Perhaps you're looking to gather with your extended family together for a reunion or a celebration vacation to commemorate a milestone for a particular person. Maybe you have a group of friends from college or play group that want to travel together. Congratulations!....you're planning a destination wedding with kids. Your kid's sport team is a great collection of kids and parents that enjoy spending time together and want to do more of it. In the family travel biz we call any and all of these situations a multi-generation group vacation. These types of vacations are becoming ever more popular. 80 percent of vacationers took at least one trip with extended family and/ or friends during the past five years.
There are a lot of moving parts to creating the perfect vacation just for own family. Now multiply that by 5, 20, 100...frankly even just 2 families means double the challenges! The more people traveling, the more moving parts, the more opinions and more headaches you'll need to avoid. You and your group may have decided traveling together would be a ton of fun and then - well, the realization that this may be harder than it seems happened.
So this is why we've put together a few important tips to get you stared in the right direction:
1. You Need Professional Help - No, you're not crazy...what I mean is that you need to hire and work with a travel agent who is an experienced and certified group special event travel specialist. This is an all together different skill set from being a traditional travel agent. Your group travel specialist will help you choose the best locations, negotiate the best group perks, communicate, update and inform your guests so you don't have to while handling all the payments and accounting. They understand all the fine print and can protect you and your group from costly liability. They can give you the best advice, the best price, save time and hassles.
2. Start Early - Active group travel planning needs to start at least 1 year in advance. This isn't the "a bunch of us are thinking about vacationing together call. This means having decisions in place, a group travel specialist hired and getting space blocked stage of planning. This is especially true for families who are all looking to travel during school breaks. Finding availability for flights and accommodations whenever the kids are out of school is always a challenge....and this challenge is simply multiplied when it comes to group travel.
Starting early is one of the keys to successful groups. This gives people time to plan to take time off from work and so they don't make their own vacation plans. Having time means the best availability and usually the best pricing. Remember with travel, prices go up the closer we get to departure. Time also helps to insure everyone is informed and reminded of important things like getting passports or what to expect. It also helps to build excitement and anticipation too.
3. Start Planning with Money - This may sound a bit mercenary but it is the most efficient way to plan a group trip. I've been approached time and again by families who are all set and excited to take these fantastic vacations all across the globe. They've got their vacation wish list down to the tiniest of details. When I ask "Whats our budget for this adventure?" the response I get is either "Ummm" or crickets.
This is one of those "never assume anything....." conversations that needs to happen straight out of the gate. It's the easiest way to help assure that all the important people can afford to be a part of this experience.
When I do a consultation for a regular family vacation I always start with my traditional vacation planning 101 questions. Of course answer to all of these questions are necessary to plan the perfect group itinerary too. Thing is, with large groups, it's easier to "backwards engineer" travel plans starting with budget because this will often help to determine other decisions like destination, accommodations and so on.
4. Group Leaders - The most successful groups come with a pied piper! Maybe it's grandma who is paying and planning for everything. Maybe there is one, super organized family member that everyone else simply put. This person plans everything and simply invited everyone else...the reply is a simple "yes or no". In return for doing all the planning and decision making, group leaders can travel for free.
5. Top 3 lists are the next best thing - If you're group has multiple decision makers then this is the next best thing. Group trips are all about compromise and priorities. Multiple decision makers mean multiple opinions and this is why some of the best group travel plans, ideas and intentions die at the committee stage. It is nearly impossible to make everyone happy all of the time. The last thing anyone wants is for somebody left home with hurt feelings. Instead of the typical "Where do you want to go"...."I dunno where do you think we should go", round and round discussion, ask everyone to create a "top 3 vacation wish list". Some examples might be:
- Spa, separate bedroom from the kids, great food
- Golf, cigar bar, pool without kids
- Great beach, staying on budget, kids club
- hiking, biking and kayaking
- not having to deal with my sister, staying up late, eating chocolate
Your group specialist can set up an online survey to make it easy for everyone in your group. This will help your group travel specialist when it comes to "matchmaking" vacation wishes and priorities when selecting destinations, accommodations and activity venues.
6. Make Certain Everyone is Ready to commit - Airlines, hotels, villas, tours and cruise ships just don't hold space for us because we call and ask them to do it. We need to put money where our mouth is! Airlines generally require non refundable payment in full to book flights. We may be able to negotiate this with larger groups but at minimum a deposit will be required to hold seats. Accommodations and cruise ships will also require some sort of deposit. This means, all guests need to be financially ready to make their credit card deposits. In some cases, having one person pay in full for their trip up front will help to hold space for everyone else. Again, every situation is different and in some cases there are financial risks involved. This is why it's important to work with a group specialist that can help you navigate all the fine print on contracts and make sure everyone's travel investment is risk free.
7. Group Travel doesn't mean joined at the hip - On any multi generational or extended family vacation you'll have people of different ages, with different interests and different energy levels. Respecting these differences makes everyone feel like a VIP. Everyone can be together on the same trip but your group specialist can help plan some separate activities and sightseeing for different mini groups of people. This way everyone feels like they have a choice in customizing their own vacation experiences while enjoying the company of the group. In addition, it's important to also have some "plan b" activities just in case something like weather or certain budgets compromise your initial idea.s
8. Don't Over Schedule - The joy of an extended family vacation is being together. Having time for conversations, reminiscing and catching up is part of the big appeal. Don't plan a daily itinerary that looks like a complicated military maneuver. Allow for natural, organic down time around a pool, on the beach, during meals or playing games.
9. Splurge on Space - You know how in boxing, after every round the boxers retreat to their neutral corners? This exercise is certainly true with group travel. Often space is sacrificed for budgets. This is certainly understandable, affordability is a huge priority. That said when it comes to enjoyment, relaxation and peace of mind, privacy ranks supreme. Having a separate space away from others in the extended group can be the difference between peace of mind and utter frustration.
10. Hire a photographer - It's not just about taking a vacation together, it's just as important to document your time together. Celebrate everyone being together by holding onto that memory.