Updated: Jul 18
Planning a group trip can be one of the most stressful, hairpulling, soul-sucking processes, but only if you don't read this guide!
How many times have you turned to your group of besties and collectively fantasized about taking an epic trip? Heck, I just did this the other night with my girlfriends. We were exchanging stories about our pre-baby travels, and where we'd love to go next (sans kids!) New Orleans hit the top of our list. But is it that easy? Just pick a spot, throw down some money, and go have a great time. Not exactly. Does everyone travel the same way? Do they all like to eat the same things? Does everyone have the same accessibility needs? Does everyone like the same type of accommodations? Do they want Beach? Mountains? City? The variables are endless!
Listen, we love our friends and family, but travelling with them is an entirely different experience. You're managing different personalities with different expectations, and if you're not taking that into account, your great group trip idea is bound for disaster. And unless you have an extra 15, 20, or 30+ hours at your disposal (the average amount of time it takes to plan a multi-component trip for 10 or more people), you run the risk of personal overwhelm which can ultimately lead to disappointing the group.
So where do you start? Step one, hire a travel advisor, of course! But there's more to it than that. I'm going to challenge you to do a little homework first. Let's lay the foundation for a smooth group trip-planning experience by sitting down with your group and working through these helpful steps.
1. Set the budget & STICK TO IT!
You might be thinking choosing a destination is the first step, but money is a driver for many folks. But you have to be careful about this topic. I've seen it many times before. Arguments over budgeting can be where friendships go to die. Seriously. Not everyone is coming to the table with the same relationship with money. Some folks are savers, some are spenders, some are just getting by, and all three want to go on this trip. If you're a group leader, facilitate a gentle conversation around money. Find out what everyone's absolute ceiling is but more importantly, learn where everyone's 'sweet spot' is. As a travel advisor, I always aim for the sweet spot, but sometimes, in order to get everything on the wish list, I have to hit that ceiling.
2. Conduct a Passport Check
My first question to my clients is 'Do you have a valid passport?' And that needs to be a question put out to the group in the earliest stages of planning. And be persistent about it! I can't tell you how many times in the early days of my career I received a frantic call from a group member telling me they only just realized their passport had expired the day before they were boarding a flight or stepping on a ship. I will help you with this task by putting together a form for group members as this information is generally added to flight and tour bookings when deposits are made, so this creates a system of checks and balances, but still. Someone in the group always forgets to check!
3. Find Out Everyone's Personal Travel Preferences & Needs
We're already at number two and we haven't even picked a destination yet. Don't worry, we're getting there. This trip has to be as perfect as possible, right? These things take time, patience, and chronology! First, budget, next, how do your friends, family, and colleagues like to travel? Do they like resorts? Luxury hotels? Do they like a fast pace, or do they want to laze around in the sun with no itinerary? Are there group members with special needs? Accessibility requirements? Dietary needs? Knowing all of this will help us answer the next question.
4. Where Do You Want to Go?
If you've been paying attention to skyrocketing airline and accommodation pricing around the world, now you see why I've put 'set your travel budget' at the top of the planning list, instead of tossing about far-flung, dreamy destinations. There's no point in choosing a ten-day Costa Rican adventure if airfares and eco-lodge pricing put it out of reach for some members in your travel group. Other factors will be weather, seasonality (shoulder and low season keep the prices down), accessibility, and safety. Remember that safety doesn't mean the same thing for everyone. Consider members in your group who are BIPOC or 2 lgbtq2+ and remember there are places in the world that are downright dangerous for them. The destination you choose should be inclusive and welcoming to everyone in your group.
5. Consider Pre-Booking Your Activities & Tours
It's one thing to arrive in a destination with your family of four and wing it when it comes to side trips and excursions. But when you've got 10, 20, or 50 folks along for some fun, you need companies who are able to accommodate. This is also a great opportunity to maintain the group budget, and really customize your group trip. You don't have to book everything in advance, but if you're wanting to visit popular sites, join a particular tour, or enjoy a unique local or cultural experience, save yourself (and the group) disappointment, and secure yourselves a spot early on. Booking ahead also helps keep the budget in check when you can book in your own currency.
6. If You Do Work With a Professional: Don't Micro-Manage! Alright, you type-A personalities, this is going to be a tough one but trust me when I say, you're only going to get in your own way if you micromanage every detail. Once you've qualified everyone in your group, sorted through everyone's list of requirements and needs, and settled on a budget and destination, hand the reins over and let the professional do the rest! The point is to ease the burden, not make more work for yourself. Group trip planning should be a collaborative process, but it's also important to trust the process.
7. Discuss Best Communication Channels & Establish Boundaries!
Decide what platform you want your group to communicate on. WhatsApp is a common option. Some of my past groups have used Facebook Groups. Another option? Create a Private Group on the Storied Lands website. Group members can create topics, discuss the upcoming trip and ask questions that either other group members can answer, or I can help with.
It's important to establish some boundaries when it comes to trip planning. Personally, I discourage guests from Facebook Messaging me, it's too difficult to keep track of details, and as a single mom, I try to maintain strict business hours. Your time is yours to protect, even when it comes to friends and loved ones. You do not have to be available 24/7!
8. Schedule Pre-Trip Meet-Ups
A well-prepared group is a happy travel group. One of my favourite things to do before a group takes off is to host a trip 'hype session.' I'll organize a fun night over Zoom and get as many group members as possible to participate. They can ask all of their questions, chat with and meet other group members, and use the session to get excited about their upcoming trip. I tend to schedule these eMeet-ups at the halfway mark, and one more two weeks before take-off. And if your group is in the same city or location as you, consider organizing an in-person meet-up.