I have been pretty lucky to get to do so many group family vacations over the years with both my family and my husband’s family. We share so many fun memories…and a few that maybe weren’t so fun at the time but we can laugh about now.
Tip 1: Be Willing to Break Rank Sometimes
There is no hard and fast rule that says when you’re traveling as a group that says you must start and finish your day together. You do not have to be together all of the time.
We’ve traveled to Disneyland several times with my grown nephews. We have always have a blast together. But we rarely start the day at the park together. My hubby and I are early risers and like to be there when the parks open. The nephews are just the opposite. They text us when they get in the parks, and we get together then. It’s no big deal. Everyone is enjoying the trip the way they that makes them happy.
I had a client who recently returned from Walt Disney World. It was a couple with their two elementary-aged children. They had gotten up early one morning try to get on the new Rise of the Resistance ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The system for getting on the ride was crazy when it first opened. Despite their much too early morning, they were unable to obtain the elusive “Boarding Group” that would allow them to get on the ride.
The dad really, really, really wanted to ride Rise of the Resistance (and who could blame him). The rest of the family wanted to sleep in (and who could blame them). This could have been a huge battle or a situation that required some personal sacrifice. Instead they chose to let Dad get up early one morning while the rest of the family chose to sleep in and explore their resort. Everyone was happy and Dad got to share how awesome the new ride was…and I enjoyed reading about it.
Tip 2: Don’t Try to Do Too Much
One lesson I’ve had to learn the hard way over and over through the years is that the larger group, the slower it moves. So don’t try to schedule too much into your days.
Even in small groups, you’re always moving at the pace of the slowest traveler. It might not be you on Monday, but it might be you on Thursday when your feet are knee is acting up and slowing you down. Don’t let people get frustrated when someone seems to be slowing the group down.
Allowing your group to set up a schedule that is too rigorous will make you look like a group of military recruits out on a long march. The looks on your group’s faces will say it all. Take the time to look at people’s faces and see if it’s time to take a break and sit for a moment…or maybe reassess your schedule for the day…or maybe even split up for a little while (see Tip 1).
Tip 3: Have a Back-Up Plan Ready
There are a number of reasons you may want to have a back-up plan ready to go. Sometimes you realize that you have too many things to do in too short a time. If this is the case, knowing ahead of time which activities are easiest to drop is a life saver. There is no need to sit and waste valuable time trying to decide what to drop in the heat of the moment.
Other times, you can look around at your group and know that no one’s enjoying whatever the group is doing. Maybe it sounded fun during the planning, but the reality is that no one is enjoying it. Cut your losses and move on to the next activity…or stop for an ice cream to get the group back in a happy frame of mind before moving on. Yes, we do use ice cream to readjust moods in our family.
Maybe you’ve planned an outdoor activity, but it begins pouring down rain. It’s okay to have a back-up plan in place to make sure everyone stays safe and dry…and most likely happier…when the weather doesn’t cooperate with your plans.
In the end, you have the ability to change things up to make sure everyone is enjoying their time together. If needed, it’s okay to split up into smaller groups (see Tip 1).
Tip 4: Know What People’s Must-Do or Want-to-See Lists Are
For most group family vacations, people are putting out a lot of money on accommodations, activities and hotels. While it is nearly impossible to do everything everyone wants to do, trying to work in at least one thing that each person wants to do can go a long ways in having a happy group. Ask everyone ahead of time what things they want to do on the trip and use that information to create an itinerary.
When planning a family vacation, that is one of the first questions I ask each individual. I work hard to try to fit in something for everyone.
Tip 5: Assign Everyone a Task That They Do Well
Do you have someone in the group that enjoys taking photos, go ahead and ask them to be in charge of taking photos on the trip. Are you headed to Mexico and someone likes to show off their Spanish-speaking skills, let them be the interpreter when needed. Do you notice Cousin Freddie fancies himself a foodie…he posts dozens of pictures daily on his social media from the restaurants he goes to. Let him pick out some places to eat during the trip.
When someone agrees take on a role for the group, they begin to feel like they have a stake in making sure this trip goes well. Thank them profusely and give them encouragement. It can be hard work trying to figure out a place eat that will appeal to almost everyone. Gratitude goes a long way in getting people to offer their services in the future.
Caution: Occasionally when I’m planning a trip for a larger family group I come across someone who is a “control freak.” They want to make all the decisions for everyone. Listen to what they say to express their opinions and implement one or two of the suggestions where appropriate…but don’t let them take control over the entire trip. Believe me, everyone will be happier that way.
Tip 6: Shop Around for Group Discounts
Group discounts can be found many places. The thing to remember is some places offer group discounts for groups of eight or more, and other discounts require you to have a significantly larger group. When checking out the prices of where you want to go, there is usually a link and/or phone number to call to discuss group discounts. And who doesn’t like to save a few dollars?
Some discounts require you to purchase them in advance. Still other discounts may require you to visit on certain days of the week or during certain times of the day. This is all important information to know when planning your family’s itinerary. It never hurts to ask if your group can get an exception if the restrictions don’t work…but don’t count on an exception.
Tip 7: Share the Knowledge
When I have taken the time to plan a trip for a larger group, I like to have an initial conversations with the group. If a destination has been decided on, there is a good chance that many in the group have already done some research on their own which is a good representation of their own interests and motivators.
You can gather everyone’s ideas together and assemble them and send the ideas out to the group. I find that in some ways this can become almost like a personalized guidebook for the group. Like in Tip 5, it allows everyone to share their strengths to come out with an itinerary that’s works for just about everyone.
Tip 8: Know When to Speak and When to Listen
It is important that everyone feels like they have had some say in the planning. Once you get deeper into the planning stages, it’s important that people continue to feel heard. You need to be sure you understand any special needs that people have.
It is perfectly okay to have a pre-published agenda and stick to it when having a planning meeting with the family. It is essential to share any information people may need to be aware of such as deposit or final due dates of payments.
It is also a good idea to share your initial itinerary with the group. Give them a few days to look it over and make suggestions for adjustments. It is also important to make sure people are aware of any special medical needs such as food allergies or mobility issues family members may have.
For example, maybe Aunt Susan expresses her concern that she can’t hike the required five miles to ride every ride at Disney’s Magic Kingdom. It’s a great opportunity to see if she would prefer you locate areas where she can rest within the park or prefer to rent a wheelchair or mobility scooter. If she wants a wheelchair, who will be pushing her around? Are there volunteers? It is much better to have solutions in place before you leave than to deal with these issues once you get there.
Tip 9: Talk Things Out
This is one of the most important tips I can give. It is so important to have open conversations when planning a trip. To resolve most of the issues ahead of time by talking through them allows for a much more amicable trip. I encourage you to keep planning meetings to 45 minutes and stick to an agenda. This ensures that conversation doesn’t go too far off the rails. You can always follow up where needed when you’ve been able to step away from the problem and look at it from fresh eyes and do some research.
It is crucial that everyone feels like they’ve had the opportunity to have their say – or at least a few minutes to express themselves. Despite the fact people may not agree, they all can feel like they have been able to contribute to the conversation. Even quiet Cousin Callie might have a hidden obsession with Disney trivia and might be able to come up with a game the kids can play when they are getting restless during an hour-long wait for Space Mountain.
Tip 10: Try Using a Trip Planning Service
For larger groups, I recommend using a trip planning service. There are some great online tools and resources as well as travel advisors that specialize in group travel. If you decide to use a specialty travel advisor, I recommend you interview them to before signing any documents. It is important to understand what, if any, documentation you will need to sign or fees that will need to be paid. These fees can be worth their weight in gold.
If you don’t want to use a travel advisor, check around to see what online tools you can find to help you in your planning and booking. I continue to add resources to my website on a continuous basis to help people plan for their family vacations. I encourage you to do a search or contact me using the “Contact” page if you have any specific questions. I really enjoy helping families put together trips that will create memories that last a lifetime.
And remember: The family that plays together, stays together.