Traveling with a group isn’t easy. When that group consists of your parents and two siblings, it can get frustrating. Not because they’re terrible to be around, but because of the different personalities and the difficulty that creates when it comes to planning a trip. To this day, when my parents bring up our family trip to Asia, they rave about the trip overall, then they point out to how well organized everything was. I researched everything ahead of time, booked things well in advance and scheduled activities that everyone would enjoy – along with alternate activities for those who wanted to do something different (I must have been a travel agent in another life).
If you’re the one planning and managing a group trip, particularly with a multi-generational group, booking flights, hotels, activities, and taking care of transportation can get overwhelming. If you’re doing it all yourself, there are a few things you can do to make the entire experience smoother:
1. Research Transportation Options Ahead of Time
It makes a tremendous difference if you have things like transportation figured out ahead of time. When you arrive in a new country for the first time, the last thing you want to do is to run around, trying to figure out how to get from Point A to Point B. Uber and Lyft are the go-to modes of transportation for most people, but what if you show up and find out Uber and Lyft aren’t available at the airport? Are taxis a good alternative? If taxi scams are rampant in the city, you might want to use the Curb taxi app or look into shuttle vans or private transportation options. Sometimes, hotels offer reasonable transportation options, so be sure to look into that ahead of time.
2. Plan Activities in Advance
Before even booking airfare and hotels, I sit down and make a list of all the things I want to see or do in a particular city. This helps me determine how many days I need in that city so I don’t miss out on anything. When you’re planning activities, a quick Google search (i.e. “Things to do in ___”) is an easy way to get this information. If you’re planning on visiting museums or attractions, be sure to check for any days when they might be unavailable (i.e. The Louvre is closed on Tuesdays) or free. It also helps to look up City Passes as well as Groupon deals to see if you can score deals on some of the activities you’re hoping to partake in. The Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal also offers some terrific deals. Buying your tickets ahead of time will help eliminate stress because it means you can skip the long lines and use that time to see more of a destination.
When it comes to following directions, I’m like a man – I get lost easily and refuse to ask for help. Which is why I often delegate this task to other people on a trip. The iPhone map is notoriously awful when it comes to providing walking directions, but somehow my brother made it work when we were trying to get around Singapore and Hong Kong. My sister is a real foodie (I hate that word), so if she starts complaining about food or what we’re going to eat, I leave that task to her: Pull up the Yelp app and find a place you think will satisfy everyone. I’m more than happy not to have those things on my plate and delegating them to people who are better equipped to handle them means less stress for me, more involvement on their part, and less complaining overall. This keeps everyone happy.
4. Don’t Ask For Too Many Opinions
Too many cooks in the kitchen can be counterproductive – so don’t ask for too much input from every single person. For example, I consider myself pretty competent when it comes to picking hotels and booking flights. There’s really no need to ask anyone else which hotel they want to stay at, when I’m the one who did all the research, has a better understanding of our reward account balances, and am better equipped to make booking decisions.
When planning our stay in Singapore and Asia, I started bugging my siblings for advice and soon realized 1.) They don’t care about this as much as I do and 2.) I often disagreed with their choices because I knew more about what we needed than they did.
The one area where you do need to ask for input is planning activities. Don’t ask too many questions either – just send out a mass text asking everyone to provide you with a list of things they want to see or do while at each destination. Chances are, they’ll overlap with your own list, but by giving everyone an opportunity to pitch in with their ideas, there will be less complaining down the road. If they don’t bother to respond to your texts, then they’ll just have to be happy with the itinerary you’ve laid out.
5. Keep Your Itinerary Organized and Make Use of Mobile Apps
Mobile apps are a life saver. Apps like Viber are great for staying connected, while hotel mobile apps can help make your stay more pleasant. Thanks to the Tripit Pro app, I’m able to keep multiple itineraries well organized in one place – this includes flight and hotel information, as well as Airbnb bookings. The best part? The app sends out reminders when it’s time to check in for a flight or when the gate number changes. Hands down, Tripit Pro has been the most useful app for organizing group travel.
It’s not enough to download the Uber or Lyft, and Curb apps and link the appropriate credit card to your accounts – have everyone in your group do the same. This is beneficial for several reasons: First, if the people in your group are first-time users and you refer them to a rideshare service, you’ll both receive a referral credit. Second, if your phone dies at some point, you can use another person’s phone to request a ride without having to sit around and wait for the app to download.
6. Build in Breaks
During our time in Singapore and Hong Kong, we walked 3 – 7 miles every day. Needless to say despite all the bingefests, I came home in much better shape than I left. Walking from one activity to the next (with the occasional Uber ride in between) can get exhausting, so make sure you build in breaks. Maybe this is taking planning to a crazy level, but when you’re with a group, some people can walk for miles without getting tired while others pass out after the first mile (guilty). Be sure to set aside a designated time when you’ll all settle into a cafe, recharge your batteries (literally), drink some coffee, and just chill until you’re off to the next activity. This will keep everyone in the group sane.
I underestimated the need for this in Hong Kong, when we stopped at a coffee shop across from Victoria Park. Some people in the group (I won’t name names) fought me a bit on why we were taking a break, but we ended up spending close to an hour there, just relaxing. It was a nice change of pace and everyone needed it, whether they knew it or not.
7. Book a Suite and/or Adjoining Rooms
One thing I underestimated when planning our trip to Asia was the amount of space the five of us would need. Yes, we always had two rooms booked, but having a suite made a huge difference. In Hong Kong, for example, we got to the Grand Hyatt and realized there wasn’t enough closet space (or room for us to move without stepping over each other) so I upgraded to a suite and everyone was much more comfortable after that. The Grand Suite also became a gathering spot for us after long days of sightseeing and we enjoyed just sitting on the couch, chatting while one person charged their phone and someone else took a nap. This was, after all, a family trip and we wanted to spend time together as a family.
Meanwhile, having adjoining rooms makes it easy to get things you’re sharing (i.e. curling irons, chargers, adapters, etc.) as well as harass everyone into being ready when they’re supposed to be. Be sure to arrange adjoining rooms ahead of time, since hotels may not always be able to accommodate this request upon arrival.
8. Get Club Lounge Access
Having top-tier hotel elite status can make group travel so much smoother, thanks to club lounge access. Sometimes when you want a nice cup of tea or coffee, it’s super convenient not to have to leave the hotel or drink the stuff from the in-room coffee maker. The area around the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong was a virtual construction zone, so having club lounge access for the occasional snacks and drinks was nice for all of us. While we largely gathered around the suite (both in Singapore and Hong Kong), the club lounge was a good alternative when we started to feel claustrophobic.
9. Bring Useful Gadgets
There are a few travel gadgets that will come in handy regardless of whether you’re traveling alone or with a group, namely a mobile battery pack and adapter. Many hotels provide adapters, but you’ll be glad to have your own in case of a flight delay when you and your group are running low on power. On group trips, I always bring two adapters (because I can’t depend on anyone else to bring one) and my Anker PowerCore+ mini 3350mAh Lipstick-Sized Portable Charger, which I’ve had for three years now.
10. Get an International Data Plan
A huge source of stress during travel is communication (or a lack thereof). If you don’t have a decent international data/calling plan with your cell phone provider, it can be incredibly difficult to keep in touch with your group or people back home. Not to mention, not being able to use the mobile apps on your phone can significantly impact your mobility.
If I had to point to one thing that eliminated stress on our trip, I’d have to point to the T-Mobile Simple Choice Plan. The plan includes free international data and texting, which was very useful on days when the group broke up so everyone could do their own thing. Thanks to a combination of the Viber app and free data from my T-Mobile plan, it was easy to keep in touch with people back home.
I was surprised by how fast the data was in Singapore, Hong Kong, and even remote parts of Bali. It worked equally well in France, Germany, and Greece this summer. The only place where I had trouble was Mexico, where data speeds were ridiculously slow. Still, I’d highly recommend T-Mobile’s Simple Choice Plan – I’ve had service with both Verizon and AT&T and T-Mobile beats them both in terms of cell phone service as well as customer service.
What are some of your tips for making group travel less stressful?
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