The energy in the room is frenetic and everyone is talking at once, excited by the possibilities of an exciting adventure with good friends. Exploring the world with a group of adult friends enhances your travel experiences while solidifying the friendship bonding journey.
From planning tools to hiring tour guides, group travel has become easy to coordinate and enjoy. When you set expectations from the outset, everyone can have fun and enjoy the friendly bonding time. Reminiscing over the years about how much fun it was will have you eager to plan the next one.
I have been planning group trips for more than 20 years, everything from 50-person outdoor adventures to intimate European vacations with besties. I’ve collected a few tips that can guide you to organize a fun and successful group trip.
1. Decision By Committee (With One Coordinator)
Once the group has decided on a trip, get everyone on board with the itinerary. Have a planning dinner to decide on your destination, travel dates, and activities. Decide who will plan what part of the trip and be very clear on budget expectations and comfort levels.
One or two people should be the lead for the group’s itinerary framework, investigating what is available and disseminating information to everyone.
Break up some of the smaller tasks like where to eat or what activities to plan. That gives everyone who wants to participate in the planning process a voice.
Questions to discuss/decisions to make:
- Hotel versus homestay
- Information sharing
2. Reservations And Money
Agree on a budget or at least a budget range. You don’t want to get to the end of the booking time and find out you only have nine because it was too expensive for someone and you need 10 to get the group rate.
Group rates can save you up to 10 percent or more. If you are a group of eight or more, ask the hotel or activity if they offer a discount or private tour rate.
The decision of hotel versus homestay rests on how much togetherness do you really want? If cooking group meals, living with night owls and early risers, or bathroom sharing is out of the question, select your accommodations carefully.
Many hotels welcome you to reserve a block of rooms for guests to book individually. They will hold the rooms for a short period of time, allowing each guest to pay for their own reservation. When you need to book something as a group, say, an Airbnb, have the attendees send money upfront if possible. It is super simple to transfer funds with Zelle, PayPal, and other financial transfer apps to repay quickly and securely.
Pre-booking dinner tours is a good way to avoid having to work at splitting the bill. This is a particularly good idea if you have a member who is all, “I’ll have appetizers, three wines, the filet, and a dessert,” and you order a prosecco and a salad. That may be fine for one night but not every night. With group dinner tours, everyone prepays, the financial balance is maintained, and there are no separate checks to drive the waitstaff crazy.
Each guest should book their own flights. Set a date for arrivals and departures, then each individual can decide when they want/need to get to the destination. Unless, of course, you want to scoop all the credit card points and don’t mind chasing everyone for payment.
3. Plan In Advance
Every year I plan a girls’ weekend getaway. We have rented houses on the beach, hiked the hills of Vermont, and relaxed at an all-inclusive spa. Different ladies join us for different types of trips — let’s face it, not everyone wants to hike in the woods, nor can everyone afford 3 days at a swanky spa, but almost everyone loves a toes-in-the-sand weekend retreat.
Four to 12 months is a good planning window. Four months for a road-tripping, weekend getaway, and 12 months may be needed for an extended week-long journey. Finances can be a deciding factor in joining a group getaway. Giving everyone a chance to plan vacation time and organize their vacation dollars may sway them in the direction of joining your group adventure.
4. You Are Not The Cruise Director
If you are the person organizing the trip, and I expect if you are reading this, you are that person; remember you are just organizing the trip, you are not Julie the Cruise Director from the Love Boat. In other words, you are not responsible for everyone’s happiness and good time.
Do not feel you need to be in charge of everyone. Since they all should have access to the itinerary, you are not responsible for getting them to the bus on time. This is also your vacation too.
5. Plan Alone Time
We all envision our vacation differently. We love our friends, but a little separation time will relieve the togetherness tensions. Just because you are on a group vacation does not mean you’re attached to each other 24/7.
Daily alone time allows individuals or smaller groups to get out and explore what is important to them. Sitting by the pool, hiking a state park, biking through the city, or touring a museum are all wonderful adventures and are individual-specific. Going off on your own adventure brings interesting conversations and stories when everyone gets back together.
6. Disseminating Information
Keeping attendees on the same page is easier than it has ever been. There are so many great tools for planning, organizing, and communicating for a group trip.
A Google Doc is a free and easy way to keep track of all the important information. Each attendee can have access to view and edit. It is a good place to keep a group itinerary that includes flights, hotels, and activities planned. Adding locations and website links to hotels and activities gives everyone the power to take control of their part of the trip and also keep the group informed.
Group text messages help everyone stay in the loop and is perfect for when you split apart and need to come back together. “I’m standing under the awning that says Luigi’s” is so much better than standing on a street corner barking someone’s name. Whatsapp is a free alternative for international travel where everyone may not have access to a reliable data plan.
A private Facebook group is another fun tool. It will allow you to share photos and updates with your travel group in real-time. It functions as a group journal for all your vacation adventures.
7. Hiring A Travel Agent
Sometimes, hiring a travel agent is the best way to plan a group trip. They have all the insight on tourist destinations, and often, they can access extra, agent-only benefits and comps. Some agents specialize in group trips and are adept at handling multiple guests’ needs and requirements.
Working with a travel agent is key when planning a cruise or pre-packaged tour. Many times they have invaluable personal experience with a vendor and destination. Their guidance will take the pressure off the group coordinator.
Bookending a travel agent planned group vacation with smaller, individually planned tours is a good way to satisfy different budgets and travel availability. For instance, if you are a group of 10 joining together for a European river cruise, that may be all the financial or vacation obligation some of the group can realistically swing. However, others may want 2 or 3 days at either end of the trip as an add-on adventure. Having a travel agent to deal with the larger group frees you up to plan smaller pre- and post-group trips as a smaller group.
8. Type Of Group Trips
A good place to start planning group trips is with a pre-packaged adventure. Many destinations are set up perfectly for group getaways. Guided adventure outfits like Backroads make it simple to book a curated group trip. Viator is a global tour booking resource that offers everything from food tours to week-long explorations.
Group trip ideas run the gamut of locations and bucket list options. Start small with a girls or guys’ getaway weekend. To try your hand at a group venture, book a spa, golf resort, camping trip, wine trail, etc., the options are endless. Once you are confident in your organizational skills, go for a week-long excursion with your besties. Explore a new country, jump on a river cruise, road trip down the coast, or just hang at an all-inclusive resort; sharing your vacation with friends is a heartwarming experience.
9. The Key To Success
The key to the success of planning a group vacation is about what all the travelers have in common, that you all share a common theme and goal. You may not be best buds with everyone when you start, but bringing a group together who share a desire for a particular experience is a wonderful way to become closer friends.
We love vacationing as a couple, but sometimes it’s fun to explore places with a group of like-minded traveling friends.