Checklist for arranging a group trip
You’ve been chatting with your best friend about a destination you really want to check off your bucket list or talking with a colleague at work about really needing a short break away. Your partner has no interest in going with you or can’t get the time off work, but you really don’t want to go on your own. Turns out your best friend is in the same boat and would love to go too. As you chat, you decide it would be a great idea to gather a few more friends, colleagues or female family members and arrange a group trip to make it more fun.
You start asking friends and family and discover several would love to travel with you. As you chat individually, everyone starts throwing out different ideas and suggestions on where and when to travel, what they’d like to see, do and experience. Suddenly you realize that, as the organizer, you’re not sure where to start planning your group trip without becoming overwhelmed.
How do you plan a group trip for 8-10 diverse and unique friends without it becoming too stressful? Everyone has different work schedules, commitments and travel preferences, they have different interests and comfort levels. You really want to do this, but you’re already worrying about how much time and stress it will cause you.
However, if you plan well in advance, use a travel advisor to help you plan and make all the arrangements for you, and you follow this checklist, you can keep the stress to a minimum.
1. Establish the group and get input.
Since social media is a great way to interact with friends and family, start by creating a group chat in Facebook messenger or WhatsApp (depending on which one most of your female friends and family use). Add anyone to the group you think might be interested in going on a group trip. Ask for feedback on dates, destinations, trip styles (e.g. land tour, cruise, hiking adventure or relaxing beach vacation), trip duration, preferences and, of course, budget.
2. Create a travel survey.
A great way to gain a lot of insight about your group’s preferences and narrow down the options, is to survey the group.
You can do this at a trip planning meeting using a group trip planning questionnaire and asking the group specific questions. (TIP: Make it fun by playing a game for each question.)
If you can’t meet in person, create a Google form with specific questions for everyone to answer, including their full names and passport numbers which you will need later when booking flights and accommodation. (TIP: ask your travel planner to set the form up for you. That way they will have the information to hand when booking travel arrangements.) The form will generate a table with everyone’s preferences, which can then be imported into a spreadsheet.
Another option is a Facebook Poll, which can be used to narrow down some options. For example, to vote on a destination or to determine preferred accommodation style, create a poll and have each member vote on the options. Keep it simple by only including a maximum of five options. Then enter the top three choices onto your group trip planning questionnaire in order of popularity to keep track of any new information received. (TIP: By entering the top three answers onto your trip planning questionnaire will be useful later if the top option is unavailable or not within the group’s budget.)
3. Choose a destination.
The first thing to determine is where your group would like to go. This may need narrowing down by country, region, city/resort, etc.
If you haven’t already chosen a destination, determine your group’s availability, trip preferences such as culture, adventure or relaxation, and trip duration from the original survey.
If you’re only going away for a few days, it makes sense to choose a destination that is only a few hours away and has a short transfer time, from the airport so you don’t have to spend most of your available time getting there.
Check which of the destinations your group is interested in have direct flights from your departure airport and determine how you will transfer there. If you have a large group you may need to rent a mini-bus or coach, but if you’re on a city break close to the airport and/or your group is small, public transport might be a better option.
If more than one destination meets your groups requirements, provide the group with a 2-3 options and pole the group.
4. Choose a trip style.
Once you’ve chosen your destination, you’ll want to decide on a trip style, such as escorted group tour, ocean or river cruise, rail or road trip, or resort vacation that closely matches the majority of your group’s preferences.
Does your trip have a theme such as yoga and wellness, fishing or golf, ski-ing or mountain biking, or is there a special celebration? Is the group interested in outdoor pursuits such as zip lining, kayaking, hiking or nature walks? Are there other special interests such as food and beverage sampling, history and culture, arts and crafts workshops? Do any group members have a preference for enriching the lives of others or eco experiences such as visiting a wildlife sanctuary or volunteering at an orphanage.
You should have gained some insight from your initial survey as to everyone’s preferred vacation style, their interests and their preferences, as well as their budget. Not all trip styles, interests and preferences can be accommodated on the same trip and within the same budget. So you’ll need to figure out which trip style matches the majority of the group’s interests and preferences as well as fits in with their budgets. Here’s way you may have to poll the group again.
5. Select dates and trip duration.
Obviously your travel dates need to coincide with when you (and your best friend) can go since you’re organizing the trip, but you’ll also want to choose dates when the majority of your group is available as well as a trip duration that matches most people’s availability, preference and budget.
Select a couple of dates and duration options that work for both you and and the majority of the group. If you already have a specific destination and travel style in mind, gather some brochures from your travel advisor check for available dates that match your availability.
If possible, choose dates in the low or shoulder seasons, when prices are usually lower (especially for flights) and when the destination will be less crowded.
If necessary provide your group with a selection of dates and durations for them to choose from using a poll again.
6. Figure out a budget and payment plan.
Having established everyone’s preferences already, including destination, travel style and availability, you should be able to determine a budget that meets most of the group’s requirements.
If you give people enough advance notice, they will have plenty of time to save for the trip, even those whose preferred budget is less than the final total. So determine a budget and stick with it.
Determine what will need to be paid upfront before travel starts (including the initial deposit and final payments for flights, accommodations and transfers, as well as any pre-booked tours and excursions), as well as an approximate amount everyone will need for spending when you get there, including meals, shopping and other incidentals (such as tips and resort fees), so there are no big surprises.
Be sure to inform everyone in the group of due dates for deposits and final payments. You could also calculate and recommend monthly payment installments as this will reduce the number of people who may drop out from the group before the final payment date because they forgot to save.
If you are in charge of booking and paying, you’ll need to establish the best way of obtaining the money from everyone. Electronic transfer is usually the easiest and best way to keep track of who has paid and who has not.
7. Book as much in advance as possible.
If you have a large group, you’ll want to book your flights, accommodation(s) and/or cruise or escorted tour well in advance.
Waiting until the last minute is not a good idea as your options for a large group will be limited and probably more expensive. Any quotes you got when you first started planning will no longer be valid if you book beyond the supplier’s cut-off date.
If you leave booking your trip to the last minute, many cruises and tours will already be fully booked, or only have a few spaces left. Those that do have availability at your destination, may be limited on accommodation choices or comfort levels. And if you do manage to book accommodations, a tour or cruise, flights might be hard to obtain within your group’s budget.
Also, trying to book excursions and activities for a lot of people is hard to do at the last minute. Even booking a restaurant can prove to be difficult for a large group if you wait until the last moment.
8. Plan and Book with a Travel Advisor.
Although you might be tempted to book everything yourself to avoid having to pay a professional planning fee, a travel advisor is able to help with all the details and arrangements of your trip, including flights, accommodations and transportation, which will take much of the stress away from you.
A travel advisor can make recommendations and book advanced and/or VIP entrance tickets for excursions, activities and experiences at popular tourist hot-spots, as well as arrange transfers to and from the airport, so that your trip is less stressful for you once you arrive at your destination.
If the group is large enough, your travel advisor can often obtain a group discount and/or other perks, upgrades and special group amenities packages that you can’t get by booking everything yourself and/or that you don’t know about. A travel advisor often has contacts with suppliers in destination and/or at the resort that they can liaise with for special requests such as dietary needs, luggage pick-ups, birthday surprises, cocktail parties etc.
As well, if changes need to be made to your travel arrangements, if someone in the group cancels or if you need to add a passenger, or in the event that something goes wrong during the trip, your travel advisor can help sort things out for you, potentially saving you hours of your valuable time waiting on hold on the phone.
9. Check everyone’s passports and other ID are valid.
This is very important. If you’re travelling abroad from Canada, passports need to be valid for at least six months from the return date. It’s amazing how many people forget to renew their passport in time. By planning your trip and checking passport expiration dates as far in advance as possible will help you avoid last minute panicking as someone in your group awaits the arrival of their new passport.
If you plan on driving at your destination, check the driver’s license is valid for each driver in the group. In some countries, you may also require drivers have an international driving license, and if you have any younger members in the group, ensure you know the age limit for renting a vehicle at your destination. Also, check the rules of the road for your destination as they may different to those in Canada.
Check for other requirements for travel to your destination, such as tourist visa/ETA and/or inoculations that you may need and inform the rest of your group. NOTE: After 2022, if you’re travelling to Europe, you will also need to apply for the ETIAS (EU Travel Information & Authorisation System).
10. Encourage and remind the group to purchase travel insurance.
If you’re using a travel advisor to arrange your group trip, they will usually recommend purchasing travel insurance, which they may also offer. However, it is probably best (and certainly easier for you) if each group member books their own.
Provide your group with the name and contact number so they can be properly advised on what they need and what is covered and not covered.
Remind everyone in the group to purchase trip cancellation insurance to cover the cost of all non-refundable components of their trip, especially once final payment has been made to the supplier(s).
In addition, it is highly recommended that your group purchases out-of-province emergency hospital and medical insurance (even if travelling within Canada). Remind your group again a couple of weeks before departure. The last thing you want to worry about on your trip is someone having an accident or medical emergency (including dental emergency) and not being adequately covered.
11. Stay in constant contact with your group.
Make use of your group chat to answer any questions the group may have and to keep everyone informed of any travel updates and developments, including reminding everyone of the upcoming payment deadline and to purchase travel insurance. Also use the group chat to determine any special requirements such as dietary needs.
You could also create a Facebook Group to post information and other documents you want to keep at top of mind or handy for all to download, as well as posting links to and photos of prospective destinations, accommodations, restaurants, excursions and other activities.
Email is another way to keep in touch with the entire group (especially if some of your group don’t use messenger or Facebook) and to send pertinent information, using the group chat to inform everyone to check their inbox.
Provided service is available at your destination and everyone has roaming data or purchases a local SIM card when they arrive, you could also use the group chat to keep in touch with the group during your trip (no excuses for sleeping in or getting back to the tour bus or cruise ship late).
12. Stay calm and enjoy your trip.
Don’t let organizing your group travel arrangements stress you out. Once you’ve established your group and know when and where you want to go, get in touch with Kaz Custom Travel to help you plan your trip.
We have a group trip planning questionnaire to keep you organized and can help with all the details and arrangements on your behalf, including booking flights and accommodation, transfers and transportations at your destination, tours, excursions and activities, and can even book your restaurants and, if you’re a resident of Ontario, arrange travel insurance for you.
Whether you want to go on an escorted adventure tour, a cross-country rail trip in Canada or the US, a road-trip in Iceland or mainland Europe, a hiking tour in Patagonia or Machu Picchu, a cruise around the Hawaiian Islands, Galapgos, Greek Islands or Scandinavian Fjords, or you want a relaxing stay at a spa resort in Fiji, the Seychelles or Bahamas, Kaz Custom Travel can help you and your group of gal pals have an amazing time while alleviating your stress as group trip leader.
(Credit: Thanks to UK based travel company Activity Breaks which inspired this post)