocco, did you know anyone else in the group?

ANNETTE: When I signed up, I thought surely I'll know someone in the group since I had been running with the Rogue community for a couple of years. At the first meeting, I quickly recognized no one! I knew Allison as a running coach for Rogue yet I had little interaction with her. But I felt confident having her there, a familiar face.

CEPEE: I didn’t know a single soul before signing up!

 

Did you have any hesitations about a group tour?

CEPEE: Not really. Although I had never been on a group tour and was very anti-group, I was still drawn to the opportunity because it seemed different from the standard group tour experience. I had never heard of the combination of running + travel and figured the type of people this trip would attract would be unique, not the standard motorcoach group tour crowd.  

ANNETTE: I did have some reservations about traveling with a big group: would we be a target? Would we get along? Can I stand to be in a group for 10 days straight and not go off on my own? Should I be at anyone's running pace? Once I met everyone, I felt an ease knowing that we all had the same worries.

 

What ultimately convinced you to take the plunge?

CEPEE: It was a combination of recently falling in love with running and the opportunity to combine that with travel, the trip falling on my birthday, the affordable price, and some personal reasons that pushed me to Morocco.

ANNETTE: At that point in my life, I was looking to flip it upside down and get out of my comfort zone. I was looking for a different type of adventure and country than just visiting the typical cities or beaches. I wanted to be active through my travels and experience a new culture at the same time. I had never been that far from home or run so many miles in a week.

 

Were there any surprises (good or bad) about traveling and running with a group of different backgrounds and ability levels?

ANNETTE: I was elated to find out that we were not expected to run at the athlete/co-founders level! We had all abilities ranging from walking, trekking to speedy athletes.  Everyone was so encouraging with each other; I ran or walked at least once with everyone in the group. I do recall thinking at the end of the trip that I didn't once worry or think about our security or safety. When you travel, that is clearly something constantly on your mind!

Ahhh! One bad surprise was when majority of the group got sick with a 12 hr stomach bug; thankfully I did not nor did my roommates! One of the most special moments was bringing the school kids clothing and supplies; seeing their faces light up with glee made me happier than them! I did meet 3 women on the trip who happened to work for the same company I did. We had a special and unique group that made for the most fun adventure! 

CEPEE: When you put a bunch of strangers together and place them outside their comfort zone you never quite know how the group dynamics will work. I was surprised by how well everyone got along, by the different ages, varied backgrounds, and running abilities. Given that each run is supported, all runners can enjoy each day, you can do a few miles, a full marathon, or take the day off if you need to. However, the excitement of running through Morocco pushed us all to run more than we expected; I think we really surprised ourselves!

I was also surprised by the amount of fun we had. There were so many inside jokes made on that trip that still crack me up to this day when I think about them. I imagined that I would be exhausted by the daily mileage and that there wouldn’t be much energy left for socializing, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I enjoyed the random opportunities to connect with everyone, especially the long group dinners.

 

You two were placed as roommates, but were strangers going into it. How was that?

ANNETTE: I was asked by the RE crew if I would be okay rooming with two other ladies around my age throughout the trip. I thought sure, why not, what could possibly go wrong? I briefly spoke to both ladies at the meet ups but barely remembered their names. Fast forward to the trip… Literally on the first night, Emily, Cepee and I created an incredible bond; we shared our personal stories, found how similar we were and why we were on this trip. Any pre-trip nerves or notions were eased; I met new, long-life friends and we are now known as the "3 Marias." Placing three people in a room may sound like a nightmare, but for us it was an adventure. Hats off to the camp counselor for taking the risk! 

CEPEE: I was placed with two other solo female travelers in a triple room. We bonded quickly on the first night of the trip. One of my roommates was Annette and has become one of my closest friends, travel buddy (we’ve traveled abroad together every years since Morocco), and now co-founder of our online community She Hit Refresh (see below)!

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Since meeting in Morocco, Cepee and Annette have become the co-founders of an online community that was born out of their combined life and travel experience. She Hit Refresh is a community for women 30 years and older who want to break free from a life of routine and start a life of travel. If you've got even the slightest case of wanderlust, check it out for a serious dose of practical, real-world tips and inspiration.

Then, once inspired, take a look at Run Morocco, our longest-running and most popular running adventure.

 

 

 

Wonderland FKT

What do we do between running adventures? More running adventures!

On August 14, 2017, Allison Macsas (our co-founder) and Mallory Brooks set out running on the 93 mile Wonderland Trail that circumnavigates Mt. Rainier. 29 hours, 12 minutes, 25 seconds, 22,000 ft. of climbing and 22,000 ft. of descending later they finished exactly where they'd started, setting a new women's unsupported FKT.

Check out the video that we put together for an inside look!

Meet a Rogue Expeditions Runner: Claire Weustenraed

What type of people go on Rogue Expeditions running trips? It seems that everyone worries that they'll either be too slow, or too fast. That the mileage will be too difficult, or not challenging enough. That they'll be too old, or too young. That the other people will be super serious running geeks who talk about nothing but training, or that the other people will all be there to take it reeeeeeally easy. That they'll be the only person who doesn't know anyone else.

In truth, there is no "type." The trips attract all sorts of backgrounds, all sorts of ability levels and all sorts of motivations for being there, and the beautiful thing is that it works for just about everyone! To prove it, we are highlighting a number of our runners using their own words. Read on to find out about the running background, pre-trip hesitations, favorite trip memories and most surprising realization of a Rogue Expeditions runner.

Next is Claire Weustenraed who currently lives in London and joined us in Morocco last fall. Claire is one of those people who bursts with enthusiasm for just about everything, and her energy is infectious! Though relatively new to running when we met her, she dove in headfirst and set a personal weekly distance record on our trip (no matter that it was the most challenging terrain she'd ever attempted), and she has continued to push her limits with a newfound love of mountain running.

 

Which trip did you do and when?
Morocco: Mountains & Coast (October/November 2016)

Describe your running background:
I started running around the end of November 2015 after moving back to Europe from Asia. Friends convinced me to join a social trail run with North Face (10km) and from there on I was hooked! I then joined the AdventRunning December run streak where I met great people who inspired me even more. Seems like since then I never looked back, and running is now a part of my life. 

How did you end up on that trip? What led you to the decision?
I was looking for a run-holiday and Rogue Expeditions popped up on Google. With Frostie [Anna Frost] being a run leader on the trip I was sold!

Any hesitations or uncertainties going into it?
I didn’t know what to expect so … I just jumped into an adventure .. and OMG .. what a super duber great adventure …

Did you know anyone else in the group beforehand? How was it traveling with a group of strangers?
I didn’t know anyone on the trip, but Rogue Expenditions made me feel welcome from the first minute I stepped foot in Morocco ..  super friendly bunch of crazy badasses!

What was your favorite run and why?
My favourite run - that’s a really difficult question. Every run was great and different .. run in the rain / sun / more flattish … crossing rivers … running up and down .. and always supported by the team of running friends and the lovely drivers who carried water and super food snacks!

Food is a huge part of any travel experience. What was your favourite thing that you ate?
Really, I don’t know where to start .. the Rogue Expeditions cooks are AMAZING !!! Every single meal, every single dish is just like heaven on earth … I loved it ALL !!!

Both travel and running have their ups and downs. What was your most challenging moment or issue during the trip? How did you overcome it?
No issues at all as it all is soo well organized by Rogue The heat sometimes wasn’t easy, but then again our lovely drivers were there with water whenever you needed it and there is always someone who waits for you to help you to finish together.

What surprised you the most about the experience?
This was the first time that I ran a week of 100km. I was soo overwhelmed and happy to have done this with such a great bunch of friends, and while running in such an amazing country! Please take me back …

 Claire and Joel finish sunset bonus miles on the last night in Morocco, wrapping up a personal weekly distance record (100km!) for Claire!

Claire and Joel finish sunset bonus miles on the last night in Morocco, wrapping up a personal weekly distance record (100km!) for Claire!

Runcation vs a race: what do you think are some of the key similarities and differences? Or are they even comparable?
I don’t think its comparable. It's a different mind set .. different vibes … I learned soo much on this trip about mind-over-body, food and rest. I’m seriously thinking on taking another trip … Allison and Gabe are just … AWESOME !!! They made me feel welcome and they are such great runners. They take the time to talk to you, listen to your experiences and always help you to push your limits. Since my Morocco trip I’ve run 2 mountain races (Spain and Italy) and I couldn’t have done it without them as the runaction gave me so much confidence. Oh and I met some great friends on this trip!

Sum up your Rogue Expeditions experience in one sentence:
ABSOLUTELY SMASHINGLY AWESOME !!!

Take Better Photos: Smartphone Photography Tips

On our trips we always encourage runners to carry a camera with them, as the photo opportunities are endless and so unique - we encounter so much when exploring on foot! Of course, everyone wants great #travelpics, but no one is running with a big DSLR and a bag of lenses on their back - everyone is running with a smartphone. We reached out to Jeff Genova, a pro photographer who shot our spring Morocco trips last year (yes, he really did go running with a DSLR and a bag of lenses on his back) and asked him for tips on taking great photos using only the devices that we carry in our pockets.

So you want to take better pictures with your smartphone? Easy. There are a few things I tell my students when they ask how I get such good photos with my phone, starting with these rules:

1. The best camera in the world is the one you have with you, so make the best of it.

2. Never pass up a shot. Don't say that you'll come back and take it later; the lighting,
people, timing and mood will never be the same. It only takes a couple of seconds,
minutes at the most, to snap that shot. Even if you do come back, things will have changed. Take it now.

3. Make your picture tell a story. We read a photo just like a book - top left to bottom right. So, keep that in mind when you set up your shot.

4. Give your picture a subject, something for the viewer to focus on.

5. Use the rule of thirds. Don't center your subject, offset it.

6. Take a picture that evokes emotion, tells a story without words and that makes people stop when they see it.

With all of that being said, rules are meant to be broken. The most important thing is to take the picture. If you have time and the perfect setup, great! But remember - you'll have nothing if you never take the shot. Learn to look at the world differently, through the lens of your camera - and yes, this includes your smartphone.

Now that you have some guidelines on what to look for and how to compose your shot, here are some tips to help you take sharper pictures:

1. Brace your camera or phone against something like a bench or tree for stabilization.

2. Use your volume buttons as a shutter release so that you don't jar it so much by tapping on the screen. With an iPhone you can also use the volume buttons on your headphones as a shutter release.

3. Shoot a quick burst of three or four photos. The first will be blurry because the pressure of pushing the buttons moves the camera ever so slightly, but the second or third will be sharper.

Got it? Now that you have a sharp, well-composed image, let's talk about how to make it even better with post processing. I use two apps to enhance the images I take: Snapseed, and Photoshop Express. Both are free and available through the App Store and Google play, and both have lots of tools and filters to help enhance and personalize your images. You can pull shadows out, darken highlights, remove elements, soften skin and more! I primarily use these apps to bring out the natural colors that tend to be muted when you take a photograph.

Here is an example of a "before" shot:

And here is the "after":

For this image I used Snapseed and started with the Drama tool - a little goes a long way with this one! Next, I used the Details tool to add structure and sharpen, then I used Image Tune, which allows you to adjust contrast, highlights, shadows, warmth, exposure and more. Finally, I used the Glamor Glow tool to warm and soften the image:

Once you've perfected your photo, save a copy and then you are done. Remember that this image is yours: You took it. You kept it. You edited it. You love it!

Now, go out and take some pictures. Try both apps. Use all the different tools. Figure out which ones work best for you. The more you play, the better you will get and the better your photos will become.

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Check out Jeff's photography website here, and make sure to check out the photos that he took for our Gorges & Sahara trip and Endurance Adventure Morocco!