How to travel with a group (without getting nuts)?
I remember when I was a kid, my parents told me a story of some friends of theirs who’d gone on holiday for a couple of weeks in the south of France with 2 other families they’d known for a long time. They rented a big house, hoping to have the best time of their lives, and ended up fighting and breaking up their friendship.
The truth is, while traveling can be one of the best experiences to share with someone, it also surely is one of the hardest, and a real strain on the relationship. I have often found myself in group travel situation, and not all of them were successful.
As I was myself in the situation recently while traveling with friends and family in Japan and Austria, I had the opportunity to think about what makes group travel successful or not.
Why is group travel difficult in the first place?
Relationships in general are a delicate life area, even when we are fully comfortable and at ease. Add the many unknown and unpredictable aspects of travel that take you out of your comfort zone, and you can bet your last buck that it will likely bring out the most sensitive and touchy parts of everyone’s personality, making living together even more difficult.
Moreover, we have a tendency to believe that our friends and families are similar to us, considering then that they will travel the way we do. What is normal for us is considered the norm, but really there is as many norms as there are individuals, and travel is no exception. However, we very often forget how our closed ones can differ from us, and that can create unnecessary opportunities for misunderstanding and disagreements.
On top of that, travel is for many of us a rare chance to take a well-deserved break in our busy lives, and we count on our few days of holidays to fulfill our many dreams and needs: discoveries, fun, excitement, rest, self-care and quality-time, etc. We place lots of hope into that moment, making us sometimes less available for compromise and more sensitive to disappointment.
Traveling With the Family
Traveling with the fam is a particular case of group travel for different reasons.
First, unlike your friends, you don’t get to choose your family; they come in a pack, no matter if they have different views on how the trip should take place.
Also, have you ever noticed how family members have a tendency to go back to old patterns of behaviors when they are together? It doesn’t matter how much you’ve worked on yourself, when in presence of your parents or siblings, you might weirdly behave as if you were a teenager again. And while you love each other very much, you probably get on each other’s nerves to a point nobody else is able to, which obviously makes interactions sometimes delicate.
Finally, because you know each other oh so well and they’re your family, you’re also more likely to make less efforts to accommodate to them than you would with friends or strangers.
This all makes it even harder for travel plans to go smooth and easy.
So how can you make sure to get the best out of your travel with friends or family?
1. Know what you want
The very first thing to do is to take a moment to define what you want but also what you don’t want.
Ask yourself what kind of travel, what kind of destination, what kind of activities would make the perfect travel but also the worst one.
How far away are you willing to go?
How long can you leave?
What transportation type?
What type of weather?
What are you looking for?
What kind of activities (sport, beach, relax, cultural…)?
What kind of rhythm (night owl or early bird)?
What budget do you have?
What and where do you want to eat?
How precisely do you want to plan the details of the trip?
Will you need to be following a special rhythm, like working part of the day?
What can you really not imagine doing?
If you never ask yourself these questions, the risk is big that you’ll miss on important aspects of your travel, and that you’ll only realize in the moment how important they are for you.
2. Choose your travel mates
Your best friends might be at your side for years, it doesn’t mean they will be your wisest choice for travel buddies. Finding the right travel partners is not only about getting along, it’s mainly a question of compatibility.
Once you’re clear on what you want, it’s time to make sure that your partners’ travel plans are aligned with yours. This is a key step when planning for group traveling, and very often something we underestimate or simply forget about.
When I was about 21yo, I went on holiday with 3 of my very best friends. We’d known each other for years, we’d see each other every week or so, so it was only logical to take a trip together. The only problem is, it’s very different to go out on the weekend and to spend an actual week together 24/7. The only thing we had planned was the house rental and the car we’d use to drive there. We thought we’d figured the rest once arrived. For a couple of days, everything went great. Then, tensions started to arise with one of the girls, as we realized we had completely different ideas of what the perfect holidays meant for each of us, in terms of pretty much everything.
Make sure you are on the same page, even for smaller details that may seem logical or unimportant.
For instance, if traveling by car, agree on who will be driving it. Mention dietary restrictions that can have an impact on the choice of restaurants. Similarly, don’t only mention that you are on a “tight” budget without defining what it means as we all have different standards, explain it means, what you are willing to spend on and what you’re willing to save on.
Obviously, not every single point has to correspond to your personal agenda for the trip. Actually, chances are you won’t even be able to choose who you’re traveling with, if you embark on a family trip e.g. In all cases, you will have to make room for compromise. The key is to be aware of the needed compromises beforehand, so you avoid the frustration as much as possible.
3. Prepare for the trip
While traveling alone often invites serious spontaneous decisions and traveling in duo allows for it most of the time, the more you add people to the balance, the harder it becomes to spend stress-free days without at least a little bit of organization ahead of time.
The minimum organization would require booking accommodations and main transportations, as these are the hardest to find for groups.
When possible, share your top activities or the things that require planning ahead, like specific exhibitions, events for important dates, and so on, so you already have a general canvas of what the trip will look like, at least for the first few days.
You want to make sure that you start on the right foot, as the first moment will likely give a dynamic to the trip.
4. Give yourself some alone time
Very often, when planning for group travel, we take into consideration that everyone will take part in every activity, at the same time.
I actually would encourage you to allow for optional activities, group sub-division and even better, couple or alone time.
During my travel, I noticed that the groups getting along the best were not only those with the clearest expectations but also those who frequently splat for a few hours, a day or even more. This give freedom for everyone to spend their time the way that suits them the most, to follow their own rhythms and to come back happy, with new stories to share with the rest of the group.
Group dynamic can be both very exciting and tiring, or even overwhelming for some. Allowing for alone time is the perfect way to reset and let the tensions evaporate before they escalate.
When traveling as a couple, it can also be important to keep quality time just for the 2 of you, as we are always a bit different in bigger social situations and in the intimacy of the duo.
If alone time is discussed beforehand, it will likely be accepted as normal part of the trip, whereas if it is decided last-minute due to an overload of tension, it will more likely be interpreted negatively and create an awkward feeling within the group.
Take time to set the ground rules of which activities you’d like to do on your own and when, where or how you’ll meet back with the rest of the group.
5. Designate a person in charge for the day
Even when everyone gets along, is in the right mood and is willing to compromise, group travel makes everything take more time: bathroom breaks, walking pace, and mainly decisions.
In some groups, different people have strong opinions and want to be in charge, in others no one is ready to take the leading role. When everyone takes part in the decision-making process, you have more different opinions, more ideas, more negotiation.
If you want to avoid that and ensure a swift dynamic, start by asking who feels comfortable with planning and organization. If more than one person volunteers, try designating leaders for specific tasks or moments of the trip: finding the metro route, creating a walking tour in a neighborhood, booking a restaurant…
When traveling with my family, we agreed that my sister and I would choose restaurants, because we know what our parents like and don’t like, because we are probably pickier and because we have been known for finding places everyone likes. We then either choose among the 2 of us or we offer a couple of options for the rest of the group to select from if we are hesitating.
This also lifts some of the pressure from the one person that usually organizes everything.
The deal is then of course that those who are not chosen or willing to take the lead agree to follow the instructions without complaining or stating they would have done better! Easier said than done ;-)
6. Be the bigger person
Whenever you get frustrated, don’t forget that other might be too. You’re not alone in the situation, and you probably contributed, even without realizing, to creating it.
Try and observe it from the outside. See what YOU could do to help the situation, even when you feel that you are in the right. One person who changes their behavior is often the solution to untangle a sensitive situation. Such a peace offering will be more than welcomed when everyone is busy focusing on what’s not going well.
7. Let it go
Though it’s probably one of the hardest things to do, learning to let it go is probably one of the best ways to make the trip a success. Accept that things won’t go as planned and remember that the goal is to be together.
Finally, ask yourself why this situation gets on your nerve. Use it as an occasion to work on your patience and flexibility and you’ll soon see how it allows you to get out of your comfort zone and to know yourself better. When you look at it this way, you’ll be able to take some distance and realize that no matter the situation you are in, there is something that you can learn from it, and that’s certainly why you are in it…
Enjoy your group travels and don't hesitate to share your tips!