Group of cyclists cheering on the shore of Lake Bangles on guided road cycling tour Catalonia and Girona with Marmot Tours

Enjoying a group holiday as a solo traveller

Something we often hear from cyclists who’ve not been on holiday with us before is “I’m coming on holiday on my own and I’m a bit nervous.” This might be followed by a flurry of anxious questions such as;

“Will I be the only solo traveller?”

“Will I be able to make friends easily?”

“What if I don’t have anyone to cycle with?”

“How do the group dynamics work?”

“What’s it like at breakfast and dinner?”

… and so on, and so forth. With this in mind, we asked Marmot veteran cyclist and guide Emma, to talk us through her experience of coming on a group cycling holiday as a solo traveller. Of course, Sabine and Kerstin in our Customer Liaison Team are experts at putting your mind at ease with any queries you might have in advance of your holiday but to sum up her experience, we’ll hand over to Em ….

Group of cyclists posing at the Croix de Fir on marmot Tours guided road cycling tour French Alps
All smiles on the Col de la Croix de Fer in the French Alps

So, what’s it like and how does it feel to come on a Marmot Tours cycling holiday as a solo traveller?  At Marmot HQ they get this question a lot from potential clients saying they’re coming on their own, and they’re a bit nervous about it; what it’s like if other people on the trip know each other already, and how are you made to feel welcome, etc, etc … yep, it can mess with your head a bit! 

I get it, I used to be an Anxious Annie; I wouldn’t go anywhere without my metaphorical bag full of “What ifs” weighing me down like a packhorse – my worry gene going into overdrive. Thankfully, I’m not like that anymore but I can remember vividly how I felt on my very first Marmot Tours trip back in May 2013, riding the fantastic Raid Corsica cycling challenge.  I only knew one person – the mate who had persuaded me to go.  He was there with his other mates, and I was NEW: new to cycling abroad, new to Marmot and quite a shy and unconfident rider.  Yeah, I was nervous alright, about everything: getting to the airport on time, putting my bike together on arrival, riding on my own, potentially being the slowest and getting lost, doing a multiday event, meeting new people … you name it, I worried about it. 

On that first holiday with Marmot Tours, I did ride on my own for most of the week and some days, yes, I was the slowest. I never stopped for lunch (I worried – unnecessarily – that I wouldn’t have time, given it was a Raid timed challenge) and I suffered the most horrendous saddle soreness which literally brought me to tears.  I doubted myself and my ability and at least once a day asked myself, “What the hell am I doing here?!”  The problem was this was all in my head. The Marmot guides couldn’t have been more supportive and were there throughout each day, spurring me on, keeping me fuelled and generally having my back. I know on the face of it my experience doesn’t sound like a good advert for a Marmot Tours trip but hear me out. Despite all this, I had an AMAZING cycling holiday, and the ‘Marmot Magic’ must have rubbed off on me as I’ve returned to cycle with them year after year.

Female cyclist riding with mountain backdrop on Marmot Tours guided road cycling holiday French Pyrenees
Em having fun on two wheels in the French Pyrenees

My point is, it was an adventure, a learning curve, an experience, and a great lesson in social being – a whole myriad of things coming together which only left me wanting more.  I made friends on that trip who are still my friends today, and I proved to myself that I could cycle for six days, in an environment and in conditions I had never experienced before. And just as important, I discovered I needed a new saddle! 

Since 2013, I’ve enjoyed 11 Marmot Tours group cycling holidays as a client, sometimes with mates and other times as a solo traveller. I’m now also in my 5th season as a guide so I meet many cyclists coming on our group holidays on their own. From this perspective, as well as being a seasoned solo traveller myself, I know exactly why you might question if a group cycling tour is the right holiday for you.  

So, let’s bust some of those myths and answer your queries about travelling as a singleton on a group holiday….

I’m nervous about going on a group holiday as a solo traveller

Yep, you’re going to be nervous.  Of course you are, you’re human, right? If you asked any of the Marmot guides, they would all tell you that even they get a little bit nervous at the start of every trip, so you’re not alone in feeling like this. Having a dose of the jitters is actually a healthy reaction in this situation – it’s good for you because it means you’re out of your comfort zone, you’re being challenged and you’re putting yourself on the path to new experiences, and as you’ve read, I speak from firsthand experience!  As a guide, I can recognise this anxiety in most of the cyclists at the start of a Marmot trip – it often manifests itself in extra faffing with kit on the morning of day one! But without fail, by lunchtime or the first cafe stop, everyone is chucking each other the high fives and by day two, you can hardly tell who came on the tour already knowing someone. 

Every time (and I mean every single time) I start a new trip as a cyclist, no matter how many tours I’ve done before, without fail, the worry, concern and apprehension bubble up like an erupting volcano, but that’s just me! However, I now know that without these feelings I wouldn’t have had, nor would I continue to have all the wonderful experiences I’ve enjoyed.  Neither would I have overcome many of the anxieties and fears that I used to carry around with me like baggage. So, embrace the nerves and use that energy to propel you into new directions and experience the ‘Marmot Magic’!

Marmot Tours guide giving cyclists welcome briefing on sunny hotel terrace on Cevennes and Ardeche cycling holiday
A typical briefing given by one of our guides

How do group holidays work?

On every Marmot holiday, the guides will give a welcome briefing on the first evening at the start of the week. This gives everyone a chance to meet each other properly with a few drinks and to run through how the holiday will work. It also helps everyone relax and allows asking any questions at the outset. The time set aside to assemble your bike on the first day or evening is another great time to start chatting with your fellow cyclists. Conversations often spark up naturally, with riders asking to borrow the odd tool from each other, or admiring another rider’s pair of wheels.

Marmot Tours cycling holidays generally have around 20 riders on each tour. Over the years, they’ve found that this is the optimum number to enable smaller groups to develop – there’s a bigger pool of riders so you’re more likely to find someone else or others who ride at a similar pace and have shared goals for the week. This is actually harder to achieve in a smaller group of, say eight cyclists.

As a cycling tour guide, I always find it fascinating to see how the group dynamics play out.   I notice that often the group composition at the start of the week is very different to that on the final night of the holiday. I love watching how the group configuration changes over the days and it’s genuinely a joy to see friendships form and develop and sometimes unlikely characters bond.

Trio of cyclists enjoy snacks from Marmot Tours support vehicle on guided European road cycling tour
There’s always fun to be had when stopping for snacks at the van!

Let’s be honest, though: in a group of 20 people you may not get on with everyone – that’s just life! With different personalities, ages, opinions and objectives you probably won’t gel with everyone, but you will definitely bond with some – you’re all there because you love cycling and you’ve been drawn to the mountains, right?  In fact, it’s been proven that spending time outdoors makes you more relaxed, happy and open to trying new experiences – the perfect time to make new buddies. It’s been said that actually being outdoors helps break down barriers and makes folk more likely to strike up conversations. When we’re away from the daily reality of work and the usual social restrictions that society imposes on us, we relax and are more likely to drop our guard. You might even make ‘forever friends’ or meet a potential new partner!  I’ve seen many delightful friendships form between personalities that you would never have expected to ‘click’, but it’s amazing what the love of cycling can do to bring people together! Add to this the camaraderie that develops as everyone is pushing themselves to their limits, and it’s fertile ground for great relationships to bloom. I often hear stories from cyclists about how lasting friendships were formed on a Marmot Tours holiday. Some clients even discover that they’re practically neighbours, so continue to cycle together once back home. For those living further apart, an annual Marmot Tours cycling holiday reunion becomes a regular event.

As a solo traveller, a group cycling tour is a fantastic opportunity to meet like-minded souls with a shared passion; to bond over the love of riding bikes, the magnificent mountains of Europe, the great outdoors, and if you make new friends, it’s the cherry on top of the icing.

Trio of cyclists with limestone mountainous backdrop on guided road cycling holiday Italian Dolomites with Marmot Tours
You’ll soon find riders who want to ride at a similar pace to yourself

Will I cycle on my own or with others on a group cycling holiday?

Ah, well on a Marmot Tours cycling trip, that’s completely up to you! Firstly, it’s YOUR holiday and so ‘you do you’ – it’s entirely up to you what you get out of your holiday. The beauty of Marmot Tours trips lies in the unique two-guide-two-van support team. On their flexi pace-flexi route tours, you have the choice of which route to ride daily, and at what pace you want to ride it. There’s no pressure to keep up with the peloton if that’s causing you anxiety. Neither will you need to wait for slower riders at the top of a col, while a cycling guide gathers the whole group together before setting off again.

Group of cyclists welcome a rider at the Col de Bavella on guided road cycling tour of Corsica with Marmot Tours
Camaraderie on the Col de Bavella in Corsica

Since 2004, Team Marmot have become super experienced in knowing how cyclists like to ride on a group cycling tour. With a group comprising around 20 riders, we find that mini-groups tend to form, made up of cyclists with similar aspirations and fitness levels.  These riders tend to wait for each other on the top of cols or at cafes etc, so you’re not alone if you don’t want to be.  However, if like me you sometimes want to be solitary with just your thoughts and only the beautiful surroundings as company, then there are plenty of opportunities for you to go it alone, if that’s what you’d prefer. Either way, you’ll be supported in just the same exceptional way by the Marmot guides, who have the uncanny knack of knowing where every single rider is at any one time (even if I do say so myself!).  

Female cyclist looking at lakes and mountains in the Picos Northern Spain on Marmot Tours guided road cycling holiday
Choose to ride solo or in a small group – it’s entirely up to you

What’s it like at mealtimes as a solo traveller on a group holiday? 

What’s it like at breakfast and dinner when you don’t know anyone? Well, you soon will!  Dinner is at a set time every evening and the whole group (including the guides) eats together. I can assure you, there is never a lack of conversation!  Remember, you’re all on a cycling holiday so even though at first you won’t know the person you’re sitting next to, you most certainly have cycling in common, so it won’t be long before you know the intricacies of each other’s bikes and you’re swapping tales of past cycling adventures, mishaps and achievements.  The Marmot guides are also really sociable and great fun, and we love getting to know our clients, so you’ll never be on your own at mealtimes.

Breakfast is somewhat more flexible with people generally attending within an hour’s window, coming and going to suit themselves so you might not see everyone each morning.  It’s normally a quieter affair, with riders discussing what to wear, checking and rechecking the weather forecast and depending on the trip, still trying to decide on which route to ride.  

What it’s like as a solo traveller when other travellers know each other?

There will usually be small groups of friends, pairs, or couples who have come on the cycling holiday together, but you won’t necessarily be the only singleton.  Mealtimes, cafe and lunch stops are a great time to get to know your fellow cyclists, as well as bond with other riders on the road who are riding at a similar pace to yourself, so there’s plenty of opportunity to mingle if you choose to. The Marmot Tours customer liaison team can always tell you how many other solo travellers are on the trip before you depart if that would help manage your expectations. 

Group of cyclists enjoying rest stop at colourful cafe adorned with flags on guided road cycling tour Slovenia with Marmot Tours
Cafe stops are a great time to get to know your fellow riders

How are you made to feel welcome as a solo traveller on a group holiday?

Well firstly, the two magnificent Marmot guides will always make you feel welcome. I’m told (!) we were all recruited because amongst other things, we have natural people skills and we generate the warmth and comfort of a Sherpa fleece blanket (ok, that last phrase is my own!). What’s for certain is that everyone on the tour has a common love of cycling, so conversations soon flourish. I also find that more often than not, there’s fantastic camaraderie, and in my experience, this is especially true on our Raid cycling challenge holidays as riders are going through exactly the same experience each day, riding the same route at pace.  These can be long days in the saddle with some riders arriving late into the evening. On these occasions they’re greeted at the hotel by rapturous cheers, clapping and back-slapping, followed by a cold beer thrust into their hand.  Chapeau!

Group of cyclists cheering rider as they approach Col du Galibier cycling climb on Marmot Tours guided road cycling tour French Alps
Whoops and cheers from fellow riders on the Col du Galibier

So, one final myth to finish on:

Are group cycling holidays male-dominated?

Well yes, sometimes they are.  Cycling is a sport dominated by MAMILS, after all! As a guide I’ve been on many trips where the whole group are fellas, so this isn’t uncommon, but they tend to be our Raid cycling challenge tours. I’ve been a client on Marmot trips where I’ve been the only woman, and the guys were always super welcoming and respectful. I’ve also been on tours where there are only a few females. In fact, having a mix of men and women on the tour improves the group dynamics 100% – it tends to calm the testosterone levels and steers the conversations away from bike facts, data stats and Strava bravado! Everyone appears to have a better experience at the end of the day, which also comes across in the feedback forms we get at the end of each tour.

Marmot Tours: the BEST group cycling holidays for solo travellers or groups of friends!

So, to wrap this up, whether you’re a solo traveller, female cyclist, new to cycling holidays or all of the above, don’t overthink it, just book it! As I said, I loved cycling with Marmot Tours so much that I pestered them to let me work with them, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’ve experienced the ‘Marmot Magic’ both as a cyclist and as a guide, and for me, they win hands down as the BEST group cycling holiday company for cycling in the mountains of Europe. Check out their tours and get in touch – you won’t regret it! I might even see you on tour …

Emma Tiptaft.