I’m a solo traveler at heart. It is my lifestyle and the way I travel most of the time. But, once a year or so, I have the "social responsibility" of traveling with my family on their yearly vacations. Of course, since I’m the travel expert in the family, I’m the one responsible for planning it. Oh, and when I say family, I’m not talking about five or six members. This year, on our trip to Japan and Thailand, we were a total of 17 travelers! Yes, that’s a big family!
Here I’ll share with you everything I’ve learned, so your big family vacations go as smoothly as possible.
Big numbers and high season are not the best match. Several destinations tend to inflate prices during their high season, so if you’re paying for several members of your family, this means your trip will be substantially more expensive. Additionally, high season sees a large number of travelers, which makes it harder for you to book together every member of your family in a single hotel, tour, transport and more.
But, there’s a way to mitigate this…
The bigger your group, the further in advance activities, hotels and transportation should be booked. You want to make sure there’s space for everyone in your hotel and that you can book the required rooms for each member (for example, double rooms for couples, quadruples for families with kids, first-floor rooms for the grandparents or people with less mobility, etc.). Make sure you put any requirements in the "comments and requirements" section of the booking, so the hotel is aware of your needs.
I’d recommend booking things at least six months in advance if traveling during high season and three months in advance if traveling during low season. This is my rule of thumb for my family (15+ travelers). If your family is smaller, you could adjust the timing accordingly, but at least, start browsing and keeping an eye on your places of interest with enough time to follow their availability.
Does Google Maps say it takes 15 minutes to walk to your hostel? It will probably take you 20 to 25 minutes. You have a large number of pairs of eyes looking at every shop you pass by, every restaurant and street cart and every sight. Naturally, someone will spot something of interest along the way, and they will want to stop to take a picture of it, buy it or just look at it with more detail. This will start a chain reaction in which more people will stop to do the same, or feel free to stop somewhere else and do something similar.
If you’re the planner or leader of the family and are in charge of the trip’s logistics, make sure every member of your family knows at what time you’ll meet for dinner, what time to wake up for a tour, where the meeting points are and so on. You could do this while everyone is sitting for dinner and broadcast the instructions to everyone at the same time, or go one by one and tell them individually. You could also have "sub-leaders" to help you with the planning and information distribution. For example, even though we were 17 in my family on our last trip, this big group was composed of four sub-families (my sisters with their husbands and kids), so each sister, or their spouses, received instructions from me and distributed them to their nucleus.
Sometimes, you’ll have to split up to take taxis or other transportation. While split, it’s good to have some form of communication to make it easier to meet at the destination. One experience I had recently was that on the way to the airport, we had to split into five taxis. All taxi drivers knew how to reach the airport, but each driver chose where to drop my family members. Some dropped them off at the domestic terminal, some in the international, and some at the arrivals section of the international terminal. We were all in three different spots, and some of them didn’t have means of communication. This made it harder for us to find each other, but luckily we managed.
Make sure everyone in your family knows everything, including hotel names, address, flight numbers and so on. This saved a lot of hassle with my family, as most of the time they knew where to head should they split from the group. I use the TripIt app to organize all my trips and have all the flights and hotel information handy, in a sequential order. My family used it too, and they loved having all the trip information easily accessible.
Finally, when you’re a big group, not everyone will be as willing to do everything you planned for the group all the time. It is ok for them to split up and stay behind or do something else. Just make sure that you plan when and where to meet after, or have means of communication to contact each other should your plans change. Most countries offer SIM cards with pre-paid data plans that are cheap and available for travelers with unlocked or international phones.
In the end, a family vacation is all about spending time with loved ones and enjoying a foreign experience together. Hiccups are to be expected, but hopefully, these hiccups can be minimized with these tips.
Note: Available plans and coverages may have changed since this blog was published.
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Norbert Figueroa is an architect who hit the pause button on his career in 2011 to do a round the world trip. He's been blogging for over three years at globotreks.com, where he shares his travel experiences, budget travel tips, and a good dose of world architecture. From hiking Mount Kilimanjaro to diving with great white sharks, he is always on the search of adrenaline and adventure. Norbert is originally from Puerto Rico and he is currently based in Milan, Italy... when not roaming around the world, that is. He has traveled to more than 80 countries in 5 continents and his goal is to travel to all 193 U.N. recognized countries. Follow Norbert on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google Plus.
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