Getting the whole gang together for a vacation sounds all the way lit until you are the one that has to plan it. I have had to play travel agent and plan trips for as little as 4 people to as large as 40 people. Traveling with any big group will prove to have its tribulations but using these tips will keep the trip planning smoother.
Create a GroupMe
Group me is an easy way to get everyone together without the annoyance of a group chat. Create a separate Group Me for only those attending the trip and keep it closed. That way information pertaining solely to the trip can stay within the group and reach everyone at the same time without the traffic of messages from people who are not traveling. It is always best to start with people who are interested in the trip at first and then as time goes on, remove people who show no commitment. Group voting is also easier because you can just post the options and have people click “like” as a vote.
When you are the designated group “planner” you will also get a lot of emails, texts, calls, messages in a bottle and pigeons tied with a note around their leg. That can get EXTREMELY annoying. Let everyone know that you will only be taking questions, comments or concerns via GroupMe. If someone needs to contact you directly then they can direct message you.
Deciding on Date and Location
Once you get the gang together, it is time to decide on the location and date. Some ways to narrow it down is to go through a couple questions. Does everybody have a valid passport or get one before the trip? Can the places people suggest accommodate the size of your group? Would it be more economical to stay as a big group or more to break into smaller groups? While staying in a big group might be cheaper for housing, if might affect the location of your accommodation. When I went to Havana, I found it harder to find centrally located accommodations for groups of more than 4. However, in Denver, we were able to rent out a centrally located house that fit 20 people. Having people research their location with some of these questions will eliminate some of the off the wall suggestions. Once your group narrows it down to 2-3 locations that everyone can agree upon (it might take days of GroupMe debates) then everyone can vote on the final destination.
Another topic of debate is dates. Planning a trip around holidays or long weekends might make your trip more feasible for everyone. Such as a weekend retreat for Martin Luther King Day where most jobs get a 3 day weekend. People will only have to take one or a half day off from work. If you book early enough, then your group can find travel deals around Thanksgiving weekend or the holiday. Employers will be more lenient to employees taking off and school is out as well. Also, researching the location itself will give you some idea of how long you would like to stay. For example, there might not be much group activities to do on the 7 mile long Grand Turk Island, so you might only want to stay for the weekend. As opposed to Puerto Rico, which has a lot of scenery, clubs and a rainforest you can hike so that could be a 5 day trip.
Be Firm With Deadlines
Everyone is down to go on a trip until it is time to actually book the trip. Once you choose the location and travel dates then start setting up deadlines for people to be considered as committed to going on the trip. Setting a deadline for everyone purchasing a flight helps to keep a good count on the amount of people who are really going. Then the group can start looking up accommodations and planning itineraries.
If everyone does decide to stay in one place, then that bill will usually have to be paid using one account. Taking nonrefundable deposits before purchasing your accommodation will mean that your account does not have to take a big hit at one time and will keep everyone committed. If it is voted that the house should be secured before purchasing the plane ticket then let it be known that once a person pays the deposit for their share of the price, they cannot get their money back unless someone takes their place. That gives everyone a fair price and does not short the person who is putting the house in their name. Know that it is ok to turn someone away that shows no commitment or is not putting down their deposit by the deadline (DO NOT PUT THEM ON BLAST IN THE GROUP CHAT).
If you have more than 10 people in one location or going internationally, one suggestion is to leave from a big airport (such as JFK, MCO, LAX, etc) and call different airlines to get a group travel rate. Group travels rates are usually about 15%-20% cheaper, which can really help for international flights. Most airlines also offer free name changes so if someone backs out, they can easily be replaced.
Plan an Itinerary Around a Theme
Once everyone has booked their flight and the housing is taken care of, it is time to plan the itinerary. Coming up with a theme for the vacation such as “The Mean Girls’ Luau” for Hawaii will get everyone even more excited. Planning events around the theme and making a dress code for the event (like an actual mini Luau with coconut bras) will make for great group pictures and great memories.
Everyone will start doing their own research; screenshotting Instagram pictures and suggesting places they are interested in going to so it will make it easier to narrow down choices. Planning itineraries as a group gets the group on the same affordability page as well. This gives everyone a mental note on how much they will need to save or what events they can afford. For excursions, always call ahead and see if they have a group rate or if they can accommodate a large group. Group rates usually come with deposits so make sure the gang is up for paying it first.
Know that everyone may not want to always be doing group activities all the time so plan a free day or time period where people can branch off and do other things. Of course no one is obligated to do everything on the itinerary, but keeping a schedule of events makes a trip run smoother.