Traveling with companions and discovering the world with people you care about can sometimes be a more enriching experience than traveling solo. You get to build memories together, save money by sharing expenses, and even test each other’s patience now and then - as any good trip with close friends and family will do.
But, what if suddenly, your travel group grows bigger than you expected, and you’re still responsible for planning the entire trip? Here I’ll share with you a few tips that have helped me plan several big group trips – I’m talking from 6 to 15+ people – and still have a fantastic vacation.
1. Don’t be overly ambitious
You may be an enthusiastic traveler who loves to hit all major sights and go off-the-beaten-path. That’s great, but now that you’re not traveling alone, or with just a few people, you have to take into consideration that not everyone goes at the same pace as you. “Herding cats” is hard, and as the trip planner, you will be responsible for that.
Are you traveling with grandma, someone with limited mobility, or someone who is usually chill and slow-paced? Take this into consideration. Your group will be as fast as the slowest person in it. Limit big activities to one or two per day, maximum. Focus on the “must-do” first and then move on to the “would like to do” if your group has the time and energy.
Don’t forget to plan for some down time too. Your travel companions will appreciate it more than you think.
2. Have enough planning lead-time
As a solo or couples’ traveler, it’s easy to plan things last minute or just a few weeks away. Finding a spot for one or a few travelers on a tour or accommodation is relatively easy, but not so much for a large group. For example, when I plan my family trips (we are 14), I make sure that I book flights at least six months ahead and accommodation and day tours at least four months ahead, especially if it’s the high season at the destination. Ideally, you want your entire group in the same hotel, with similar rooms, so everyone has a similar travel experience.
Don’t forget to pre-plan some activities too, especially if you’re looking forward to doing a few day trips or half-day trips that require transport or equipment. Make sure to book them well ahead of time so you can all be accommodated together in one or two groups. Sometimes it’s a bit frustrating when you’re doing the same activity but are split into different groups with other people only because they booked first.
3. Consider alternative accommodation
Hotels are not the only accommodation options for big groups. Consider renting a house, apartment, or even a few villas. You’ll have the convenience of a kitchen and living area where you can all spend some time together, and the privacy of feeling like this is “your” place. Also, in many cases, renting a property can be cheaper than renting several hotel rooms.
4. Consider where to eat
This one can be challenging too. Not every restaurant has the seating capacity to host a big group, all at the same time. Some will ask you to wait for over an hour to seat you as people leave, while others will ask you to split your group and filter people in as tables become available.
Do a bit of research while in the city and see what types of restaurants are around. Do you all fit? Should you make a reservation ahead of time? Consider splitting your group between a few restaurants nearby to ease the process. It will help save time since you’re dividing your orders among a few restaurants.
5. Be open to splitting up
Continuing the split up topic, expand that idea to other things like sightseeing and other activities. Again, your group will have a broad range of interests and stamina. Some will enjoy the adrenaline pumping activities, while others will prefer to relax by the pool. There’s nothing wrong with splitting and letting everyone do what they prefer during the day, as long as things are planned, agreed upon, and fit on the overall trip itinerary. Remember, it’s their vacation too, and they should enjoy it the best way they can.
6. Pay (even more) attention to details
We have to pay attention to details when planning all kinds of trips, but when planning a big group trip, those details can be crucial. One of the most critical aspects of planning that requires a lot of attention to detail is local transportation. How are you getting from the airport to the hotel? Several taxis, a big bus, a few minivans? Does everyone have the hotel address, preferably written in the local language?
I once had the experience where my family and I took four taxis in Bangkok, from the city center to the airport, and all four taxis dropped us in different places and even different terminals. Finding everyone in a hurry and not to missing the flight was a challenge. Remember, herding cats is a tough job.
7. Ask for group discounts
Last but not least, take advantage of “power in numbers.” Barter and ask for group discounts on hotels, tour agencies, and pretty much everywhere you think you can save money as a group.
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