Tip: Planning a Large Group Trip

There is nothing like a good girls trip.  I love spending time with friends and enjoying all that a destination has to offer.  Anyone who knows me knows that I love anything and everything related to travel–even the task of planning the trip.  With one, very important caveat.  I hate, and I do mean hate, traveling with more than three other people.  Honestly, more than two gets dicey in my book.  So how I ended up planning a destination bachelorette party with an invite list of 17 people is really beyond me…

Let me begin by saying that this task was just as horrific as I imagined it would be:  sending mass emails to people I did not know and getting little to no response; emails bouncing back; and trying to solicit opinions from people who don’t care…until they do.  Oh and how can I forget the lovingly indecisive bride-to-be; the matron of honor who invited the bride’s mom on the trip; and one of the other alleged co-organizers who did no organizing.  The list goes on and on and on…

Can you feel my pain?  Even for the Queen of Travel, this experience left me feeling some kinda way!

Planning a trip of any type for many people can be a headache of epic proportions.  But it’s not impossible.  Here are a few tips to help reduce the headache and turn up the fun on planning a trip for a lot of people:

  1. Start in advance.  Whatever amount of time you think you need…double it.    I have put my own trips together (international, solo travel) in three months or less.  But that’s for one person who generally knows what she wants, how she likes to travel, and how much she is willing to spend.  Dealing with more than a few people brings in variables that you can’t plan for when traveling solo or in a small group.  You need plenty of time to “wrangle” people (or strangle, which coincidentally rhymes).  Some people don’t do email.  Some people may have questions.  Some people have unpredictable life/work situations.  And some won’t commit until they know “who else is going.”  Whatever the reason, know that not everyone will (and most likely won’t) respond when you want or need them to.  In addition, planning for a large group takes special attention.  Finding accommodations for large groups does take some planning and the more lead time you have the better.
  2. Give artificial deadlines. I hate to admit I do this.  But the fact is that people rarely do what they need to do when they need to do it.  Especially if it’s travel related, people think “oh the trip is months away, I have plenty of time to get back around to this.”  As a travel planner, the most frustrating thing EVER is people doing things on their own time.  That’s why I believe it is perfectly acceptable to give artificial deadlines when travel planning.  They key is not to let everyone know it’s an artificial deadline.  Also, when setting an artificial deadline, it cannot be so obvious that everyone knows that the deadline is artificial–otherwise, you lose credibility down the road to get the information you need.
  3. Send correspondence with very specific requests.  Generic emails to groups get very little response.   However, emails with very specific requests usually garner very specific responses.  For example, while planning a large group trip, I sent an email once we nailed down a location and a date, and in BOLD letters stated “Here’s What I Need You To Do.”  Now don’t list 10 things!  Keep it short and sweet.
  4. But don’t send too many emails. Email inbox clutterers get deleted.  Or skimmed.  Or the sigh of annoyance at the very name in the inbox.  Try to only send emails when you have concrete and specific information to send out or need responses by a certain time.
  5. Reach out personally to people. One of the drawbacks in using mass email to coordinate is that sometimes people do not feel invested or that their response is needed or wanted.  Sometimes a personal email or phone call can make the difference.
  6. Stay Organized. This is honestly one of the most difficult parts.  One experience I had while planning a bachelorette party is a lesson in what not to do.  I did not know any of the other potential attendees personally and had no contact information for them.  Many (and I am not exaggerating ), many of the email addresses I got from the bride-to-be were outdated or just wrong.  And then I did a survey (see below) and forgot to have people put their name in the survey, so I had responses and could not determine who responded with which answer…so I had to ask everyone to patiently do the survey again…once I got organized, it made the rest of the planning much easier.
  7. Utilize effective online tools to assist in planning.  Online planning tools are fantastic.  There are apps and websites that can help with every part of the planning process–from taking polls to collecting money.  Use them!
  8. Find ways to keep potential attendees involved and invested. This means utilizing your resources.  Someone may have a hook up or an excellent suggestion of how to make the trip more enjoyable.  Although you do not want too many chiefs taking charge, make sure to make others feel like they have a vested interest in the trip.  Make sure to plan a variety of activities so that there is something for everyone.
  9. Think logistics. Logistics for two?  Easy breezy!  Logistics for 10+?  Think long and hard on the front end.  For the bachelorette  that I planned, the bride-to-be wanted to go to Key Largo, Florida.  Beautiful beach!  The problem?  The nearest airport is an hour away.  My initial thought?  How on earth are people going to get from the airport to our destination?   People were flying in from all across the country and it would be difficult (and expensive) for people to individually coordinate that trip by themselves.  Even if we rented a car or two, trips to the airport (an hour away) could be hectic, annoying, and take away from the experience of the entire trip if people arrived and departed at different times.  Once I explained the potential problem, the bride was open to a location  that did not present as many logistical challenges.
  10. Consider “Ready Made Trips.” Starting from scratch can add a lot of hours into the planning process.  Sometimes starting from scratch is the only option.  But there are some ‘ready made’ options that can save a lot of time and energy.  Cruises come to mind.  Once you select the cruise liner and dates, people can pay the company directly and takes that annoyance out of your hands.  Another idea for a somewhat ready made trip is planning a trip around an event such as a music or cultural festival.  This option is great because the dates are set and most of the entertainment is accounted for.
  11. Make sure to still have fun! If you are a grumpy planner, everyone will know it.  As the planner, you set the tone!  A happy and enthusiastic planner is critical.  No matter how frustrated you get, don’t send that email or make that phone call while angry.
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