How to Take a Group Vacation (and Make Sure Everyone Gets Along)
Nothing puts a big dark cloud over an otherwise sun-filled vacation like different vacation styles among traveling companions—and the stress of managing them all. After all, you've invested too much time (plus a good chunk of change) planning what was supposed to be an amazing girls' getaway or family vacation just to have it ruined by arguments or, perhaps worse, growing resentment because one person in the group is a morning person while another can't be roused until at least 11 a.m. In extreme cases, a trip with mismatched vacation styles can even lead to isolation (which, depending on where you are, can put someone at an increased safety risk) or the end of an important relationship.
The good news is that there are easy steps you can add to your preparations and vacation packing list to get ahead of, and even take advantage of, different vacation styles (and interests) to ensure that everyone's individual needs are being met. Whether you're traveling with your S.O., a group of friends, or your entire family, read on as experts share their top tips for minimizing conflict leading into and during your next getaway so everyone comes out of it feeling relaxed, fulfilled, and even closer than before.
1. Discuss what success looks like
One of the most important things to remember when planning a group vacation, especially with a larger group, is that communication is key. Before you begin booking anything, you'll want to have an honest discussion about what each person hopes to get out of it.
"This should cover the main things each person wants to see and do. Perhaps it's visiting a major monument, spending a day at the beach, or trying out a famous restaurant. How many things each person gets to choose will vary depending on how many people are in your party and how much time you have, but everyone should feel like they have a stake in the planning," says Stacy Kaiser, a licensed psychotherapist and relationship expert.
2. Address vacation styles and needs
Once you cover attractions, it's not a bad idea to do a quick assessment of how everyone typically approaches vacation and any other habits or needs that might play into their overall happiness.
"Are you an early riser and/or do you intend to be in bed every night by a certain time? Are you someone that wants to get a workout or your steps in? Is taking a daily rest or nap important for you to recharge? Some like to spend their time away always on the go, while others like to take a more scenic route or would be happy lying on the beach or in a nearby park," Kaiser says, noting that, in addition to emotional, physical, and dietary needs and restrictions, this might also be a good time to touch on personal pet peeves or anything someone would like to specifically avoid.
3. Get on the same page about money
When getting into attractions and travel styles, you might find that the uncomfortable subject of money comes up. Our experts say this can be a particular area of contention—not everyone knows how to budget for a vacation.
"When I travel, I like to stay at a 4-star+ hotel with air conditioning and room service, and I have no problem springing for the tourist attractions—they're popular for a reason! My husband, on the other hand, likes to explore and check out local restaurants and shops," says Bonnie Winston, a celebrity matchmaker and relationship expert.
She suggests everyone try to be empathetic of others' financial circumstances and to try to find common ground, either through compromising on lodging, cooking some meals in, or finding other ways to shave some money off vacation costs. "If this doesn't work, and you're dealing with other adults in a group, you can also try splitting up at certain points to appease everyone. Just make sure you discuss some safety checks beforehand," Winston says. If you're going with someone you live with, Winston says you can also try dedicating a cookie jar to vacation splurges. "Keep it in a central spot and have everyone fill it up with loose change throughout the year to provide some added cushion."
4. Establish a social media and photo policy
Kaiser says social media usage and the staging of mini photo shoots are often another tricky area when traveling with others, so it helps to get on the same page regarding what counts as checking in or documenting your experience versus what could be taken as dismissive or invasive. "One of the typical arguments that happen in this situation is that one person will believe that truly being in the moment means not taking pictures or videos and another person has the opinion that they are truly in the moment already and they just want to document it to remember the experience for the future," Kaiser says. If you're planning on posting photos of others, it's not a bad idea to do a courtesy check before posting or tagging them.
5. Schedule the important things
Now that you're on the same page about vacation goals, styles, costs, and concerns, it can help to jot everything down. By mapping and scheduling out your vacation, you can ensure that you're covering all of the bases and making efficiencies (both when it comes to location and price) where possible. "You could look into giving each person a day to plan, or organizing time into blocks. You'll also want to do research surrounding hours of operation, special events, and reservations so that you can get ahead of any snags and minimize the amount of surprises and having to shift things around when it might be more difficult down the road," Kaiser says.
6. Make room for novelty
With all of the major items accounted for, you can work on filling in the gaps with down time an—ideally—a few new experiences. "Take a cooking class using ingredients you typically would not use or embark on an adventure that is new for everyone," Kaiser says. "Some of our most lasting and bonding memories come from trying something unique that boosts our adrenaline and overall feeling of excitement." If staying at a hotel, check the website in advance for nearby attractions or ask the receptionist for some suggestions upon arrival. Locals are another great resource when it comes to having a genuine experience.
7. Be open-minded
While a little preparation can go a long way when it comes to managing expectations and setting your vacation up for success, you also want to allow yourself some to go with the flow. "Practice flexibility. Try not to be so tied to a schedule or plan that you run the risk of not being in the moment or missing out on something more interesting or adventurous that may come up," Kaiser says.
8. Focus on the bigger picture
Even with the proper guardrails in place, spending a lot of time with any person—especially several persons for an extended period in close quarters—can still lead to conflict, in which case Kaiser says it can be helpful to remember why you took your vacation (and why you chose these traveling companions) in the first place. "If you find yourself getting frustrated or having disagreements, try to focus on the big picture of having a great trip versus on the little idiosyncrasies that each of us might have," she says. And, by all means, don't allow anyone to get hangry. "Packing snacks (such as nuts and protein bars) is vital, especially for when travel and meals are delayed," Winston says.