If you really want to know people, travel with them!
Our friend Dave, with whom we have traveled, sent me the idea for this article. I hope he wasn’t suggesting that I need to raise my game in this area!
We have taken trips with both small and large groups of friends and they all have been wonderful. There are several things that must be taken into consideration when planning such a trip:
Choose the participants and the group size carefully. None of us is perfect and we are able overlook our friends’ imperfections most of the time, as they kindly overlook ours. When traveling together, however, this becomes more difficult because the group is together constantly, and sometimes our flaws are exacerbated by the stresses of travel. It’s best to leave your needy, sulky, insecure, or unreliable divas and drama queens at home, as much as you might love them. The ideal travel companions are flexible, reasonable, easy going, get out of bed happy, calm and patient. Oh, and by the way, it is also a good idea to invite the friends who have similar budgets and interests.
In planning the trip there should be one or two group leaders, but everyone should have a voice. Using the services of a travel agent, tour company or cruise office often makes the group planning part much easier and lets the participants make individual arrangements. Have a loose itinerary, or a basic plan with several options. Having a large group break into smaller groups is a good thing. It’s fun to get back together for dinner and hear about everyone’s different adventures. If participants want to change plans or opt out of an activity, the group leaders need to be understanding and flexible.
The entire group should be comfortable with the budget target. Put together people with similar travel styles to avoid headaches down the road. Make sure everyone is comfortable with the spending level and that all details are clear. Having a third party putting the trip together can make this discussion less intense. Some group members might feel more comfortable booking the lowest priced hotel rooms through the travel agent or cruise ship office rather than telling you. There should also be a discussion about any ‘time vs. money’ issues that might arise. How does the group feel about taking taxis or private vans when pressed for time rather than public transportation? These kinds of decisions pop up all the time on complex trips and it’s good to know up front which way the group leans when making a split second decision.
Meals can bring out divergent preferences. We favor a ‘do it yourself’ approach to breakfast and lunch and ‘togetherness’ for dinner. If the group will be out adventuring together for lunch, talk ahead of time about whether people want to sit down for a two-hour lunch experience, or are happy to grab something simple and spend more time on the move. Try to establish a pattern of seeking out someone new to sit with at dinner. Shake it up.
The details of the trip can make or break it. There needs to be designated down time every day. People might need to rest, or have something they want to do that isn’t on the group schedule. We all have quirks and foibles so allow for some individuality. Some people might need more sleep, or need to snack regularly (being hangry is a terrible thing!) so a flexible schedule is nice. The drill sergeants who ‘tsk’ whenever anyone has an individual request (can we stop at the next rest area?) get tiresome quickly.
Communication is important and relieves a lot of travel stress. Everyone wants to know the plan and as much detail as possible. There are always those who try to change the plans to suit primarily themselves, but try to be open to suggestions that might be better than what you’d planned.
Packing is important. Everyone should have a clear idea of what they need to bring. If the group decision is to pack light and have only carry-on, that should be communicated to and agreed upon by the entire group.
While on the trip, people’s strengths will emerge, so use them. One might be a superb navigator, another might speak the language and another might be a currency conversion whiz. We have a friend who is always the treasurer and keeps track of all shared expenses and divvies up the charges at the end. It’s helpful to have an appointed group photographer but also share all photographs at the end of the trip. We’ve used a shared Dropbox file for everyone’s photographs and that’s worked well.
Also while on the trip, in a smallish group it is easiest if everyone gives the same amount of cash to one person, say $100, then that person puts it an envelope and pays for taxis, museum entrance fees, coffee. If you run through the ‘kitty’ everyone can put in another $50. It relieves everyone from have to remember that they paid for lunch on Thursday.
Getting along with everyone the entire time can sometimes be a challenge. Bring your best self to the trip and avoid conversation topics that might spark controversy like politics. Having a few games is a great way to be together without any intensity. On the trips we’ve taken we’ve played bridge, Bananagrams and backgammon. If people annoy each other on the trip it might help to remember that they might be jet lagged or have a stomach bug. Leave over-sensitivity at home, this is not middle school. Even if you end up doing something all by yourself, it probably wasn’t about you, it just worked out that way.
Travel can sometimes be the true test of a friendship!