Ria ditched her nonprofit office job in Chicago to teach English overseas. Needless to say, that transition gave her a fresh perspective.
It's easy to think that friends who get along well at home can manage a trip abroad together. If you all have the same interests and are all pretty laid-back, then you can take on the world together, right?
Unfortunately, an unfamiliar setting can bring out the worst in people, and jet lag can set off conflict that makes the whole trip miserable. If you want to maximize your chances of actually having fun on your trip, check out these tips and tricks for keeping your group safe, sane, and healthy.
Keep the Group Small
The larger the group, the larger the logistical nightmare of travel becomes! Any group larger than six will have a hard time squeezing onto tours and into restaurants. Plus, the number of competing interests and personalities increases, as does the potential for outright conflict.
If you pull together a group and then decide on a destination, people who aren't happy with the destination choice might still feel obligated to attend, since they agreed to be part of the group. Consider doing it in the opposite order: having two or three core friends decide on a destination and then inviting others. If no one else is interested in your proposed trip, then pick another destination and try again, or just go with your very small group.
Remember: this doesn't have to be your only trip ever! Some friends can join on your next trip, when they have more money, free time, or interest.
Set a Budget
Chances are, you and your friends don't all make the same amount of money, and won't have the same budget for this trip. Before any rooms or flights get booked, do a quick survey of folks' budget, including airfare and hotel. If one person's budget is unrealistically low, now's the time to have a talk with them about it. It may be best to have one person talk individually with each interested friend at first, since money can be such a sensitive issue.
If anyone in your group is interested in an activity that costs more than $20 per person, or wants to take a far-flung day trip to a city on the other side of the country from your original destination, they should say so as early in the planning process as possible. If the group is split on whether or not the activity is worth it, keep in mind that the group could always part ways for one day of the trip.
Also, remember to budget for time! Some members of your group will have more vacation time than others. While some people could fly home a day or two earlier than others if necessary, try to avoid having one person make a solitary, lonely flight home by themselves before the rest of the group.
Plan in Advance
Is this a cultural trip, or a party trip? Do group members want to see historical sites and museums, or beaches and bonfires? Like with budgeting, your group members need to be relatively on the same page in advance. From there, some of the logistical planning, including sorting through how much should be done in a single day, can be handed over to one or two people.
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Some folks might want to be really flexible and decide on activities as you go. While it's good to have some flexibility, especially if the weather is subject to change, the best tours and activities often require advance reservations. If you show up in Tokyo with no reservations, for example, you'll miss out on some of the best cafes and restaurants! At the very least, have some core activities booked in advance, and have the group prepare a list of other possible activities (and their appropriate travel logistics) so you're not scrambling to do research every morning of the trip.
Divide Up Labor
Nothing fuels resentment more than having all the logistics-related work dumped on one person. While it's true that some people are just better at logistics than others, everyone in the group can at least chip in to help. Maybe one friend has actually been to Costa Rica before, and can make a basic list of activities and places they enjoyed. Maybe one friend speaks passable Spanish and can be responsible for translating for the trip.
If your trip covers multiple cities, you could also divide up logistics and money collection based on city. For example, one person could be responsible for money-collecting and logistics for Barcelona, another person covers Madrid, and a third person covers the travel between the two.
A week or so before the trip, double check and make sure everyone has done their agreed-upon labor and paid in advance for things if needed. Make sure hotel reservation information has been forwarded to other group members. If an individual person was responsible for planning a certain day trip, ask them to send that itinerary to the group.
Decide on Ground Rules
If you're going to another country to party and mess around, then maybe you don't need ground rules! Otherwise, though, you probably do. Set times to meet back at the hotel, create an emergency contact plan, and determine in advance just how much partying will be allowed in hotel rooms.
This is especially important in countries where cultural norms are significantly different. It's good to make sure everyone in your group is roughly on the same page with regards to good - and bad - behavior. Some people honestly might not know the cultural norms of the country you're going to, so have a member of your party do some basic research and suggest some do's and don'ts to the group.
Keep in mind that while some cultural norms probably don't apply to tourists, any blatantly disrespectful behavior could get you arrested! (In Thailand, for example, this includes mooning the camera in front of a temple.)
Get Enough Sleep
There's nothing worse than trying to sort out a conflict over money while people are over-tired! While jet lag is unavoidable, your group should make sure to get at least six hours of sleep every night of the trip, with eight being ideal. Any less than six will make your friends seem more like enemies.
Agree in advance on what nights will be good for partying and which should be spent resting. For example, your group can hopefully agree that partying the night before an 8 a.m. snorkeling trip is a bad idea. The same goes for the night before your 6 a.m. flight home!
© 2019 Ria Fritz