Lifestyle

The rewards and perils of traveling in a large group

By Jerry Vaughn, Travel Talk

Group travel can be a fun and exciting adventure.

Being with friends, family or other like-minded people can provide memorable experiences that can build strong bonds. Organizing and planning the trip can be fairly easy if you do it right.

However, you will come to appreciate the term “herding cats” if you take the wrong approach. We organize a lot of groups, and believe me, we have learned some lessons the hard way. Some of the mistakes you can make may be nothing more than a little nuisance or inconvenience, while others can have significant cost implications. In still other cases, not paying attention to details and not staying on top of things can cause people to miss connections, end up with things that are different than they were expecting — or can jeopardize the whole trip.

Like anything else, experience pays, so don’t be afraid to ask for help to make sure your group trip results in the participants coming back and saying, “Wow, that was a great trip. I can’t wait to do it again!”

We have worked with a number of people who wanted to organize a group to travel together, but they become so frustrated with trying to get people to agree on things and get firm commitments that the whole thing falls apart. It doesn’t have to be that way if you just remember the basics.

Here are a few tips for putting together a group trip so you can all have a good time and avoid complications along the way.

• Use a small group (usually no more than three) to initially decide what kind of trip you would like to take, where you would like to go and things you would like to do. If you get too many involved, you will probably experience “analysis paralysis” and decisions may never get made. Make a list of your favorite things to do and think about options for the area you are visiting to appeal to as wide a range of people as possible considering age, lifestyle, budget and interest. What appeals to grandma at age 80 probably won’t interest junior at age 16 or mom at age 42.

• Once a destination has been selected and a type of trip agreed upon, pick one person to be in charge. You’ve probably heard the old expression “too many cooks spoil the soup.” Same thing goes with planning. One person should coordinate the rest of the organizational task to avoid unnecessary duplication, confusing or conflicting information and wasting time and effort.

• Allow plenty of time. We just completed our annual hosted tour of Europe with a group of 28, and that was planned almost 18 months before the trip ever occurred. We are doing our next hosted cruise and tour to New Zealand and Australia, and that’s not until November 2008. All the arrangements for it have been made over the past

three months. As a general rule, you should allow at least a year for your group trip so people can secure the time off, budget, save, pay for the trip and allow others to join in.

• Work with a leisure travel agent who is experienced in working with groups. It’s important to recognize that group bookings are much more complicated than individual bookings. Often times amenities or favorable pricing is missed because the inexperienced person simply doesn’t know what to ask for. When traveling to popular places or abroad, it’s best to involve someone who does this on a full-time basis as they can typically point you in the right direction when planning.

In addition, they can save you a lot of time, headaches and, most importantly, money. They can do many things to make your life much easier such as providing Group Express Reservation Forms that collect all essential information required for traveling today and payments so you don’t have to become the collection agency. They will ensure that all the components are in place so your trip goes smoothly. If your group is large enough, they may even escort it to make sure everything goes just right. The services of the agent don’t cost you anything, generally, as the vendor compensates the agent.

• Make sure everyone in your group either has their passport or applies for their passport and any required visas early. Unless you are traveling in the United States or Puerto Rico, you will need a valid passport under new federal guidelines, with some very limited exceptions.

• Make a list of estimated traveling expenses. Some resorts and cruises may advertise as “all inclusive” (but seldom are) and you still need to eat at the airports, buy souvenirs and pay for your day trips, among other things. Also make sure your group members know about any dress requirements and the climate so they can pack appropriately.

Whether for family reunions, friends, social or civic groups, or nonprofit fundraising events, group travel can be a great way to have a lot of fun.

Jerry Vaughn is president of World Voyager Vacations in Federal Way and can be reached at jvaughn@worldvoyagervacations.com.

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