Tips for planning group travel

Salo Aburto was delighted with his first trip to Europe last month. The plan was a two-week jaunt with his best friend from college to Brussels, Amsterdam, Paris and Berlin. His friend was married and living in Brussels and seemed keen to play tour guide. (Their husband came to them for a few days.) Aburto, 27, a digital content specialist at a nonprofit environmental group in Washington, took two weeks off for the adventure. The couple would be traveling together for the first time.

Within days, the trip turned into his “worst nightmare.”

Cracks quickly became apparent: He’s organized and likes to have “an itinerary, plus plan A and plan B,” while being more spontaneous. He was frustrated at not having time to explore on his own and felt his priorities were being ignored. They even argued about his snoring. Minor disagreements and sniping culminated in an explosive battle in Berlin. He next saw her at the airport, where she was changing seats on the jointly booked plane back to Brussels. Aburto spent the last three days there trying to save the trip alone.

They haven’t spoken to each other since he left Europe a month ago, although they met for coffee just before he flew home and he hopes that over time they will mend their relationship. But he will think twice before traveling with friends again. “It saddens me because I feel like this journey has completely destroyed an amazing relationship,” he said.

The chance to see new places and make memories with friends is enticing, but a lot can go wrong. Personalities can clash, goals can differ, well-meaning planners can make stupid mistakes. Whether it’s a weekend getaway or an international trip lasting several weeks, here’s how to take a trip from idea to reality – and how to get through it with friendships intact.

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Set (and agree) expectations. Clarifying the destination of the trip can make the planning process easier. A trip to Paris with the goal of seeing as many museums as possible has a faster pace and more planned excursions than a relaxing weekend at a lake house. Discuss what the majority of the group wants to do, and participants can decide if they want to participate. For example, on a recent New York birthday weekend with friends, I made it clear that I wouldn’t be staying in clubs as long as the rest of the group.

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Make appointments early. One of the most difficult aspects of group travel is getting everyone to commit. People have busy schedules and varying amounts of free time; Create a Google or Doodle form and ask everyone to look at their calendars and provide date ranges when they’re free. Select the data with the greatest overlap.

“If you’re the person organizing these trips, you have to be prepared that not everyone goes,” said David Bell, 27, a physics graduate student at the University of Washington in Seattle, who has been traveling with his group of high school friends every few years since 2013. “There will never be a perfect date.”

Select a group organizer. The trip will not take place if no one takes responsibility. Vanessa Bowling Ajavon, founder of Girls Vacation Club, a DC-based travel company that organizes group trips for women, recommends appointing one person as the lead planner. This person makes decisions and keeps the group on course. Ajavon has seen many would-be trips disintegrate because nobody wanted to take the lead. “When too many people do research, it gets really sloppy,” she said.

Others can be assigned to book specific aspects like hotels, restaurants and activities, while the designated planner keeps everyone on track.

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Solve money problems immediately. Don’t go on a trip without having clear expectations about how much it will cost, what everyone can pay, and how people will be reimbursed. Nobody wants to be surprised with a hefty bill, and nobody wants to chase down payments.

Travelers with different budgets can still vacation together. Olivia Rempel, 29, a video expert for an environmental communication center in Norway, regularly travels with friends of different income brackets. In May, she and her husband, along with six others, went on a diving trip in Jordan and later visited the desert reserve of Wadi Rum; The rest of the group stayed at a luxury campsite with see-through tents to see the stars, while Rempel and her husband chose a less expensive Bedouin camp nearby.

“If they spend money, we totally respect that, but we know our budget and stick to it,” she said.

If someone gives money away, consider how and when everyone will pay their share. Financial Diet creative director Holly Trantham used a credit card to purchase plane tickets to see Lady Gaga in Las Vegas; She told her friends when payments were due to give people time to save. “I was traveling with really good friends who I knew would repay me,” she said.

Keep track of each person’s expenses and settle bills promptly after the trip. Trantham and Rempel recommend using Splitwise, an app that tracks individual expenses. If someone needs more time to pay, set a schedule and stick to it.

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Be willing to compromise. People with different habits can travel well together as long as expectations are set well in advance. In a large group, make sure each person can do at least one thing they appreciate.

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It’s okay to decide against traveling with a friend if their travel style or expectations are too different from yours. “You can be a really good friend of someone and decide you don’t want to travel with them,” Trantham said.

Keep the itinerary flexible. Most travelers want a mix of planned activities and downtime. Secure tickets or reservations for all group activities in advance so they don’t sell out. Plan some group meals but leave others unplanned so people can try different places. Rempel saves restaurants on Google Maps so she has pre-vetted recommendations even as she walks around.

Ajavon creates their itineraries with flexibility in mind. “You can stay in the group as long as you like, but you can also go out and do your own thing,” she said. For example, on a trip to Paris, she stayed and met her friends for lunch after they had visited the Louvre, where she had already been.

Build in alone time. Even the best of friends need space from each other. Make allowances for alone time, whether staying in separate rooms or setting aside time for solo excursions. Aburto said he will always reserve his own room going forward. “Even if I have to pay more money, I’d rather come back to my own room,” he said. For an upcoming trip to New York, he booked a hotel room instead of staying with local friends.

Let each other loose. Even the best plans can go awry. Bell, the physics student, was responsible for booking some Airbnbs on a trip to Europe in 2019 and “received a bit of a fuss” for “booking some real disappointments.” But his friends forgave him. Remember why you are traveling together and try to focus on having fun.

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