Group travelers have unique needs, depending on the trip purpose. Bachelor party planners debate over which type of alcohol to consume and whether or not a stripper is appropriate. Family reunion organizers decide how big of a reunion to have and where to have it. Brides and grooms deliberate on pros and cons of a destination wedding or a home-grown wedding.
Peruse these planning guides to find tips, advice, and new approaches to planning anything from a road trip, to family vacations, to ski trips, to weddings, to girls getaways, and more.
Wedding Planning Guide: Whether the ceremony is a quick Vegas-themed affair, in a dreamy destination, or where you live and work, the devil is in the details. Here are tips to simplify the wedding planning process.
Ski Guide for Groups: Snowboarders and skiers alike can use this essential planning tool of ski resorts, checklists, and aprés ski activities before hitting the slopes.
If you've ever traveled with family and friends, you know what an enjoyable, rewarding experience it can be. Until something goes wrong of course, then everyone turns their attention to the group leader for a quick resolution.
If you're planning your own group trips, being out on an island like this can become very uncomfortable. Here's some tips to help get you through:
Prepare for the best but plan for the worst. While your co-travelers are on vacation, you're working - at least to the extent that everyone is safe and secure. Understand the logistics of your trip and have a contingency plan in case something goes awry. Collect emergency contact information for all your travelers, and a list of any medication they may be on. This way, if something does go wrong, you are prepared to deal with medical professionals and family/friends back home.
Pass out Chill Pills. True story - one group leader gives each of her travelers a sugar pill on the first day of the trip while explaining that at one point during the trip some thing's not going to go as planned, because, well that's the way travel is. She advises them to ingest the pill at the first sign of distress. It sets the mood for a relaxing trip.
Share the responsibility. Not an accountant? Somebody in your group is probably good with numbers. Assign them the task of group accountant for shared meal or drink expenses. Look for buddies that can also help arrange transportation, tours, and make sure everyone stays on schedule and is prepared for the day's activities.
Protect your investment. Travel insurance used to be thought of as an unnecessary expense that was geared for seniors. However, with today's tumultuous travel climate and tighter restrictions on private insurance policies it's a necessary evil. Look for a travel insurance policy with "cancel for any reason" options.
Go with a pro. If handling hotels, sightseeing, meals and activities is too much of a load - find a capable tour operator to plan your group's trip. This is especially true with overseas travel, with companies like Globus, Go Ahead Tours and Collette Vacations specializing in working with small groups. Another benefit? The group leader travels free with as little as 8 paying passengers (shh!).
Group travel planning can be a fun, rewarding experience if you follow these guidelines. For more group travel know-how, visit our magazine website at www.leisuregrouptravel.com
Jeff Gayduk is a 24-year veteran of the group travel industry and the founder and publisher of Leisure Group Travel magazine and InSite on Leisure Group Travel e-newsletter.
Is being able to walk to nearby restaurants, bars, coffee shops and shopping important to your attendees? What about access to public transportation?
There's a lot of talk about "green" events these days and the best way to make your event fun and green is to choose a location with convenient access to the amenities and activities your attendees want and that doesn't require them to drive long distances or wait in endless cab lines to get around.
The folks at Walk Score, which measures the walkability of any address, just ranked the most walkable covention centers. Here's the top 5:
On a group trip, even when you're traveling with family and friends, you usually find the good, the bad and the unexpected. The good—you make a new friend. The bad—one annoying person drives everybody insane. The unexpected—you visit a destination or attraction you never would have discovered on your own that blows your mind.
No matter where you go, any great trip begins with smart planning. Here are some tips to consider as you get your family, friends or wedding party ready for a trip together:
Test drive the group: Your wild friend Bob and crazy Uncle Larry may be fun to hang out with on a Saturday night but they might drive everyone nuts during a two-week trip. Before spending a vacation together, try a long-weekend group trip to see what the dynamics are like. Then, plan accordingly.
Set ground rules: It is very important to make the "ground rules" crystal clear at the beginning of the trip. It helps to have them written down and handed out (even to your family members). Ground rules can include how costs are divided up, daily departure times, who’s responsible for driving, etc.
Timing is everything: When traveling as a group, the "on-time" issue usually causes the most friction. Invariably, one or two people are always late for the morning blast-off and/or wander off at stops and are nowhere to be found when it’s time to hit the road again. Nip this situation in the bud immediately! It’s not only annoying but unfair to the rest of the group.
If a gentle (or harsh) reprimand doesn’t work, a) assign an on-time "buddy" to the person (this task can be rotated among the group members); b) simply state that the car/van/bus will take off at the appointed time and persistent latecomers will be responsible for getting to the next stop on their own. (You can put this in the ground rules memo.)
Schedule downtime: Don’t let the desire to see everything blind you to the need for daily downtime. Be sure to plan for time to relax by the pool and/or change clothes back at the hotel.
Staying connected: Even on vacation, we are all so attached to our need to check e-mail. Find out in advance from your hotels if there’s a WiFi connection in the rooms or if there’s a business center for those who don’t have or don’t want to bring a laptop. Also, check if there is a hotel "hotspot" charge to access the internet.
Provide options: You may love your family and group of friends, but spending every waking moment together for a week or two can be trying. Plan optional activities and restaurant choices so individuals or smaller groups can branch off on their own.
Activity options could include a choice of museum hopping, shopping or a sports activity. For restaurant choices, contact your hotels in advance and get three good restaurant suggestions for each place you’ll stop for meals. You might wind up eating together anyway, but it's good to provide choices for those who might need a break from a little too much togetherness!
Jacquelin Carnegie is a contributing travel editor to Accent magazine. For the past 15 years, she has covered international travel destinations for both consumer and business publications.
If you're putting together vacation plans with friends or family, there are great resources online for researching activities, attractions, destinations in the U.S. Many state tourism sites offer travel ideas for where to go and how to entertain your group; quality sites have useful information, beautiful photos, clean designs, give an accurate glimpse of what to expect from visiting the area, and are easy to navigate.
Type the state plus the word tourism in any search engine to find the official state tourism sites. Here are some of my favorite U.S. state tourism sites for trip planning and idea gathering:
**Washington**Aside from TripHub blogging, I also write features for this site. Have a look at Washington's great outdoors, national parks, farmers markets, and one-of-a-kind Washington. If you like what you read, the writer graciously thanks you. ;-)
**Oregon**This is an easily usable site with useful travel ideas and descriptions of what makes Oregon unique and enticing as a place to gather the troops: wineries, culinary travel, outdoor activities, mountain hiking, urban experiences, etc.
Clean design, lots of information, easy navigation.
Clean design, good amount of information, relatively easy to navigate.
By guest blogger Brianne Wheeler
Part two of two-part series on travel insurance and precautions to take
Preparations and precautions can and should be taken when traveling in groups, especially to foreign countries. Here are the Consumer Reports on Health risks and precautions to be taken to prepare better for a trip. They go hand in hand with travel insurance to provide traveler peace of mind.
Most common illness, strikes up to 60% of visitors to developing countries
Self-help step: Avoid non-pasteurized dairy products and tap water
Self-help step: Choose foods served steaming hot
Medical supplies to pack: Non prescription loperamide (Imodium A-D)
Medical supplies to pack: Prescription antibiotics for more severe cases
Nausea as a result of the inner ear, eyes, and body sending conflicting signals to the brain while flying, boating and driving
Self-help step: Keep head still, close eyes or look at stationary objects
Self-help step: Avoid reading
Self-help step: Open vents or windows to increase air flow
Self-help step: Move to the center of the boat
Medical supplies to pack: Prescription scopolamine skin patch (Transaderm-Scop) or tablet version (Scopace)
Medical supplies to pack: OTC drugs dimenhydrinate (Dramamine) and meclizene (Bonine) are not as effective
Insomnia, irritability, and foggy-headedness caused by a sudden time-zone shift
Self-help step: Before traveling, shift activities to correspond to time zone of destination
Self-help step: After arrival, spend time in the sun
Medical supplies to pack: Melatonin (2-3mg) may ease symptoms when started on first night of travel (has not worked in some studies)
Across much of Latin America, Africa and Asia, mosquito-borne malaria and dengue fever are serious concerns
Self-help step: Use repellents containing 30-35% deet on exposed skin
Self-help step: Sleep under mosquito net treated with permethrin repellent (Duranon, Permanone)
Medical supplies to pack: No vaccine is available for Malaria; ask your doctor for the best drug for your destination
Medical supplies to pack: No vaccine or preventative drug is currently available for Dengue Fever
High Altitude Sickness
Headache, fatigue, nausea and vomiting resulting from a rapid increase in elevation
Self-help step: Before going to a high altitude, spend a few days at an intermediate elevation
Self-help step: Until you are acclimated, avoid rigorous activity
Self-help step: Drink a lot of fluid to avoid dehydration
Medical supplies to pack: Prescription acetazolamide (Diamox) starting 1-2 days before altitude change
Blood Clots in Airplanes
Prolonged sitting increases the risk of leg clots, potentially causing a life-threatening lung embolism
Self-help step: While seated, flex ankles and knees often
Self-help step: Walk in the aisles about once an hour
Self-help step: Drink plenty of non-alcoholic beverage before, during and after flight to avoid dehydration
Medical supplies to pack: If you take a drug that increases the chance of clots or have other risk factors, consider compression stockings, and/or ask your doctor about preventative aspirin or heparin
Car Accidents and Other Injuries
Accounts for about 1 in 4 travel-associated deaths
Self-help step: Don't drive at night in rural areas
Self-help step: Don't drink while swimming or boating
Self-help step: If possible, choose lodging with smoke detectors and sprinklers
Medical supplies to pack: Bring bandages, sunblock, tweezers, moleskin for blisters, water purification tablets, pain reliever, topical antibiotic
Medical supplies to pack: Carry list of medical conditions and contact numbers
Avian Influenza A (H5N1)
Transmission to humans is rare, but the influenza is widespread in birds
Self-help step: Avoid contact with chickens, ducks, geese, live-food markets, places contaminated with poultry excrement
Self-help step: Make sure food is thoroughly cooked
Medical supplies to pack: No vaccine for Avian Flu is currently available
Medical supplies to pack: Risk is too small to warrant carrying anti-flu prescription drugs
Source: Courtesy Consumer Reports on Health
Brianne Wheeler is the Assistant Marketing Manager forTravel Assist Network, a global medical services company that provides medial evacuation, travel protection, and critical information services to travelers worldwide. It also provides custom protection for corporations, travel groups, and non-profit organizations tailored to meet each group's coverage needs.
By guest blogger Brianne Wheeler
Part one of two-part series on travel insurance and precautions to take
Since the September 11 attacks, many travelers and group travel organizers have become increasingly concerned with their health and safety while away from home. As a result, many companies have launched travel protection products to give travelers peace of mind.
Here are common travel insurance options for individuals and groups, plus tips for finding what's right for you:
Medical Evacuation: Provides emergency transportation for a traveler who has a medical emergency, which is especially important when traveling to remote areas. Medical evacuation membership programs offer an array of additional benefits, such as lost luggage compensation and guaranteed hospital admission.
The fine print:
Nearest Appropriate Facility: With this coverage, you are likely not going to be transported to your home hospital, but rather to the nearest clinic or hospital that the insurance company deems adequate. You can also look for coverage that provides transportation to the home or specialty hospital of your choice. Independent medical evacuation services, as opposed to comprehensive travel protection policies, often provide this option.
Coverage Limits: If a group of travelers purchases a plan covering $20,000 of medical evacuation per person and one of the travelers has a medical emergency with a cost to evacuate of $75,000, the patient is responsible for covering the remaining $55,000. Be sure to purchase coverage that is unlimited or has a very high dollar limit.
Travel Health Insurance: These policies typically cover expenses that a traveler may incur from being in the hospital or seeing a physician while traveling. Coverage may also include benefits such as trip interruption, trip cancellation, travel delay, extreme sports and identity theft assistance. Note: Coverage may also include medical evacuation coverage, but several companies offer medical evacuation as an independent service.
The fine print:
Trip Cancellation Coverage: Before purchasing trip cancellation, make sure you know what the limitations are. For example, if a group of surfers plan a trip to Florida and a hurricane hits three days before their departure, most companies require that they cancel prior to the storm being officially named. Outside of bad weather, some policies will allow you to cancel for any reason; however, many only let you cancel for personal or family medical reasons.
Terrorism Coverage: With the recent political unrest around the globe, some companies have listened to travelers' concerns and expanded coverage to include benefits for travelers who are injured victims of a terrorist act. You'll want to ensure your coverage includes this benefit.
Although, thankfully, the majority of people travel to and from their destination with no medical emergencies or other issues, it's nice to have peace of mind and protection from unforeseen events. A tip for groups: purchase coverage together because groups usually receive discounted rates. Finally, here's a list of travel preparations and risks in various regions of the globe. Bon voyage!
Brianne Wheeler is the Assistant Marketing Manager forTravel Assist Network, a global medical services company that provides medial evacuation, travel protection, and critical information services to travelers worldwide. It also provides custom protection for corporations, travel groups, and non-profit organizations tailored to meet each group's coverage needs.
Are you the group geek? Along for the ride and prefer not to bother with trip details? Enthusiastic about one very specific element of the trip but indifferent about others? See how to use your natural talents to the fullest when planning that next group trip.
Here are common group profiles I've witnessed over the years:
Group geek: The one who must bring a cell phone, blackberry, or other widget lest they feel isolated from their real world of technology. This is also the person who brings a GPS and on camping trips, ski trips, or outdoor adventures and everyone ends up appreciating this person the most. Sound familiar? Suggestion: Careful not to geek out by tripping on the latest iPod or Zune features. Instead, think outward and perhaps suggest a GPS treasure hunt activity for the gang while traveling together. Offer your uber efficient Internet research skills for the troop leader in finding the best hotel and give your quick comments in the hotel discussion area of search results, then post it to the group's trip home page.
Troop leader: The idea person. The charismatic rally gal/guy. The motivated one who seems to have an internal compass pointing them in the right direction and helping them make decisions quickly, gather input, urge people to make reservations on time, offer activity options, and send out invites. This person is the point person of the trip, who can get as frazzled about pulling loose ends together as excited for the trip itself. Sound familiar? Suggestion: A smart troop leader delegates. If you prefer to be in control of certain trip aspects, just make sure you ask for input on key decisions such as hotel rooms, etc.
Indecisive: They love their friends, family, or the people with whom they'll travel. Or perhaps they like the ski club with whom they'll swish down the slopes. They're an open person who sees all sides of arguments and is likely philosophical. The good thing is they really don't care which mountain to ski on, what time the group leaves, which shuttle is used for transportation, as long as they're on the slopes. Problem is people sometimes need input and opinions so they can make decisions about where to stay. While the indecisive person oscillates between choice A and B because they may not want to hurt anyone's feelings who recommended either, ultimately decisions need to be made. "Whatever everyone else wants" can be a disguise for "I have no freakin' idea!" Sound familiar? Suggestion: Take a stand. Take your pick. Your flexibility and openness is appreciated, but your vote counts and is desired. In trip blog discussions, join in on conversation topics so decisions can quickly be made. Just as on election day, your voice counts.
Whiner and/or Frequent Special Requester: Surprisingly, these people may not realize they are doing this because it can be so subtle. The overt whiners are obvious and tend to bring the group down by taking every opportunity to moan about something or other. Subtle whiners can hold back key trip decisions by being slightly selfish or continually making changes to pre-set plans; for instance, saying they agree to a wine-tasting tour but later announce that they might go on a no alcohol detox diet (after the tour has been booked) so may not be able to participate. These are the special request kings/queens. The high maintenance types. We all want what we want, but consensus (which may mean compromise) on group trips is imperative. Sound familiar? Suggestion: Careful not to let negative feedback cloud the pre-trip planning process. Remember the trip is geared around everyone and remind yourself how great the rewards will be: seeing old friends and getting away. If you have a special request, you may be able to arrange that separately. Or save the most important special request to share with the group.
Group Socialite: This type of person wants to be in the heart of everything all the time. That doesn't mean they necessarily have to be the center of attention (although extreme versions exist). But they have more energy than most people and often push to stay up late, go the extra distance on physical activities, and even make new friends while traveling. This natural extrovert is an ideal person to help get the word out about the trip if you're organizing a trip where you can invite anyone. Sound familiar? Suggestion: You're a natural trip promoter and might be the best person to help organize key parts of the trip such as researching activities, etc. Let your enthusiasm bubble over into the trip planning process.
Who am I missing? Know of any other group profile that sounds familiar?
Planning a wedding, a milestone birthday, anniversary party, or any other organized group event? Scope out potential locations on a site specializing in helping you find event venues. Eventective is a searchable with Google maps per U.S. city flagged with event locations. Full addresses and basic overview information about each venue is also available.
Do your own digging around the site and find the ideal location for your next group event.
Holidays are just around the corner. Families and friends will gather to spend quality time reconnecting. While the holidays are some of the busiest travel times of the year, there are several prep steps to take to avoid the typical holiday stress.
Here's how to avoid common holiday stressors by planning ahead:
Long linesAvoid long lines at airports by taking an extra day off of work (on less busy travel days), or traveling when flights are less likely to be full. Be flexible.
Travel expensesBook early to save on flights and hotels. If you see a sale price for a package deal (hotel + airfare) or hotel, or flight, you should grab it as prices are only likely to increase as the date approaches. Also, consider airports nearby but not exactly where you wanted to go and consider renting a car, taking a train, or a puddle jumper plane to your destination. Sometimes, creative planning can get you there for cheaper. Shop around on discount sites or even use sky miles to help out.
Rides to and from airportNothing is worse than standing in the cold outside an airport hoping your ride shows up soon, at that terminal, at that airport, on that day. Coordinate early and use TripHub's Event Schedule to list rides available for people in your group. If Uncle Bob is planning on picking up Aunt Sue at 8:40 PM the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, note this on the Event Schedule of your trip home page so others can hitch a ride if convenient.
Where to stayIf gathering at a relative's house, discuss or share accommodation options together. TripHub has tools to do just that. 1) You can discuss accommodation options within the Trip Blog when you set up a trip home page with your group, or 2) discuss hotels using the custom feature built for making comments within a hotel search results page, or 3) if you have set plans or can open your house up for guests, share your accommodation information with other members of your group.
No peace and quietWant to ensure you have a little solo time on your trip, so you aren't inundated with family 24/7? Here are a few tips for getting time to yourself through the joys of iPods, books, exercise, and dogs.
Missed opportunitiesTo plan ahead on attractions, shows, museums, theater events, golf tee times, and other activities that could be sold out, you can use TripHub's Trip Blog and/or Event Schedule to share ideas and information with people and avoid any confusion.
To plan your holiday group getaway, you can use TripHub to plan where to stay, how to get there, and what to do when you're together. It's an easy, free way to plan ahead and avoid the stress of the happy holiday season.
Broadway shows entice travelers from around the world. They are a great excuse to escape hot, summer days or chilly, winter nights. And the star-studded casts, Tony Award-winning choreography, and finger-snapping music turn girls getaways, family reunions, bachelor parties, and vacations with friends into more memorable occasions.
Theatre entertainment is no different from the travel industry on defining groups, in that there's no real consistency. Yet when you travel with friends or family, you're a group, no matter your size. With that, I researched several popular Broadway show theatres to get the skinney on what constitutes a group and what your group should know before booking that Manhattan trip.
Most theatres for major Broadway shows had a range of minimums for group discounts to apply, and if your group happens to be smaller than 10 (even 8 or 9 people) you likely can't get a group "deal." However, there are many other ways to bargain hunt for shows, you just need to be a little flexible (see #5 below). Here are group minimums for some of The Great White Way's hottest shows:
Avenue Q plays at Golden Theatre, NYCGroup minimum: 10 tickets
Hairspray plays at Neil Simon Theatre, NYCGroup minimum: 10 tickets
Phantom of the Opera plays at the Majestic Theatre, NYC
Group minimum: 10 tickets
Rent plays at Nederlander Theatre, NYCGroup minimum: 10 tickets
Les Miserables plays at Broadhurst Theatre, NYCGroup minimum: 12 tickets
Chicago plays at Ambassador Theatre, NYC
Group minimum: 15 tickets
Beauty and the Beast plays at Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, NYCGroup minimum: 15 tickets
Mamma Mia plays at Winter Garden Theatre, NYCGroup minimum: 15 tickets
Spamalot plays at Shubert Theatre, NYCGroup minimum: 15 tickets
The Lion King plays at Minskoff Theatre, NYCGroup minimum: 15 tickets
The Color Purple plays at Broadway Theatre, NYCGroup minimum: 15 tickets
The Producers plays at St James Theatre, NYCGroup minimum: 15 tickets
Wicked plays at Gershwin Theatre, NYCGroup minimum: 20 tickets
Often, group tickets are available for a more limited time than individual tickets. The closer to the show date, the less likely you are to get group rates. Plan to get a head count and tickets early. A couple months in advance is preferred.
Group tickets can be purchased online at the theatre's Web site, or at a consolidator site such as Best of Broadway or via phone.
Group discounts vary from show to show and theatre to theatre, but can be sizeable. Beauty and the Beast tickets as listed on Best of Broadway, for instance, are currently discounted $25 - $40 per ticket, depending on the seating section.
Last minute individual tickets are also available, but not guaranteed. If you didn't plan ahead to get group discounts or were unable to plan that far in advance (perhaps the head count wasn't finalized until one week prior to the trip) then there are a few options. You can always walk up to a TKTS box office the day of a performance to check on last-minute tickets. Or look at last minute tickets from Broadway.com a few days in advance. And there are other Broadway bargain ticket ideas from About.com.
The New York Times recently published an article on the increase in flight cancellations and the impact on travelers. It's a great read, not because the topic is pleasant, but because it gives insight and helps you realize you are not alone. It also makes me wonder why air. You should definitely read the whole article, but the upshot is:
Always, always check at least a day before your flight departure to see if your flight has been cancelled.
It sounds like airlines occasionally cancel flights if there aren't enough people on the flight, although I doubt any airline would admit to such a tactic. Imagine - letting passengers happily sprawl out on flights and gain a little elbow room. They may even gain a few repeat passengers.
Airlines have a high-tech rebooking reservation system that takes into account things like how frequently you fly with their airline, how much you paid for your ticket, etc. so your chances of getting swiftly and efficiently given a good seat are not necessarily even steven.
Be persistent if not flexible. Occasionally, open seats on other flights "magically" appear if you're persistent enough, after your flight has been canceled.
Flight cancellations are sporadic and unpredictable still. May the force be with you.
Budget Travel Online has a list of 10 Tips to Cancellation, Change, and Refund Policies that seem relatively evergreen. I say relatively, because as quickly as airlines can sell a window seat, that's how quickly a policy can change. That aside, these are ten good guidelines to consider before booking trips.
Also, there are links to major airlines' refund policies so you can see what specific airlines offer for refunds currently.
The biggest thing to keep in mind: there is no universal cancellation policy in the travel industry. Each supplier, each airline, each hotel, travel operator (Expedia, etc.) has their own version. Read the fine print on each and never be shy to ask questions.
Want five-star service no matter where you travel? Only the best for your destination wedding or family reunion all costs aside? Need to getaway with friends, treating yourselves with lavish luxuries savored for special occasions (or simply required as your standard of living) and can afford to spend? Here are several tips for luxury group travelers:
Escorted luxury tours by Abercrombie & Kent
Numerous tour operators provide high quality experiences abroad or within the U.S. Arrange a group escorted tour or independent tour where your group has more free time to explore the area on your own, yet still in the lap of luxury. Abercrombie is a leader in luxury group tours.
10 lavish hotels worth the splurge by A Luxury Travel Blog
Worldwide luxury hotels and resorts where you can expect the highest service, most beautiful scenery, and a feeling of utter pampering.
Luxurious destination spas by Spafinder
Pampering at spas is a given, but when you go to destination spas, the minute you step foot onto the property, the entire vacation experience is geared toward your comfort. A slice of heaven on earth.
Charter jets for groups by Flexjet or Blue Star Jets or Artemis Air
Tired of crowds, lines, and lower quality service of economy flights? Charter a private jet for your group. There are many to choose from and if you split the cost between the group, the price may not be as high as you think. Or you may decide the extra price is worth traveling together with convenient, speedy service.
Outlandishly expensive things to do in New York City by PocketChangeNYC
A free weekly newsletter features deals to drop your jaw on high pricing in New York. It's "everything you love to hate and hate that you love."
High tech portable sommelier by Vagablond
This robot sommelier can identify wines and make food pairing recommendations, so say its Japanese manufacturers. Gadget lovers can bring it along on luxury vacation for kicks.
Ready to plan that lavish trip of the century (or month, for those who can afford the frequency) with your pals or extended family?
Harvest time is now. Weather is cooling. Leaves are afire with color. And activities turn more indoors, often to creature comforts such as cooking, culinary tours, regular meals with families, and food in general.
Gourmet has published 50 best American restaurants of 2006, with at least 50 percent new to the list. From Honolulu (Alan Wong's Restaurant) to New York City (Masa), and everywhere in between, Gourmet lists their crème de la crème.
For special occasions (birthday parties, bachelorette parties, engagement parties, rehearsal dinners for weddings) and holiday preparation time (shopping, etc.), treat your group, family, and/or friends to a sumptuous meal. You can also treat yourself and call it "research" for new holiday meal or family reunion dish ideas. Expensive though these restaurants are likely to be, sometimes life's worth a little indulgence, especially during the colder months.
You can discuss restaurant and dining options with your group using TripHub's trip discussion blog, and list restaurant reservation info and other trip details on TripHub's event schedule so everyone is on the same page.
Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve are three of the biggest holidays of the year. I received my first holiday party invitation just last week, which reminds me that people are planning early. If you're traveling or hosting a family or friend get together around the holidays, here are some basic tips:
2-3 months in advance (minimum)
Research how group reservations work if 10 or more people are traveling together for a holiday.
Restaurants book up during the holidays and often stop taking reservations when they've reached reservation capacity. Book reservations for your group now for holiday parties and gatherings.
Holiday travel is one of the busiest times for many airlines. Start looking for flight prices and if you find one in your budget, book it now. Depending on your location, you can look into train travel as a transportation alternative.
Hotels in major metropolitan areas and beach areas see an uptick in business around the holidays, so book early.
Create or determine a budget for yourself (for Christmas gifts especially) and stick to it.
If your trip hinges around one big event such as a New Year's event, purchase tickets as early as possible.
1 month in advance
If you're hosting guests for big meals such as Thanksgiving, Christmas dinner, etc., plan the courses and make food assignments if necessary (desserts, salads, appetizers, wine, etc.) to share the expense and responsibility. Most guests want to contribute.
Accommodations for those not staying in hotels or last-minute arrangements for friends/family who weren't able to book in advance. Perhaps you can make arrangements to borrow a neighbor's house while they are away, or book a local B&B that isn't easily discovered on the internet but would make the trip more enjoyable and affordable for some.
Plan group activities such as area sightseeing, attraction visits, purchasing admission tickets for events such as art exhibits at museums/galleries or theater shows.
Collect money from everyone and track shared expenses.
Shop for gifts.
1 week in advance
Confirm all flight, accommodation, activity, restaurant and train reservations and/or arrangements.
Final gift shopping.
Dust off games, borrow games from friends/neighbors, or buy new ones to make time spent with friends and family more enjoyable.
3 days in advance
If cooking a big meal, get all foodstuffs and start preparing meals early.
Wrap all remaining gifts. Buy a few extra general gifties (calendar, journal, wool socks, gift certificate to Barnes & Noble) in case someone brings a boyfriend or girlfriend home unexpectedly.
Clean the house, or if everyone is traveling to a destination, make sure you have a friend or neighbor keeping an eye on your place (collecting mail, watching pets, watering plants, etc.)
You're a member of a church that takes spiritual retreats. Perhaps your tennis or ski team travels for competition. Or your alma mater organizes football tailgate parties for home and away games. You could be a soccer parent planning away games with other parents. Or even belong to a swanky book club that travels to Italy after reading Under the Tuscan Sun. Whatever your lifestyle is, membership organizations (clubs, teams, associations, etc.) are great ways to stay active and pursue interests while meeting new people and reconnecting with old friends or colleagues.
For like-minded individuals who travel together, here are planning resources for organizing your next group trip.
Quick Checklist for Club, Team, or Organization Group Trips
Prepare a budget. How much will it cost? What are the shared expenses? What are deadlines for deposits, etc.? A basic spreadsheet with all big pre-trip shared expenses will help if you're organizing or on a committee for a given trip or retreat.
Collect money for shared expenses such as hotel rooms and transportation. You can track money owed using TripHub's money tracking tool.
Get release forms. If your trip is a school scenario with kids traveling with parents, coaches, and chaperones, you'll need to make sure release forms are signed.
Make dining reservations and arrangements for your group. Depending on group size, some restaurants may or may not be able to accommodate you, so book well in advance (even a couple of months). Groups get cranky when not fed, which makes for a stressful, less fun experience for everyone. Arrange for meals on group trips to people sated and/or energized.
Order custom group t-shirts. Nothing screams "team spirit" like a gaggle of people wearing matching uniforms. Geeky though it may sound to some, it's still unifying. Not only can you easily identify each other in crowds, but you'll have a memento from traveling together. You can even put a logo, photo, or pithy slogan on it.
TripHub allows you to easily plan and coordinate trip details so everyone stays informed about trip plans and itineraries. It's ideal for groups where there are varied interests, budgets, needs, etc. Here's how TripHub can help clubs, teams, and similar groups plan trips:
Determine location and destination for the trip
Create a trip home page
Invite team/club/association members (ski team, church group, school mates, professional organization members)
Discuss trip details with travel companions
Create an event schedule of dinner reservations and other key itinerary details
Shop for flights, hotels, rental cars, activities and attractions (or share travel information if already booked elsewhere so the group knows when people arrive, leave, and where they're staying)
Carving around corners, bumping down moguls, breathing in cool mountain air and sweeping views. Ah, the essence of skiing. What a rush. Plus, there's also the company of like-minded ski aficionados. Ski villages offer whatever nightlife you crave, from a quiet family dinner to dance floors for shaking your groove thing with friends.
Boarders and skiers put their passion for powder to practice on slopes across North America from mid-November through March (later if snowfall permits). Skiing is an ideal activity for groups, fostering camaraderie and a healthy dose of competition among friends and family. It allows adventure-seekers to vacation together, skiing off on separate runs if desired and meeting up at the lift lines to swap slope stories. At the day’s end, everyone regroups for some après ski activities. Here’s a guide with tips and resources to help you plan your group ski trip with ease.
Planning Ski Trips
Find a mountain and ski resort for your group
Invite friends, family, or team/club members (ski team, church group, school mates, professional organization members)
Discuss trip details with travel companions
Create an event schedule of dinner reservations and other key itinerary details
Shop for flights, hotels, rental cars, activities and attractions and share booking details
Ski Trip Checklist
When planning a group ski trip, there are plenty of factors to keep in mind. Does anyone in the group require child care for their kids? Is anyone interested in taking group ski lessons and how varied are the ski skill levels? Is everyone buying group lift tickets before arriving or while there? Here's a quick list of things to consider before you go:
Group ski lessons
Ski lessons for kids
Daycare for kids
Bulk food assignments made (who's bringing what?)
Hotel or rental home reservations
Pet-friendly hotel rooms, condos, or houses
Extra gear for those who may have forgotten gloves, goggles, hats, wool socks
Top Ski Resorts in North America
Take your pick of ski areas, states, and snow conditions for the upcoming ski season and start planning your ski trip. Since there are simply too many ski areas to list, but here are 10 popular ski resorts for groups for starters (in no particular order):
Ground Transportation Options
Find out what options are available at the airport and ski resort your group is heading to. If you're on a budget, shuttle services offer group rates. One of the greatest benefits of a group trip is being able to split costs such as transportation to and from venues.
Shuttle service – There are usually private services that transfer you from airports to your hotel or ski resort area. Some ski resorts themselves even offer airport transportation to and from their resort. Call ahead so you find the best deal for your group.
Rent cars, SUVs, vans
Hotel/resort transportation service
Friend as chauffer – best option if available
Ski-In, Ski-Out Accommodations
Convenient for those who plan to spend most of their trip skiing, you can save gas and glide right outside your hotel door. Hotels, condos, and resorts can all fall into this category. Examples include Snake River Lodge & Spa in Jackson Hole, Sunshine Inn (Banff's only ski-in/ski-out hotel), and The Loft at the Mountain Village 3-bedroom condo in Park City.
Vacation Rental Homes
One of the best ways to enjoy a group ski trip is by renting an entire house. I've done this several times and it's usually been the best option. Do a Google search for your ski area or look at this worldwide directory for ski area vacation homes.
TripHub allows you to discuss, plan, and make decisions on group activities with your trip mates all in one central location, saving you the hassle of sending a zillion emails to coordinate.
Shopping – Most ski resorts cater to skiers and the fact that you're a relatively captive audience, having traveled through snow-covered roads to the mountain. So there's plenty of shopping variety from apparel boutiques to candy shops to cafés to video rental stores.
Sightseeing – Whether driving or flying in for a weekend getaway or vacation with friends or family, ski destinations often have more to offer than just mountain with slopes. There may be historical or art museums/galleries, or nearby attractions such as lakes to explore. Find out what interests your group most and offer suggestions before the trip.
Nightlife, Restaurants & Bars – You can always find a variety of restaurants, many of them high-end, to recharge after a day on the slopes. And all major ski resorts (Whistler, Vail, etc.) have nightlife equally as invigorating as the day life (if you're in a party mood). But there are also quaint, charming pubs and restaurants as well as the cheap eateries. If your group is set on a certain type of food or restaurant, book reservations as early as possible to ensure a seat.
Wintry Activities – Numerous ski resorts give snowbirds other ways to play in the snow either before or after they ski (or when taking a day off of the slopes):
Ziptrek or ziplines through treetops
Cross-country skiing (most major ski areas have trails for this, including Lake Tahoe, Telluride, Stowe, The Canyons, Sun Valley, and smaller resorts around the continent)
Massages at spas
Ski history includes Swedes and Russians hunting on skis, Norwegians popularizing the sport in the 1700s, the Winter Olympic Games in 1936 including alpine skiing for the first time, and Austria and Switzerland developing the first ski resorts shortly after World War II.
Historical ski cartooning – who knew such a thing existed? – includes a look at ski humor from 1500 to the present. My favorite is a cover page cartoon from The New Yorker.
The U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame, located in Michigan, was born in 1956.
TripAdvisor.com issued a list of "fall's finest escapes" and I wanted to republish the list, as it gives great ideas of where to watch the leaves turn vibrant shades of red, yellow, orange and kick up the fallen leaves before they become mulch. The crowds happen to thin in these destinations during the fall, so this is an ideal time to go (in my opinion).
Green travel doesn't have to mean zero impact. Often, it's nearly impossible to leave no trace when you travel. Yet there are more and more ways that companies are helping travelers take baby steps toward being a little more environmentally savvy. Call it trendy. But here are a few ways to make your next trip a bit green:
Travelocity not only offers carbon dioxide emission offsets for travel, but they launched a volunteer vacation program to address many environmental issues.
Quick post on a new trend in baggage handling and shipping. With increases in airport security and requirements to search every checked and unchecked bag, a fleet of new private baggage delivery companies have sprung up.
The New York Times covered this issue in depth. While it doesn't appear that any of these companies is striking it rich with this business model yet (except old-timers like FedEx and UPS), it does appear to be gaining popularity among travelers. Worth a read. Here are the private baggage couriers mentioned:
If you're considering going on a professionally-arranged group tour, there are key things to ask about in the first ten minutes of your research. Here are the 10 most important things to consider:
1. References: Make sure the references the wholesaler gives you are for similar groups to yours. Example: if they only take European travelers, you might find group needs differ from those of Americans.
2. Small print averse? At least read cancellation penalties and figure how much you can lose if your trip does not meet its numbers. Airline ticket cancellations are usually the surprise loss. Note: a substantial group organizer will have some pull and flexibility with your hotel/airline choices.
3. Hotel quality: Google the hotel used in the capital city on the itinerary for a general flavor. If the hotel is a condition of your contract, make that clear up front. Many group contracts only specify X hotel or similar.
4. Red flag the word "from" on pricing. It means you are looking at the lowest price.
5. Trip pace: If breakfast, lunch, and dinner are included, you'll be on a leisurely moving trip. I recommend usually 2 meals a day for groups over 25; it moves the trip along. Ask where the meals are held: hotel or restaurant.
6. Financial security: Most group deposits are payable by check only, so credit card acceptance will not gauge financial stability of your wholesaler. But check for travel insurance availability and, if the group tour organizer/operator offers insurance, make sure you know the name of the insurer.
7. Trip length: Forget number of days, most wholesalers include "travel days."
8. Check trade association memberships like ASTA, BBB, and length of time the company has been doing groups exclusively. Many agents doing individual reservations will tell you they also do groups. Other gauges: a 24-hour emergency number, ability to issue tickets themselves, country specialists, pre-printed customized labels, luggage tags, etc. will tell you this is a real company.
9. Prompt responses from the company mean they are group-friendly. Prompt email responses means they cater to Internet savvy travelers.
10. Customer service: Check that the company has a street address and more than one person in their group department.
Get a few quotes and don't be shy to ask for more information on any issue.
Phyllis Stoller has been a group tour organizer for 15 years and is currently President ofWomen's Travel Club*, wholesale operator and largest such group for women in North America. For 15 years Women's Travel Club has run group trips for women.*
In preparing for an upcoming boating vacation, I got to thinking about what I needed to bring. I've never taken an extended boating trip and keep peppering my captain with questions. He's the boating veteran, chef, and navigator - but I'm the list maker. It's all in his head (flares, battery charger, food, packing essentials) and I needed to see a concrete list so I could get organized, too.
Luckily, I just learned about the Universal Packing List, a one-of-a-kind application that helps you quickly prepare for most trips. You simply fill in details about your trip, and the it spits out your list for free. Exactly what I needed.
I tried out the application for my boat trip and was impressed. It doesn't have a particularly snazzy design, but the basic list is all you really need. I selected "All items" for my packing list length (you have a choice of "normal length" "just critical items" and more) and found a plethora of things to do before leaving (from handling spare house keys to holding mail) as well as a full packing list.
Opt to view the comments. They're helpful and specific. Examples: bring a collaged photocopy of pictures of loved ones if you think you'll get homesick, leave most wallet contents at home and only bring the basic credit cards and ID (so if stolen, you don't have to also replace your library card, video rental card, and so forth).
Obviously, each trip has its specific requirements, but the Universal Packing List is about as comprehensive a starting point as it gets.
Are you a last-minute traveler? Spontaneous to the core? If so, you're probably too busy enjoying summer to think about early fall. But you may to keep a few festivals on your radar. September is a golden time of year for cooler weather, for warm, gentle breezes, for parents who get to usher their kids onto school buses or into schools, for the buzz of summer to wind down, and for people to plan those last days of summer vacations.
There are several September festivals for all spectrums of life: families, music lovers, art adorers, food fanatics, and more. Here's a snippet of what's on the horizon for late summer, early fall.
Sausalito Art Festival**, Labor Day Weekend (early September)**
The Mediterranean-style seaside town of Sausalito, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, has hosted the world-famous art festival annually since 1952. "The best local, American, and International Artists bring their combined perspectives, virtuoso skills, and more than 20,000 original works of art — including paintings, sculpture, ceramics, jewelry, fiber art, fine glass, woodwork, mixed media, and photography."
Telluride Blues & Brews Festival**, September**
"...three days of world-renowned musicians performing live on the famous Telluride Town Park stage, late night jams in the local juke joints, 50 choice microbreweries serving up their handcrafted "cream of the barrel" during Saturday's Grand Tasting, the Rainbow Kids area, free Acoustic Artist Series, Blues For Breakfast, and the Telluride Acoustic Blues Camp."
La Tamale Festivalin Los Angeles, September
This red hot event is in its second year, drawing 60,000 visitors. You can enjoy a kids pavilion, world record-eating contests, tamale-making classes, and as much spicy Latin sauce as you can dish up.
Russian Mosaic Festivalin Philadelphia, September
This free festival will be a day packed with music, dance, and entertainment. This year's seven-hour concert program is set to showcase the Russian community's original folk, classical, and ballroom dancing performers.
Plano Balloon Festivalin Plano/Dallas/Fort Worth, late September
A "something-for-everyone" event, this festival is filled with plenty of hot air. Cow-shaped balloons awe the crowds from above, hot air balloons offer rides, a team of expert sky divers do stunts out of planes. All this with entertainment, food, and plenty to keep the kiddies occupies.
Visit Festivals.com to find a wide range of other arts, cultural, music, and family festivals in the U.S. and around world.
With recent arrests of terrorists plotting to target flights from London to the U.S., there is a temporary code red on flights from London to the U.S. and temporary code orange for flights into the U.S. What does it mean for travelers to travel under a code red or orange?
Smarter Travel gives insight on deciphering the codes. Here are airport security short-term changes known to be in effect:
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is prohibiting all liquids, hair gels, and lotions in carry-on baggage within the United States. This includes coffee, soda, and even contact solution.
Essential liquids, such as baby formula, are being allowed.
No carry-on baggage is being allowed on any international flights.
Expect severe security delays at the airport. Television news reports are putting some security line wait times at one to two hours long.
USA Today's blog Today in the Sky gives a run down of the various airline policies for handling the temporary security situation. American Airlines canceled six flights today, United revised its ticketing policy to give travelers a break in changing travel plans and re-booking seats, and other airlines alert travelers to give even more time at airports for tightened security measures.
Homeland Security issued a release about cooperating with Britain to ensure traveler safety and stated, "These measures will continue to assure that our aviation system remains safe and secure. Travelers should go about their plans confidently, while maintaining vigilance in their surroundings and exercising patience with screening and security officials."
My family has been having reunions since I was little girl with goldilocks. For the third in a row, we've gotten together on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. Over the years, I've discovered a few myths that I hope will help any reunion planner in preparing for that next family reunion.
Myth 1: I won't drink too much
Be honest. Unless you're making a conscious effort to not drink at all, chances are you'll drink more than usual.
Myth 2: I won't eat too much
Family reunions are all about the food. Obviously, the reason to get together is to reconnect. But more effort goes into meals for this occasion than most other parties. Here are summertime recipes for family reunions.
Myth 3: I won't get a sunburn
Chances are you will, unless you're extra careful to apply sunblock throughout the day, and stay out of the sun during peak midday hours.
Myth 4: I will get ample sleep
It always seems that something is disrupting a perfect night's sleep: varying hours of going to bed, staying up late, getting up early for scheduled activities, kids over-excited, etc.
Myth 5: I will visit with everyone
Chances are slim that you'll have meaningful conversations with all attendees. But the connections you make are important, a link to your past, and a way to keep in touch with extended family. Make a mental list of the top three people you really want to reconnect with and make an effort to do so. You'll thank yourself.
Myth 6: Like other vacations, I'll relax as much as I want
There's an air of formality in a family reunion that is unlike friends traveling together or immediate family taking a vacation. Relatives come together who are genetically similar, but often live very different lives, in different places. You may feel the need to connect with select (extended) family members, while others are interested in visiting with you. This can be tiring, albeit rewarding.
Myth 7: Recycling will take care of itself
People tend to be much more lax about following recycling rules when at a big gathering like a family reunion. A mini tragedy of the commons. Luckily for my family, I have one highly type A uncle who takes big plastic garbage bins, labels them each with his neat hand writing ("plastics," "trash," "glass"), and strategically places them around the main eating/gathering area. We tease him, but appreciate his orderly tendencies.
Myth 8: Injuries are avoidable when family gathersAs for all other vacations (and life in general), safety is important. Have a first-aid kit and phone handy for emergencies. If you have any doctors in your family, the trip organizer may want to locate that person ahead of time and ask if they could wear a cell phone during the reunion just in case.
Myth 9: All the in-laws will fit inAll in-laws are not created equal. Pay attention to spouses or significant others who aren't socializing as much as others and make an effort to include them in conversations. Ask them about their family reunions, family dynamics, family heritage. Or learn more about what they enjoy doing in their free time. Family reunions can be intimidating for the non-genetically related.
Myth 10: My kids (grandkids, nieces/nephews) are the cutestAll kids are adorable in their own quirky or beautiful ways! Careful of becoming that obsessive family member who talks only of your kids (grandkids or nieces/nephews) and has no interest in any other subjects, or continually draws conversations back to your kids. It's wonderful to see such love and devotion to the kids, but even the kids (if they could speak up for themselves) would blush at all the gush.
What are other family reunion myths? Share your stories.
Oh, the joy. A bride. A groom. A ceremony filled with romance, happiness, heart-warming vows, and wedding guests blinking back tears or counting the minutes 'til they can drink heartily and dance the night away.
Whether you're planning a destination wedding or a hometown ceremony, here are helpful tips for engaged couples, the wedding party, families, and wedding guests.
Get the inside scoop on how to book group reservations for hotels and flights, including what to look for and what to beware of and common group discount myths.
How to delegate with panache
Delegating is an art. You want as wide a canvas as possible for a wedding. Share responsibilities and only take on what you need to do yourself. These tips for delegating apply to family reunions also, but you'll see the parallels to wedding planning (aren't weddings another form of reunions?).
Why plan a destination wedding?
Benefits of destination weddings can often far outweigh the costs (or misperceived costs). Find out why the popularity of saying "I do" abroad or outside of your hometown is on the rise.
Top destination wedding hotspots
What are the best locations to get married? If your neighborhood church is booked on your chosen date, consider any destination wedding hotspots such as Las Vegas or Hawaii. They cater to weddings and offer idyllic settings for honeymoons.
Bachelor and bachelorette party inspirations
He proposed. Finally! Now the planning can begin – for the best man and maid of honor that is. Here are tried-and-true tips for successful (and classy) bachelor parties and bachelorette parties.
Getting the family together for a reunion? Going on a weekend getaway with friends? Planning a wedding? Group reservations can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you are new to the process or on a tight timeline.
Here are tips to help you navigate group bookings with a little more finesse.
What defines a group?
Despite what might seem logical, a group is not commonly defined among the travel industry. Hoteliers, airlines, and cruise lines all have different definitions (10 passengers on the exact same flight vs. 10 rooms double occupancy for hotels).
Air and hotel reservation benefits
Become a bit more of an expert before you plan a group trip with friends, family, or another group. Know when to use air or hotel group reservations.
Group discount myths
Know before you go: group myths are a reality and you may not always get the best deal by booking bulk. Here are some group discount insights.
Speedy group reservation secrets
Want to get a jump on moving the group reservation process along, or making it easier on yourself and your group? Here are a few helpful tips to expedite group reservations.
We all get by with a little help from our friends. Traveling is no exception. Vacations are more enjoyable with buddies from college, girlfriends from home, friends from life (soccer or baseball teams), and any other groups.
Reconnect with old friends, reminisce about the good old days, and make new memories that make you laugh 'til you cry with these getaway tips.
Ladies, start your engines. The games, the energy, the synergy, and the drinks are about to begin. Take a wild or relaxing vacation with your gal pals on a spa getaway, wine-tasting soiree, birthday celebration, or anything goes. Can't go far? Try a mini girls getaway?
Road trip planning guide
Zoom, zoom. Friends, families, and other vacationers are hitting the highways and dusty roads for campgrounds, national parks, family reunions, and zero obligations. Along with sunblock, prepare for a stress-free road trip with these tips. 10 gas and money-saving tips should help as well.
Bachelor and bachelorette parties
Are you the best man with no clue how to honor your pal with a party? If the only thing that comes to mind is a stripper, see these bachelor party tips first. Ladies, looking to make the bride smile and proud to call you her friends? Here are helpful hints for bachelorette party planning.
He's a last-minute person. She's a type A organizer. However do you go on trips together and still stay married (happily)?
Terry A., who works with TripHub after a 20-year career with Alaska Airlines (including part of her time at the group travel desk), reveals how TripHub helped her and her husband strike a balance in travel planning.
When it comes to planning friends and family get-togethers, I am a compulsive organizer and my husband is a "whatever" kind of guy. I want to know who, what, where, when, and how many are coming. He just wants to invite anyone who happens to show a slight interest. We've managed to enjoy life together for more than 25 years, but we've had our moments.
This summer I started using TripHub's collaboration tools for vacation planning. What a difference the site has made. We've survived two road trips already and have a very large camping trip with friends and family planned for just a few weeks away.
I've been able to coordinate travel plans, book hotels, correctly calculate numbers of guests and stay in touch with everyone all online! No more passing the word via (sometimes unreliable, though well-meaning) spouses or friends. No more wondering if we would end up with an extra person sleeping on our floor or squeezed in the middle seat of a vehicle. No more "I didn't know you were bringing your kids" on an adult activity weekend.
I can finally look forward to our trips together without all the stress. I'm quite relaxed about being the vacation planner in the family now.
It's official, you're old. You just received an email from a former classmate that it is time to start planning your next high school reunion. Once the shock wears off, the next question settles in. Where do we begin? Fortunately, I have assembled a to-do list that will help you organize a successful reunion (sorry, I can't do anything about your age).
Don't panic. Planning a high school reunion is a lot of work, but if you follow these simple steps, the process can be a lot of fun and virtually painless.
Plan early for your reunion. Begin at least 9 months or more in advance. (Trust me, you will wish you had started a year ago!) Planning a reunion is a big production; make sure that you have ample time to complete all the important tasks.
Enlist classmates to help. The more help you have, the less stressed you will be. Make sure that the committee is a diverse group from your class. You don't want the reunion to be focused on one group of people with one set of interests. Delegate, delegate, delegate.
Budget wisely. When setting your ticket price include all the costs of the reunion, not just the meal. This includes the cost of entertainment, venue rental, tax, gratuity, postage, printing, decorations, Web site hosting, long-distance phone calls, etc. Be conservative when estimating attendance. You don't want to be stuck footing the bill because an item was omitted from your budget or fewer classmates attended than expected. Set up a bank account to deposit payments and pay bills.
Pick a location and date early. Weekends fill up quickly with weddings and social events, so availability can be hard to find if you wait to book the event. Make sure to ask about deposits, caterers' food and beverage minimums and extra costs. Pick a menu with variety.
Assemble and manage the guest list. Put a complete list of your classmates together using your commencement program, senior annual and information from previous reunions. This list should be in a database or spreadsheet that is easy to update and manage throughout the process. Include a method to track RSVPs, orders, payments, meal choice, etc.
Start locating your classmates now. I cannot stress this enough. This is a huge, time-consuming process. You may have to call parents, siblings, old roommates, etc. to track them down. Use the Internet. Online phone books, alumni Web sites, and community Web sites are all beneficial.
Create a fun, simple, and easy-to-read invitation. Make sure to list all the essential information (date/time, location, ticket price and attire). Also, include contact information of the committee member in charge of answering questions and responding to complaints. Don't forget to let your classmates know where to return the reservations and make their checks payable to. Include payment deadlines to encourage early registration.
Get the word out early. People are busy during the summer months, so make sure your event is number one on their calendar and get the invitation out at least 4-6 months in advance.
Make time for the "extras." The memorabilia displays, event program, name tags, memory books and table decorations are the things that people will remember years down the road. This will help make your reunion special, giving it character or charm (depending on theme, setting, decorations).
Collect personal information on your classmates. You can compile it into a memory book for each alum to take home as a memento of the reunion.
Remember, this is your reunion. Don't get so caught up in the details that you lose sight of what is really important. Reunions are about reconnecting with old friends, reminiscing about the good ol' days and looking forward to the future.
If all this prep work isn't up your alley, consider the alternative of hiring a professional reunion planner. Many companies provide reunion management services, handling all the behind-the-scenes details such as coordinating with vendors, locating your classmates and managing the database, paying bills, covering liability insurance for the event, staffing the event, and more. You can find a professional reunion planner at the National Association of Reunion Managers. Happy reunion planning!
Andrea Turk works with Reunions with Class, Inc., has been in reunion planning since 2001, and has helped more than 400 reunion committees organize successful reunions.
Want to speed things along when blocking off rooms or booking group flight reservations for a wedding, family reunion, or special occasion with friends? Believe it or not, so do the group reservation agents. Plan ahead with these basic steps, so the group reps can speed things along.
Familiarize yourself with the benefits of group booking such as same rates for every member of your party, potential room upgrades, and more, so you know what to expect.
Educate yourself about some basic hotel group policies so the questions you ask are more specific and tailored down to your group's needs.
Educate yourself about standard airline deposit terms and lingo so you're as prepared as possible when it comes time to make a group reservation.
Use the "who's coming" (RSVP/invite) feature of TripHub to correctly estimate the number of group passengers who will travel will help avoid penalties for falling below the minimum number needed for a group rate. Give the group representative a number as close to accurate as you can.
Flexibility on dates and times is key. If your group can travel at different times or on different dates, this will assist the group desk in finding the best rates.
Discuss alternative airports or destinations with your group and give that information (in comment fields on online forms) to the group reservation desk. This could result in additional savings for the trip.
When traveling with friends and family, you may qualify for group reservations. Hotels often require a 10-room minimum (of double occupancy which equals 20 people) and airlines typically require a 10-passenger minimum. If your group fits into those criteria, the booking process differs from booking reservations as individuals. And while there are a few cons to booking this way (including some discount myths), there are also numerous benefits.
You get a real human helping you out through the process.
You get the fairness of everyone paying the same rate.
You get the benefit of being able to get rooms at the same place and seats on the same flight.
If your group is only a little bigger than the number of units (seats/rooms) available at a low price, the supplier (or a good group representative) may open up a few more in order to ensure they get the group booking.
Full price isn't due until (usually) 30 days prior to departure. By booking air reservations in bulk (and often hotels as well), you'll be able to make a deposit and pay the remainder as you get closer to traveling. This helps with planning so you can send reminders to people, do fundraising activities, and folks don't have to pay for big expenses too far in advance.
Some hotels will offer additional amenities such as morning papers, room upgrades, or fruit baskets when booking a big block of rooms.
Special requests: These can often (but not always) be accommodated, including making sure the entire group has rooms/seats near each other or on the same floor of a hotel.
Locking in availability: Hotels and airlines have their room/seat inventory management down to a science and their goal is to maximize profitability. By booking in bulk, you can lock in a certain rate and ensure you have enough space for your group. Group room/seat availability varies by hotel/flight; just plan early (several months in advance).
Remember, hoteliers want to put heads in beds just as much as airlines want butts in seats. The same goes for cruise lines and activity operators. A half-full ship sailing to the Caribbean is a sad ship sailing to the Caribbean in the supplier's mind. Groups are the industry's way of helping manage their inventory and ensuring they meet their sales numbers.
Group reservations may not work for every group trip, but if it's good to know the rules of engagement and some of the pros and cons to expect.
Everyone wants to save a few dollars, even a few hundred dollars when traveling. Travel deals, airfare sales, hotel specials (3rd night free, kids stay free) all entice us to vacation with saving money. But is it really cheaper to book in bulk? Sometimes. But not always.
There are numerous group reservation benefits. But here are common myths:
Myth #1: Groups discounts are commonly defined across the travel industry
Airlines generally define a group as 10 or more passengers. Hotels tend to define a group as 10 or more rooms of double occupancy (20 people). Cruises and activity operators have their own criteria for groups. Restaurants vary on whether or not they can accept group reservations, and if they do, less likely to offer discounts unless you have a coupons already. Many activity operators (snorkeling tours, river rafting, etc.) can accept groups, but the number of people varies widely depending on vehicle occupancy, type of tour, etc. You get the idea. Your group may qualify for a discount at a theater (7 girls on a getaway weekend), but not for a block of rooms at the hotel closest to a friend's wedding.
Myth #2: If a group has fewer than 10 people, it is not a group
Not true. What about the group of 7 guys who goes golfing for a weekend? Or 9 girls on a spa getaway? Or an extended family traveling together: parents, kids, grandparents, aunt/uncle? They are absolutely groups. Groups don't have to be industry-defined to travel together. Friends and family travel in groups all the time and aren't necessarily considered traditional groups by the travel industry. See more on what defines a group.
Myth #3: Seasonality doesn't affect group reservations
Travel industry prices are highly tuned into the seasons, regardless of how many people in the party. Caribbean is cheaper than ever in the Spring and Fall (during hurricane-prone seasons), while Hawaii is most expensive during the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve. It doesn't matter how big your group is, you'll pay more for a European summer trip than you would in a lower season month (such as October). And the same applies to other destinations and their peak seasons. Planning well in advance can help, you aren't immune from the seasonal pricing fluctuations. Seasonal rates apply to airlines, hotels, activity, cruises, and tour operators.
Myth #4: Black-out dates don't apply to groups
Groups can travel any time, but all travel is subject to peak times and black-out dates (which vary by destination). Fares are higher, deadlines for things like deposits are more restrictive, and space is more limited not just for peak travel, but also for black-out dates, such as major holidays. While destinations and suppliers vary for black-out dates, U.S.holidays are when availability is most limited for the majority of suppliers including airlines, hotels, restaurants, theaters, and many activity companies.
Myth #5: Booking group reservations guarantees a discount
First, the number of units (seats/rooms) your group needs may exceed the number available at the cheapest rate, so even with a discount off the lowest rate available for your group, at least some members of your group could find a lower price by booking individually.
Second, prices do not necessarily go up as you get closer to the travel date, so contracting early enough to ensure that there's enough space available for you puts you at risk of missing out a potential lower price later. Just as with individual purchases, deciding when to buy is a trade-off between price and availability, and a bit of a bet.
Myth #6:Deposits for group flights and hotel rooms are fully refundable
Restrictions occur (and vary) for any group reservation. Normally, if people cancel and the total number of passengers falls below 90% of your original estimated number of passengers, you'll lose the deposit for those passengers. If the final number of people who go on the trip is below the pre-set minimum, all existing tickets/rooms must be reissued and penalties may apply (such as flight change fees).
Armed with this reality check of group discounts, go forth and travel the world together. Discounts do exist. They just aren't as easy to secure as we'd all like to believe, and it does take a little vigilance to manage a group contract. Just be sure to ask the group reservation representative, as they're usually willing to be helpful to make sure your group is accommodated.
In the follies of my twenties, I co-led a trip to Brazil for 12 martial art students.
I was hot and heavy in the study of Capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art. I had spent three months living in Rio de Janeiro a couple of years earlier, familiarizing myself with the language and country.
A friend and I "organized" (and I use this term lightly) a trip for fellow students who wanted to train Capoeira in its motherland. I was used to traveling light and without lots of plans, so I didn't imagine that it would be a very big deal. I was wrong. Participants for the most part were college students with no money, so we wanted to keep things as cheap as possible.
Here's what we did wrong that I encourage you to avoid:
To save money,we lodged 12 people in a single-room apartment for a few nights. It didn't seem like a very big deal when we arranged it, but it quickly became evident that 12 people had important bathroom needs that could not be met by one commode. Uncomfortable, to say the least.
We left plans too open and flexible. It is one thing to have no plans when you are travelling alone or in a twosome, it is quite another when you have a gaggle of students. Imagine the adult equivalent of 12 kids constantly asking "Are we there yet?" and "I'm bored, what are we doing today?" for three weeks straight. We should have made more concrete plans so our group knew what to expect.
I didn't factor in a charge for my services. I paid the same amount as everyone else, and spent most of the three weeks frantically organizing the next leg of the trip, acting as tour guide and translator and trying to quell student frustrations. I was exhausted by the end and frustrated that people didn't enjoy it more.
We made the trip too long for such a large group of people. We stayed for over two weeks. Tempers started to flare and nerves got raw. If we had provided comfortable rooms where everyone could relax and get away from each other, it would have been different. But our operating on a shoestring with everyone together all the time type of trip dragged on for too long.
We didn't get to the airport early enough for the flight home. The Brazilian airline attendants informed me that there was no way everyone could make it on the flight, even though we had reserved seats. My friend was a native Brazilian with a terrible temper, and he played an excellent "bad cop" to my "good cop." Finally they pleaded with me "If you can make that man shut up and go away, we will put you all in first class."
On the upside, we did get interviewed by a national Brazilian television station who did a story on our visit to their country to learn a native art form. They filmed an interview with me in Portuguese, and capped the segment off with footage of us doing the national "booty shaking dance" of Samba. Apparently, I had good hips for a gringa. At the airport, I got called up to the counter by a pair of serious-looking airline managers. Fearing visa troubles or more cancelled flights, I solemnly asked what was wrong. One leaned over and whispered to me, "Was that you on television today? Man, you can sure Samba!"
Pamela Slim is a seasoned coach who helps frustrated creatives in corporate jobs break out and start their own business. You can find her at her own blog,Escape from Cubicle Nation. Don't worry, she doesn't lead trips anymore.
How long is a cruise? You can go on a voyage for three months or three days. Most people take a cruise for a week or 10 to 14-days.
Where to go? Some of the most popular cruise destinations are the Caribbean, Alaska, Mexico, the Panama Canal, Canada/New England, Europe and the Mediterranean. But, with over 1,800 ports-of-call around the world, there are plenty of choices.
Themes to consider: The cruise industry has cruise lines, individual cruises and more with specialty cruises to suit nearly every interest: photography, gay/lesbian cruises, nude cruises, family cruises (think Disney Cruise Line), and more.
What to wear? Pack as you would for any resort. Cruise vacations are casual by day, whether you're on the ship or ashore. In the evening, attire is a bit dressier. But, it's really up to you. At the "Captain's Gala," you'll probably want to wear something formal; for other occasions "suit" yourself. As you cruise from port to port, you won't have to worry about packing and unpacking. The hassles of an ordinary vacation are practically eliminated.
Staying in touch: Today, most cruise ships are equipped with telephones with long distance capability, fax machines, e mail access, computers, in-cabin data lines for laptops, even laptop rentals.
Jacquelin Carnegie is a contributing travel editor to Accent magazine. For the past 15 years, she has covered international travel destinations for both consumer and business publications.
Cruises offer a unique opportunity to spend quality time with family. You can get pampered, take part in your favorite activities and try new feats, all while visiting some of the most beautiful or exotic destinations in the world.
Here's what you have to look forward to:
1. Quality Time: A wonderful aspect of being on a cruise is the opportunity to spend quality time with the family. Cruises slow down the rush of day to day life. While floating at sea, there's plenty of time to lounge on the deck, visiting like there's no tomorrow.
Cruise ships provide a unique environment for families. The varied activities allow you to spend time together (and apart!) making this kind of trip ideal for a special occasion (birthday, anniversary or family reunion). You'll get to be together in a way you never had time for before.
2. Total Relaxation: Bliss. Utter bliss. Nothing gives you the sense of being away from it all as a cruise. You can walk onto the ship a frazzled heap of nerves; and, after a week of sun, relaxation, a little exercise, and a few spa treatments, emerge a new person.
A cruise ship is a floating resort with all the things a fine resort has to offer and more. While you can just relax and do nothing, today's ships are well-equipped to keep sports oriented travelers busy from sunrise to sunset.
3. Built-In Value: The ticket price includes all of your meals and in between snacks onboard; your stateroom, activities, parties and entertainment; plus, an exciting voyage to interesting places.
Since you pay for almost everything up front, you'll know pretty much what the trip will end up costing before you go. (Your only extra expenses will be drinks, optional shore excursions, and personal services such as a massage or a new hairdo.)
4. Divine Destinations: One of the many benefits of the cruising experience is the ability to visit more than one place during a trip. Some of the most popular cruise destinations are: the Caribbean, Alaska, Mexico, the Panama Canal, Canada/New England, Europe and the Mediterranean. But, with over 1,800 ports-of-call around the world, there are plenty of choices.
On a cruise, you don't really notice the traveling because you spend the day exploring an interesting port and, while you sleep, the ship takes you to the next day's destination.
5. Enriching Experiences: As well as the discoveries you'll make in the various ports-of-call, many cruise lines feature seminars hosted by distinguished, guest speakers. Along with lectures on the sights you’ll be visiting, you can attend presentations on topics ranging from Renaissance art to financial planning to the secrets of French cooking.
6. Theme Cruises: Do you and your family have a particular interest or hobby such as golf, photography or architecture? You can go on a cruise filled with other enthusiasts and experts offering seminars and demonstrations on your favorite topic. Whether your passion is for gardening, wine tasting or 50's music, there's a theme cruise that suits your interest(s).
7. Activities for Kids: If you bring your children along, you can truly relax while the kiddies have a blast because all the activities for children are specially supervised. These fun and educational activities are designed with specific age groups in mind.
8. Food, Glorious Food: Cruises are known for their elaborate meals from bountiful buffets to midnight menus. You'll have the opportunity to "taste test" new specialties or enjoy some favorites such as roast beef and lobster. Each meal is a savory, multi-course affair.
For those with special dietary requirements, there are spa-cuisine offerings, low-sodium, low-cholesterol, kosher and vegetarian meals. There are even special children's menus to suit the tastes of the pickiest eater in the family.
9. Entertainment: On a cruise, the entertainment is practically non-stop. There's dancing, cabaret shows, feature films and parties. After dinner, there's often dancing to Big Band sounds and, for the night owls onboard, there’s entertainment in the nightclubs and lounges. Many ships also have casinos.
10. The Art of Sitting Still: Besides the food, the entertainment, and various on-board activities, one of the best things about being on a boat is just sitting still and looking out at the horizon. With the sun glistening on the water and the work-a-day world far away, there is something deeply soothing about it.
With the busy lives we all lead, it's difficult to make the time to connect with family (and friends). However, cruises make connecting with people natural. And that's what makes it perfect for a family reunion or any kind of group trip.
Jacquelin Carnegie is a contributing travel editor to Accent magazine. For the past 15 years, she has covered international travel destinations for both consumer and business publications.
Gathering the generations together at one time is challenging. So many siblings, grandchildren, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and in-laws.
But family bonds grow stronger, stories accumulate, shared activities unite all age groups, and celebratory occasions (Uncle Bob's 50th birthday, etc.) entertain, making family reunions worth every ounce of effort.
Simplify the planning process with these family reunion tips and free the planning guru within.
Family Reunion Checklist 101: Budget, Guest List, Dates
Congratulations, you've just volunteered - or been volunteered - to organize your next family reunion. Dozens of relatives are counting on you. Don't stress out. Early essential steps will lead you to success (and peace of mind).
Checklist 102: Location, Accommodations, Activities
Location. Location. Location. And all other critical considerations you simply can't forget. Where will guests stay? What will the main events or activities be? These big ticket items set the pace, timeline, structure (and budget) for any family reunion.
The Art of Delegation
Delegate projects, tasks, "to do" lists with pizzaz and be an expert family reunion project manager by sharing the responsibility. No one is an island.
Make Every Communiqué Count
He said. She said. Who's on first? Communication is vital for a family reunion to succeed and that starts the very first day of planning. Here are tips to avoid over or under-communicating.
Airfare is one of the great unpredictables in travel. Sure there are well-known seasonal factors (Hawaii is most expensive over Christmas and Las Vegas is rock-bottom cheap in the sweltering summer months). Travelers forever have planned vacations around airline prices. But predicting airfare is about exact a science as astrology.
Enter Farecast, a new site that takes complex bits of airline data and gives you a way to predict airfare from point A to point B. Ah, the ease of knowing (approximately) how much your family vacation, wedding, weekend getaway with friends, or any group trip will cost (at least airfare).
John Battelle got a sneak preview of the site soon to launch later this year:
The basic premise is neat - Farecast pays attention to the market price of all airline fares out of particular cities (it only does Boston and Seattle for now) at all times (it uses an industry data feed that, unfortunately, does not include Southwest). It then uses this data to help forecast when the right time might be for you to buy your ticket (and get the best price). In short, it's a rip off detector for flights. Farecast leverages the power of data to put you back in charge, or at least more in charge.
Friends, families, and other groups of like-minded vacationers will hit the road this summer for campgrounds, national parks, attractions, family reunions, and other adventures. Memorial Day was just the beginning.
In planning a road trip with a group of friends recently, I was reminded of the need for services like TripHub, where you can coordinate, collaborate and centralize any type of group trip information easily. In the spirit of simplifying planning, here are helpful tips to make any road trip stress-free.
1. Designate a point person
This person may or may not be the same person who initiated the trip. Usually, one person in the group enjoys coordinating plans and doing research on where to stay. When there are multiple type A personalities in the group, making one point person clear to all becomes critical to avoid confusion and duplication. However, delegating is wise when planning any trip. You can funnel all major and minor questions to the point person. (Of course, it helps to have someone willing to be point person… so preferably this person will volunteer.) This person can send out the initial invitation for the trip and create the trip home page.
2. Decide who's driving
Determine how many vehicles and when those vehicles are leaving and returning. If Dick and Jane are each taking their cars, you'll need to know how many people can they fit in their cars comfortably (don't forget room for bags, equipment, etc.), and get a commitment from drivers on day and time of departure so the other passengers can plan their schedules accordingly.
3. Decide who brings what
Create a checklist of "must-haves" such as water, cooler, Oreos, first-aid kit, car maintenance kit, pillows, certain CDs or an iPod full of music, and other accoutrements. Camping trips require bringing your accommodations and food along for the ride, so getting a list of what people have to bring/contribute is helpful. Someone can then consolidate the list to determine what's missing. Food, tents, firewood, tarps, folding chairs, age-appropriate games for the group, binoculars, coolers, and lighters/matches all come to mind. For any other road trip, think about car games (including kid games for families), cooler full of ice + water + snacks, maps, travel books on nearby points of interest, etc. All shared costs can be divided among the group (and the organizer can track money owed using TripHub).
4. Split the cost of gas fairly and tactfully
How? Discuss this well in advance of the trip so expectations (and budgets) are clear for all road trippers. The record gas price spikes are challenging for everyone and splitting the cost of gas is perfectly acceptable. If you're traveling with a group of friends, factor gas costs into overall budgets. For instance, big ticket items such as hotel room(s), activity entrance fees, and food are typically split in groups. Drivers especially should speak up to remind people that sharing the cost of gas should also be considered in the overall cost of the road trip. Agree with your group how the cost will be divided and when. Nothing's worse than getting stuck with a bigger bill than necessary due to lack of communication. TripHub makes it easy for the main trip organizer to include gas as a shared cost factor. Three ways to share gas costs:
Barter and trade. If one person buys food for the group, another buys gas, and yet another gets one night’s hotel room. This can be hard to track when groups get larger (5 or more), but I’ve found it works well in smaller groups, especially if shared costs are tracked and tallied daily or with a close-knit group of friends with built-in trust are on the road trip.
Determine cost for gas ahead of time per vehicle (calculate miles per gallon by approximate tanks of gas by mileage – mathematicians in your group can create the best calculus algorithms). Geeks in your group will derive much pleasure out of figuring gas costs using this method (and everyone will love them for accurate and reliable results to the penny!).
Drivers gather all gas receipts during the trip, total up the amount at the end, and collect money or let the group organizer collect money from the group for gas along with other shared expenses. TripHub's money owed tool can help organize who owes money before, during, and after the trip.
5. Make your road trip fuel-efficient
…with 10+ vital gas-saving tips; a little prep will go a long way, especially on longer road trips. Gas prices will affect every road trip, but if you do a little homework and find the cheapest gas station near you (thanks to Gas Buddy), plus share the cost of gas with friends or family on road trips, you're less likely to break your piggybank while winding through stunning scenery on an unforgettable vacation.
7. Agree on flexibility before leaving
Rain may spoil a camping road trip, so doing a little pre-trip research to find nearby B&B's or hotels may save you headache along the journey. Make sure everyone is in agreement to be flexible. Trip organizers can do a little research before the trip to give recommendations and alternatives to original plans (local festivals, for instance). If your group is set on hiking a certain Rocky Mountain trail along the road trip, the group may discover another trail off-the-beaten path or bag the hiking idea in favor of relaxing with a picnic and majestic Rocky Mountain skyline.
8. Get and give personal spaceCramming yourselves in a car is fun for a weekend getaway or longer trip, but everyone eventually will crave some solo time. I recommend agreeing on one or two stops along the drive where people are free to explore a town or area, iPod in hand.
What are best road trip tips you've experienced? Any lessons learned on simplifying? What types of people make the best road companions?
Every American should bookmark Gas Buddy. As gas prices skyrocket with no end in sight, finding cheap gas can make a wallet full of difference on road trips.
Gas Buddy makes it easy to locate the least (and most) expensive neighborhoods for gas and individual gas stations. Simply enter your zip code at the top of the home page, hit enter, and you’re on your way to a wealth of up-to-date (within the last 48 hours) pricing on gas stations near you. Stations are conveniently ranked by lowest price to highest.
Also, consider Gas Buddy's 10 essential tips for saving money on gas.
Avoid High Speeds: As your speed increases, your aerodynamic drag increases in an exponential fashion. Driving 62 mph (100 km/h) vs 75 mph (120 km/h) will reduce fuel consumption by about 15%.
Do Not Accelerate or Brake Hard: By anticipating the traffic and applying slow steady acceleration and braking, fuel economy may increase by as much as 20%.
Keep Tires Properly Inflated: Keep tire air pressure at the level recommended by your vehicle manufacturer. A single tire under inflated by 2 PSI, increases fuel consumption by 1%.
Use A/C Sparingly: When the air conditioner is on it puts extra load on the engine forcing more fuel to be used (by about 20%). The defrost position on most vehicles also uses the air conditioner.
Keep Windows Closed: Windows open, especially at highway speeds, increase drag and result in decreased fuel economy of up to 10%.
Service Vehicle Regularly: Proper maintenance avoids poor fuel economy related to dirty air filters, old spark plugs or low fluid levels.
Use Cruise Control: Maintaining a constant speed over long distances often saves gas.
Avoid Heavy Loads: Remove the sand bags from your trunk in the spring and pack lightly for long trips.
Avoid Long Idles: If you anticipate being stopped for more than 1 minute, shut off the car. Restarting the car uses less fuel than letting it idle for this time.
Purchase a Fuel Efficient Vehicle: When buying a new vehicle examine the vehicle's rated fuel efficiency. Usually choosing a small vehicle with a manual transmission will provide you with great fuel economy.
Gadling also has money and gas-saving tips, including road tripping with friends to split the cost of gas as a wise money-saving plan.
Any other helpful hints for saving money at the gas pumps?
Need your space when traveling en masse? Socialites and introverts alike all need a little solo time to recharge. Here are easy ways to politely find your own space while still enjoying the group parties, meals, events, activities, and hoopla.
A family reunion, bachelor party, or weekend getaway group agenda doesn't always have to be your agenda. One thing rings true on group trips, especially family reunions. There can be a lot of hanging out time or slower pace in doing things to accommodate for the slowest group member and herding the troops. After a couple of days, finding ways to get some personal space is just fine. Good friends or family should understand. Many will likely copycat your actions (or have already scheduled solo time for themselves). It's quite natural.
So, take that leap. Get the most out of any group vacation by returning relaxed (not revved) using these tips, ideas, and resources.
iPod independence: Bring iPod, put earpieces in ears, close your eyes and tune out others and into yourself. Shuffle or create a travel play list ahead of time. Play list ideas:
i. songs that inspire you
ii. songs that fit the mood of the destination you're visiting
iii. work-out songs for running along that Caribbean beach
iv. comedy acts downloaded
v. walking tours downloaded (see podcast tours below)
Podcast tours are a growing trend in travel sightseeing, a new way for individuals to absorb the rich history, culture, and get insider tips for exploring. Gadling also agrees: have iPod, will travel.
i. Lonely Planet – free, regular podcasts
ii. Soundwalk – off the beaten path urban tours, must be purchased and downloaded to computer one by one
Journal. Who wouldn't respect your request for a little alone time to jot down memories, thoughts, rants, raves of the trip?
Arts and crafts: Draw, paint, knit or whittle. So much scenery, so little time. So many crafts to make, as well.
Comforts of home: Bring at least one comfort of home along on your trip… animal slippers, aromatherapy candle, your favorite bubble bath, nail polish for painting your toes or nails (men, feel free to do the same if that’s your bent)
Books: Most people bring books for plane rides, down time between transfers, and down time in general. A basic for down time which can double as nap time if you read with sunglasses (no one will be the wiser if you position your book and head on a pillow just so). How about books with Sudoko, crossword puzzles, and other mind games? Or are you the trashy romance novel type? John Grisham or Michael Crichton fanatic? See also Gadling's recommendation of classic books available in audio format for iPods.
Dog therapy: When retreating temporarily at any group event, nothing's better than throwing a stick for a dog or taking pouch for a walk. Your companion doesn't require conversation and will be loyal all day.
Yoga or jogging: Yes, two polar opposites on the yin yang spectrum of energy, but both can give you the same thing – time to yourself while staying fit.
Just say NO. While the main objective of any group trip is to be together, taking time for yourself shouldn't catapult feelings of guilt into your conscience. Learn the delicate art of politely declining for certain activities.
Space out. Walk the city, beach, destination and let your thoughts and imagination be your guide. One of the most relaxing elements of travel can be finding quiet time to ponder your current situation (career, lifestyle, health, relationships) or simply letting go of it all and fully immersing yourself in the now to contemplate lapping waves, patterns in the sand, or the origins of Pina Coladas. Our uber tuned-in lives taking over every waking moment (even podcast tours can be invasive if your vacation goal is to fully relax without much stimulus).
Contact home base. Step away from the group to stay in touch with kids, family, others at home. Lifehacker comments on a USA Today article that highlights how easy it is becoming to call home from abroad. Even if you’re traveling in the U.S. with easy access to a phone, you may be able to use "an urgent phone call" as an excuse to duck out of a group event. The group can head off for hiking that day while you meet up with them after a tall, cool beer and the paper.
Any other ways to step aside from group gatherings to recharge with solo time?
Parents can spoil themselves when traveling with infants or toddlers by renting baby supplies, such as cribs, jogging strollers, gates, baby rails, rather than lugging them through airports or hassling with them en route.
Baby's Away is a site that seems to simplify family travel involving young kids. While it may not solve all your problems ("Are we there yet?") perhaps it can be another stress-reducer for traveling families. You can rent supplies from numerous metropolitan and resort locations throughout the U.S.
By guest blogger and professor Hazel Warlaumont, Ph.D.
Thinking of an escorted travel tour? Sharing pleasurable and positive travel experiences with others can bring lasting memories . . . and lasting friendships! Researchers investigating group dynamics agree that group synergy; that is, increased benefits from a group experience, can far surpass the experience of acting alone. Escorted tours not only have economical and practical advantages, but they can satisfy members' interpersonal needs such as inclusion and the need to develop close, caring relationships by sharing interests in common.
But horror stories abound from seasoned travelers and tour guides who relate unpleasant situations that can create tension and even ruin a trip. When you get 35 people from different backgrounds and often with different agendas in close quarters for the first time, there's bound to be some tension. Understanding how groups interact and process a new group situation can help alleviate many of the difficulties and make group travel work for everyone.
Stages of group dynamics on travel tours:
Upon meeting for the first time, tour members enter the orientation phase of the group interaction process. Members naturally feel some primary tension marked by the expected uncertainty of meeting for the first time. This often happens on the first night when many tour directors gather their flock for a welcoming dinner or reception. Tour members tend to be polite and formal with one another and do their best to avoid controversy. They engage in surface-level chit-chat during this period of "social reconnaissance" while they get a sense of each other's interests and personalities.
Group dynamics form
The second or conflict phase is often marked by some secondary tension when members become aware of individual differences within the group. This may take place during the next few days as members ease into the routine of traveling together. Tension during this period can come from a number of situations, some identified by people's behavior and key personality traits. For instance, tour members might encounter
the recognition seeker, who spends time boasting about accomplishments thereby distracting others from the travel experience;
a self-confessor might distract the group by disclosing personal problems and by using the group for personal therapy;
the special-interest traveler has an individual agenda and might try to steer the tour in that direction (wants everyone to go fly fishing as opposed to touring the local castle); and
the dominator refuses to allow others to express their opinions and dominates discussion.
Showing patience with this initial posturing and knowing it will diminish as the tour progresses, is usually a winning strategy.
Personal spaceTension during the second stage of group integration can also arise from perceived violations of personal space. Territoriality is a basic human need and excessive invasions of our space can create heightened arousal and anxiety that may lead to verbal and physical aggression. A tour guide told me on a recent excursion that she had witnessed pushing and shoving over seat and room assignments, and instances of some members leaving a tour because of space issues. While rare, these situations are often the result of insensitivity to another's need for personal space and the inability of the offenders to make a commitment to the group experience. Expecting and accepting that you may need to share space on the bus or at your table, is a soothing strategy here.
Harmony and group unityWith a helpful tour director, secondary tension can be alleviated and even prevented through effective leadership and establishing a protocol for touring. In most cases, this happens right away, allowing the group to pass into stage three, the emergence phase of the trip where members begin to feel harmony. Potential problematic members have backed down, sensing the disapproval and counter productiveness of their behaviors or attitudes, leading the group into the final or reinforcement stage. At this point, members bolster the group experience through favorable comments and positive reinforcement. The spirit of unity pervades and group members are jovial and focused on the purpose of the trip and the travel experience.
Lasting friendships through traveling togetherAlthough many escorted tours experience some tension, the best way to handle it is to keep a positive attitude and allow each member some room for personal adjustment. Anticipating periods of conflict and knowing that in most instances, these situations will resolve themselves quickly, is probably a healthy strategy. Most tour directors and tour members will recognize the value of a positive climate and set this as the primary goal. In most cases, travel excursions result in very special bonds and lasting friendships among members for having worked through minor periods of tension, and from sharing the fun of traveling together.
Hazel Warlaumont is a professor of communication at Cal State Fullerton and the University of Washington, and draws from her teaching and travel experience to share some observations about escorted group tours.
What was your first vacation memory? Visiting grandparents in a distant city? Building sand castles on the beach with siblings and parents? How did the family vacation memories changes as you aged and now as you're an adult - perhaps with kids and/or nieces and nephews of your own? Is there an ideal age to travel with kids?
Family Travel Files offers some insights into making the family getaway stress free for parents, depending on the age of the kids. Infants, toddlers, teens all have different needs and interests. Here are some quick tips (below) from Family Travel Files's article on family travel phases and how to plan ahead to optimize the fun for everyone.
In general, less is more. Jam-packing too much into a travel schedule can ruin an otherwise lovely trip. Build in plenty of free time between activities, meals, group gatherings, and family reunions to walk around, soak in the scenery, relax, nap, read, and so forth.
Traveling with kids 6 weeks to 5 years old
Baby-proofing kit: Think about socket plugs, corner tabs, plastic glasses, room guards, nightlights and other typical portable protection devices.
Keep familiar scents: Resist the temptation to wash everything just before leaving home. Babies and toddlers are particularly comfortable with the smell of their things. They are also sensitive and often cranky when their own things, complete with odors, seem to be missing.
Traveling with kids ages 6 to 12
Pack a surprise: In case the plane is delayed or a child becomes ill along the way, pack a couple of vacation surprises well suited to alleviating boredom. Audiotapes from www.boomkids.com meet the boredom challenge for this age group.
Do less: One of the biggest challenges for vacationing families is learning to do less and enjoy it more. Often parents return to work feeling just like they need a vacation. They intended to relax and catch up on sleep. They intended to enjoy free time with the kids. Instead they found themselves over scheduled and in a self-created time crunch. Anyone in charge?
Traveling with teens
Pack less: This is a reality check. Teens want to be seen as cool by their peer group, yet not look obvious as they do so. The result is over packing. Why take one pair when six will do? Over packing comes from a lack of information about what is needed. Every family with teens should invoke the rule of all seasoned globetrotters: “Ye shall carry what you pack…all of what you pack.” Given the security concerns that now exist, less is will be less hassle.
Determine who is in charge: Power struggles result when guidelines are not clear. Communicate expectations before buying tickets or making deposits. If sleeping until noon is not option say so early. If every one gets to choose a favorite activity say so early. If in reality grandpa is in charge then do not keep it a secret.
What do you think? Is there an ideal age to travel with kids? Was there an ideal age of travel for you? My favorite childhood vacations were spent at a lake with white sandy shores and tons of relatives for our family reunions. Lots of cousins to play with and plenty of munchies and scrumptious food to boot.
Will wonders ever cease? I discovered a caretakers organization that prides itself on being the "number one" property caretaking source around. Caretaking in this context doesn't mean changing baby's diapers or live-in help for aging seniors; that's caregiving. Think travel, think vacation, think free. Can this be an actual industry?
If you've ever dreamed of playing host(ess) at a quaint inn, housesitting at a beachfront home, watching the condo and cat for someone who lives in a swanky loft with a cityscape vista, or being innkeeper for a small retreat center, take note.
Caretaker.org connects people willing to donate their time and sometimes skill or service with people in need of them. Families, couples, and individuals are all caretakers who travel for various lengths of time to plant themselves in a new locale and temporarily try on a new lifestyle. Free accommodations to boot. Of course, you'd have to figure out how to afford it. But if you apply for one of the caretaking "jobs" and time it with a family reunion in the same destination, in between jobs, or in an area where friends can easily visit for a weekend getaway, you just might have found nomadic nirvana.
If I find a European castle in need an innkeeper for a month, I might reconsider my current situation and start packing. Alternative travel. Gotta love it.
Or does this sound like pure hell? Anyone ever done a trip like this? Would you recommend it to others? Are there other sites or resources to find this type of opportunity?
Whoever said you can't take it with you is NOT hip to the 21st century. It turns out you CAN take it with you - your pet, that is. Taking dogs along on vacation has turned into a "thing." I've recently read more articles on hotels that accept pets, leaving that play and movie You Can't Take It With You in the dust of yester-century.
Journey, a AAA membership magazine, had a cover story recently titled "Dogs on the Go: 4 Fun Destinations for Pet-Loving Travelers." And I've seen other stories elsewhere.
I'm a bit surprised at this phenomenon. Perhaps that's because of my No Pets Allowed lifestyle and homestead. I adore visiting my mom's dog (shown proudly in the photo after a day chasing balls and seagulls at the beach) and treat her as if she's my own kin, but not sure I'd be up for a hotel full of pets. Sounds too much like a Gary Larsen cartoon in living, panting, barking color.
What about bringing pets to family reunions? Or a trip with friends? How common is the pet travel wave?
Nothing is worse than going on a group trip and discovering an incompatibility with your roomie. Traveling can become a bit of a petrie dish for issues, psychology, life - you never really know someone until you've traveled with them (or shared a room on a trip).
How do you survive an escorted group tour or trip with close traveling companions without throttling each other? For starters, it goes both ways. You may be a perfect travel companion in your own mind, but not in someone else's. Your passion for shopping might be bore or exhaust others. Their passion for fragrant perfume may give your gag reflexes a work-out. What to do?
Communication is key.
Listening skills are a must.
Compromise when you can.
A quick way to ruin an otherwise fabulous trip is to find resentment building as you throw pillows, socks, apples at a roomie who snores, or roll your eyes each time your travel "buddy" wants to settle in late... showering and/or loudly fumbling through luggage and bags to find some long lost earring at 2 a.m. while you are jet-lagged as hell trying to nap.
Here are some helpful hints for common problems faced when sharing rooms and space. While Women's Travel Club wrote these for women travel, they also apply to any group travel scenario (co-ed and all). I've replaced most of the "she" pronouns to "they" and so forth.
Solution: Ask if this is an issue. Caveat: if your friend lives alone he/she might not know or agree on what to do if either of you snores. Consider ear plugs, window ajar for street buzz, a scarf around your ears, or take a new room. Proper etiquette is for the person who wants to change to pay for their new room.
Solution: Strong cologne or perfumes can be intrusive to others; best left at home. Go through routine personal products to make sure you are both happy with the steam wafting from the shower or the acetone from the nails.
Sharing with a smoker means a smoking room, a smoking floor and smoking tables at meals. Smokers will also be handicapped even isolated on tours as buses do not allow smoking.
Solution: Take separate rooms and talk about the consequences; there is no other way out.
Solution: Compare walking, step climbing, ability to carry luggage, deal with lack of sleep or dietary changes. Compare how long you like to linger over meals, need to get organized each day etc. Toleration works to a point, but if you are a marathon walker and she is taxi-er, this trip will not end in friendship. Spend a long day together to see where you differ and work out compromises. Example: if only one of you is taxi dependent, she should pay that expense. Same with porterage, excess baggage on tour, etc.
Solution: Be honest about the budget. Do you use porters? Always tip? Expect to take taxis instead of public transportation? Order expensive drinks? Each choose 2 splurges that add up to the same money and time. And compromise on those. Put all your joint expense money in a zip lock bag and pay from the bag. When the bag is empty, refill it together. Do not keep a ledger and settle up later on complicated overseas trips, either both use frequent flyer tickets or neither use them; if a flight is changed, you will at least be in the same situation.
Seeing vs. shopping
Solution: Every one hopes for different things from a trip. What you expect should be agreed on before you book. "Walk" through the trip, decide how you will use the free time. You each get to choose two options. If shopping annoys either of you, make a specific time to reconnect and part ways for a bit. Do not ask your room share to help you with your additional cumbersome packages. You bought it, you carry it.
Scared or feared
Solution: Make a list of your fears and absolutely 'will not do's'. You really don't want to find out your friend will not use elevators when you arrive at a high rise hotel!
ShmucksPeople who don't pay their fair share, who drink most of the wine, order the most and pay half.
Solution: Share expenses in a zip lock as above and speak up the very first time it happens.
Every family has a "golden age" where the elders have the resources, time, and need to connect. Children are old enough to appreciate the experience and able to travel without hassle. Traveling together with grandparents, adults, and children provides the opportunity to separate from daily routine and form a more meaningful bond with extended family members.
When evaluating different options for intergenerational travel, here are several factors to consider:
Choice - Does the travel adventure or tour provide enough choice for you to find the experience that best matches your interests and abilities? For family tours this could mean grouping opportunities by age ranges of children which allow kids to more easily form bonds with each other.
Fun Factor - Many kids work very hard during the school year. A successful family travel experience should include entertaining activities with a high fun factor for the kids.
Experiences that Teach - Learning new things enriches the mind and is a significant value for adult travelers. Is there an educational program integrated into the itinerary?
Responsible Tourism - Does the tour practice a responsible tourism philosophy? Are the natural and cultural environments you visit treated with respect to sustain them for future generations?
Family Orientation - Will your family travel experience allow you time to bond as family? This could range from meal times to free time for sightseeing and exploration, two prime bonding times.
Value - What is included in the package or tour? Are there hidden costs such as escort and driver gratuities or "optional" admissions to attractions? Are discounts available?
Financial Security - Are your prepayments put in a trust or escrow account? Does the company belong to a tour protection insurance plan? This can be important as many intergenerational family trips are planned months in advance and often the major vacation for the year.
Today, numerous companies are jumping into the family travel arena. Unfortunately, this creates additional confusion for those trying to determine the best match for their family. As the travel industry continues to evolve, niche companies like Generations Touring Company will emerge to address and specialize in specific types of family travel. Research and plan ahead to find a tour or travel mode that best suits the generations in your family.
Tom Easthope is a travel industry veteran, successful entrepreneur, and founder ofGenerations Touring Company*, offering small-group travel experiences for families and their generations – kids, adults, grandparents.*
When getting together on a spa trip with your friends for a bachelorette (or bachelor) party, birthday, or general getaway with friends, you'll want to make sure the group is aware of some basic spa etiquette.
Nothing is more certain when a group of good friends gets together (at least with my friends) than lively conversation and side-splitting laughter. But spas offer a place of tranquility, and sometimes we all need a gentle reminder that other guests are also paying for that peaceful away-from-reality setting.
Here are a few etiquette tips (so your group is welcome at the spa next year):
Schedule spa stays (at resorts or destination resorts) and/or appointments for service several months in advance to ensure your group has enough room, can secure rooms next to each other, and can schedule appointments together (steam room, wellness classes, etc.). Scheduling massages and other treatments simultaneously or around the same time allows you to go into the pools, steam rooms and ante rooms ahead of time together.
By scheduling appointments in sync or timed closely together, you can plan other activities before and after the spa service time. That way the whole group can continue to enjoy the trip together. You can set each day's agenda for the group loosely based around spa appointments.
When entering treatment areas and rooms, you'll get the most out of the experience (and so will others) if you stay quiet. Breathe deeply, absorb the relaxing air to its fullest, bring a good book for down times, and save the chit-chat with friends for meals (a time when others at the spa are likely to be more social), drinks out at a local restaurant or bars, on hikes or while doing activities outside of the spa, or create a happy hour haven for the gang in your room.
If you're organizing a group for a spa vacation, don't assume everyone has the same tipping policy in mind. While individuals can pay for individual massage or other appointments (and tip accordingly), you may want to remind the group before the trip to tip therapists (or if you as a planner are collecting money, be sure to collect enough to cover a 15% tip). While individuals can vary their tipping amount depending on service quality, when in a group, it seems especially polite to tip at least 15%.
Be sure to check with the spa for their general policy and ambience on nudity to prepare the group. Most likely there will be varying levels of comfort and familiarity about spa services within your group. Some destination spas or resorts offer services where you and others may be partially or fully nude, such as steam rooms, mud bath areas, etc. Phone the spa before scheduling appointments for the group so you can communicate clearly and set expectations, and the whole group can relax in their own comfort zone by choosing whichever spa services they prefer.
Whether your group travel plans take you on a getaway weekend with friends to a luxurious destination spa, spa appointments while golfing with the guys, or a visit to a day spa for a bachelorette party, spa etiquette is paramount.
While there are no set "rules" for spa-going (other than to lie back and relax while getting the pampering you deserve!) here are some etiquette hints from Spafinder.com that apply to groups:
Mixing activities and spa-going
On the day of treatment, try to stay out of the sun and avoid alcoholic beverages. Also, don't schedule a physically demanding endeavor after a spa appointment. When in doubt, contact the spa to ask whether it is advisable to engage in a particular activity prior to your appointment.
Some animals are welcome at certain resorts (likely not at day spas) but should not be brought to the spa. Be considerate of others by keeping your pet quiet and following the spa rules.
Cell phonesLeave phones and pagers at home or in your room; or turn them off before entering the spa.
PerfumeBecause the emphasis should be on relaxation and others may be allergic, it's best not to wear perfume to exercise classes offered at the resort or destination spa.
SmokingFor the most part, smoking is not allowed at any kind of spa. If it is, there are usually designated areas where you can smoke.
TherapistsIf you prefer either a male or female therapist, but the spa fails to ask, don't hesitate to let your choice be known. Also, if you have enjoyed the services of a particular therapist on a prior visit, feel free to request that person.
Punctuality at day spasArrive on time or early. If you are late, your treatment time will need to be shortened since the treatment room (and therapist) is generally booked after your session. After a treatment, it's customary to vacate the room within five or ten minutes. However, you are free to spend additional time unwinding in the day spa's relaxation or waiting rooms.
Socializing at destination spasMeals can often be arranged at shared tables, activities and evening programs foster interaction, and in general a sense of community is encouraged in a destination spa. Feel free to engage fellow spa goers in conversation, though try to stay away from stressful topics: Guests generally use spa visits as an opportunity to get away from the pressures of everyday life. If, on the other hand, you choose to maintain privacy, that can also be arranged. Though it is easy to form cliques in such surroundings, be considerate of engaging others as getting to know many of your fellow spa-goers is part of emotional wellness. Celebrity guests should be treated just like other guests and not disturbed by requests for autographs or other mementos.
Advance booking at resorts or destination spasAs resort and hotel spas often fill up quickly, book as far in advance as possible. Some resort/hotel spas can accommodate the group if you reserve treatments at check-in; others suggest booking prior to your arrival. Want to avoid the crowds? Try reserving a treatment during off-peak hours or during the week. If you do, you may also receive a discount. Favorite spa treatment times are usually in the late afternoon and mornings are the favorite times for more strenuous activities that many resort and destination spas offer.
CancellationUnexpected things do happen, and sometimes it's impossible to keep an appointment. If you must cancel, give the spa as much advance notice as possible. Be sure to ask if your money will be refunded; cancellation policies vary widely.
Many spas may offer group discounts, especially for special occasions (bridal showers or birthdays). Simply call and ask.
Summer through fall, America's festivals offer attractive, low-cost, weekend-long activities for groups. Here are ideas for planning summer vacations or road trips with family, friends, relatives, college classmates, and more.
Choose a festival that fits your group's interests.
America has some 50,000 festivals a year. With a little research, you'll find one in a town you want to visit, along the route you want to travel, or at the core of your personal passion. Most community festivals are free; music festivals range from free to expensive and many offer weekend camping as a part of the ticket.
Find a festival close to home.
Your own state or region can surprise you—festivals you've never heard of that are fun and often seasonal or theme-based, and within a day's drive or less. Check out your state's (or a neighboring state's) tourism bureau Web site to find a wide range of diverse local festivals).
Plan the festival weekend.
Before you go: Throw a few items into a backpack or shoulder bag like sun block, water, sun glasses and hat; it's summer and hot. A festival day can run longer than you might think, and sometimes water is farther away than it looks. A simple first-aid kit (Band-Aids, antibacterial cream, etc.) is a smart to pack, too.
Upon festival arrival: Set up a meeting place for the end of day. The group can wander all day through the festival, then gather at a gate, a stage or other central location at the end of the day. This makes things simpler for the "designated adult" in the group.
While there: Look for venues to take a break. Festivals have a laid-back "attitude" and a kid-friendly venue within the festival or a beer garden can offer a place to sit, catch your breath and get ready for the next part of the busy weekend. For some people, taking breaks from group activities is a necessary way to recharge and re-group.
Jim Shanklin is founder of Festivals.com, the largest online resource for finding festivals all over the world, and EVP of Festival Media Corporation.
I worked at a national park one summer during college. It was the only travel-related "offline" job I've ever held, but gave me insights into the types of people visiting national parks and why these American treasures are still ranked high for so many summer vacations.
National parks are ideal for group travel.
Open space and natural resource bounty create a wide range of activities such as hiking, biking, kayaking, rock climbing, river rafting, swimming (often all in the same park).
Families flock to parks and the parks welcome them with family-friendly passes that offer discounts.
Inexpensive or free entry fees are helpful for budgeting the family, girls mountain retreat, guys rugged adventure, or other group trip.
National parks offer a way for people to connect with nature and loved (or liked) ones all at once. Getting away from the noise of everyday or city living to the quiet beauty of a natural park is a real way to reconnect with others.
Plus, there are a range of accommodation options nearby or within the national parks: hotels, lodges, bed and breakfasts, resorts, campgrounds, and RV lots.
Whether it's a family reunion, wedding, classmate or friend reunion that brings you together, national parks are some of the most popular places to share vacation experiences.
When growing up, I can remember driving through a national park with my family and (at a very young age) asking my parents, "Why are there so many trees? Where are all the buildings?" Silly me. As an adult, I find myself increasingly posing the opposite question, "Why are so many trees being replaced with buildings?" At least national parks are protected (for now) and still offer respite from the urban jungles and sprawling suburbs that many of us live in.
Summer's approaching and thousands of families will go on road trips or fly to visit national parks. Groups of friends will do adventure weekends filled with hiking and backcountry camping to rejuvenate and breathe in raw earthly beauty.
Here's a sampling of national parks to whet your appetite for summer exploring:
Acadia National Park, Maine
A rugged, rocky island replete with wildlife and stunning views all around and plenty to keep the kids (or the kid) in you busy.
Arches National Park, Utah
Here, over two thousand sandstone rock formations stand proudly, boasting the world record for greatest density of natural land arches... great for planning a group hiking vacation.
Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Badlands is really a misnomer for "bad-ass lands." With 244,000 acres of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires set against a backdrop of the largest, protected mixed grass prairie in the U.S., this is prime terrain for family or friend road trips (or motorcycling).
Biscayne National Park, Florida
The family or group of college pals can explore this Florida Keys underwater gem of ship wrecks (some listed as National Historic Sites) and wiggly, colorful marine life.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
This park has wide open desert-esque spaces with stunning geological formations; ideal for hiking, backpacking, and contemplating life. Perfect for an adventure group trip.
Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Featuring North America's highest mountain, 20,320-foot tall Mount McKinley (reason enough to go), this park is chock-full of glaciers, wildlife, and mountaineers.
Everglades National Park, Florida
Alligators and crocodiles and flamingoes - all reasons for families to travel to Florida, take a side trip at a family reunion or others to visit the area. While much of this park suffered damage during hurricanes Katrina and Wilma, repair efforts are underway and most of the park is open.
Glacier National Park, Montana
Big sky yields big smiles with mountain peaks and ranges, glistening rivers and lakes and miles of forests. Glacier preserves over 1,000,000 acres of forests, alpine meadows, and lakes - clearly great for group hikes.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
On the Big Island of Hawaii, this park offers numerous hiking trails and campsites in its wilderness and a rare chance to get up close to some of the world's most mysterious and active volcanoes. Great day trip for destination wedding guests or spring or summer breaks.
Clearly, this is the front end of the national park ABCs, but the remaining parks are equally as enticing. Explore for yourself and find the national park that best matches your group's need or desire for activities, adventure, sights, places to stay, and budget considerations.
With summer on the horizon and national park visits peaking in summer months, now is the perfect time to plan your family summer vacation or road trip so you get the hotel, campsite, or RV spot you want. The national park pass offers family, senior, and disabled discounts. Not a bad way to spend a summer, year, or lifetime.
Here are highlights:
Families – The National Parks Pass, for only $50, provides entrance into any national park for one year, plus your spouse, kids, and parents if they accompany you on the trip. And 80% of the funds go directly back to programs that help preserve the national parks such as habitat restoration, endangered species protection, educational exhibit creation, and historical site preservation.
Seniors or Disabled Persons – A series of golden passes are available to people 62 or older or persons with permanent disabilities that appears to be like a pass to all federal land for life. The passes can be used at any national park for your lifetime and also admits your spouse and children when they are with you. Plus, access to sites managed by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U. S. Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management is also included. Quite the bargain.
Ever planned a group gathering such as a family reunion, weekend get-away with friends, or classmate reunion and needed to cut back on costs? Or helped a friend plan a wedding and needed inexpensive activity ideas for guests? As all trip expenses are taken into consideration, it can be nice to have some budget activity options so everyone can enjoy the trip.
Here are activities each for under $30 (from TripHub) so you can budget accordingly. Some of my favorites (in no particular order):
Elvis Presley's Graceland Tour, Memphis, Tennessee
See Graceland Mansion, the King's planes, cars, and personal memorabilia.
Walking Tour of Ancient and Old Rome, Rome, Italy
A guide takes you to some of Rome's greatest hits: the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, and more.
Diamond Head Crater Sunrise Adventure, Honolulu, Hawaii
Enjoy an educational, guided walk to the 760-foot summit of Hawaii's most famous crater.
San Francisco Bay Cruise, San Francisco, California
Cruise along the waters for spectacular views of Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz island, and the San Francisco city skyline.
Monuments by Moonlight, Washington, D.C.
Tour the U.S. capital when its famous buildings and monuments are brilliantly lit up. Includes the Capitol, the White House, Iwo Jima, Lincoln and Vietnam Veteran's Memorials, and more.
Elephant Trekking, Phuket, Thailand
Ride through forest areas on an elephant... it's one of those photo ops of a lifetime.
Old Town Trolley Tour, Boston, Massachusetts
Kids go free and you can take your time seeing the many Boston sights. Unlimited hop-on, hop-off trolly rides to Bean Town's most famous sights: Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Little Italy area, USS Constitution, and elsewhere.
Also, if your group trip takes you to a greater metropolitan area (or you invite family and friends to visit your home town), nine major U.S. cities offer city passes with deep discounts to popular attractions. The City Pass booklets cost around $50, but save nearly 50% on the combined cost of entrance. Not a bad deal if you want to send your parents off to see the sights, or you want to plan scheduled activity days for wedding guests or as part of a reunion. Or if you're traveling to an event in another city, state or country and want to do a bit of sightseeing on a shoestring.
At one point or another, haven't we all wanted six-pack abs, buns of steel, or people on the street to drop jaws when we walk by? In the 80s it was aerobics that took the masses to the gym. The 90s' return to nature brought people back outdoors to get fit via skiing, boarding, hiking, biking, maratons, walk-a-thons, water sports, and more.
The first decade of the 21st century seems to be a hybrid of
extreme sports (Ironman races, extreme skiing, diving with sharks)
a kinder, gentler retreat to alternative activities getting mind, body and spirit to achieve balance (yoga, Tai Chi, spa-health retreats) and
gym activities for the 80s die-hards with a new twist: Pilates and more personal trainers.
And I haven't even started to mention all the diet fads. Low or no carb diets seem to be the biggest hit for shedding pounds quickly.
Whether it is for health reasons, vanity reasons, self-esteem reasons or any combination, dieting and exercise have a place in our lives; but vacations can make sticking to any regime a bit more challenging. Especially when with a group of good friends, old college pals, at a family reunion, on a golf trip with the guys (who might consider you a wimp for ordering a salad as an entree), bachelor or bachelorette party, wedding, you name it.
Special occasions like this seem ripe for indulgence. One of my aunts sticks to a dieting plan while at home, but lets herself cheat a bit on vacation, knowing she'll work extra hard when she returns. A sound philosophy. But she also cuts back more than others at our reunions since her mind frame is focused on health and diet. I admire this.
Any other tips or philosophies on dieting or exercise while traveling?
Having just spent a weekend away with friends, I'm reminded why taking time out of my routine to see these friends is so important. We spent three days together at a friend's house in Portland for her baby shower. It was like a big slumber party. We ate, laughed, drank, and caught up on each other's lives. Such a great experience that a core group of us vowed to plan a vacation together each year to ensure we stay in touch (kids and husbands invited).
Groups are as diverse as the individuals in the group. My friend's baby shower included family members (her mom, sister, niece, grandmother), new friends (neighbors, co-workers, pals), high school friends, and the group I fell into: college friends. It was a slice of life; a family-friend combo reunion. Some of us traveled from other cities (by air, train, and car) while many lived nearby.
It didn't really matter (that much) what brought us together. It was the act of getting together that was significant. The baby shower was the icing on the cake (since there was a decadent cake served, we got our cake and ate it, too!). It was our excuse to celebrate friendships and family ties by congratulating our friend on her upcoming baby.
The weekend left me more grounded and self-assured. The whole trip put life in perspective, as only spending time with loved ones can.
The type A geek in me is excited to start planning now for our beach reunion (and I just might!). I figure, if I plan it, shouldn't I get the best room? You know, the one with the king bed and sweeping ocean view.
Groups of friends or extended family traveling together is a growing trend. There's even a catchy term for this trend called "togethering." Yet there's no universal travel industry definition for groups. Airlines define a group as 10 or more people traveling on the same itinerary; hotels define a group as 10 or more rooms (which can hold 20 or more people). Cruise ships vary, too.
A group, as defined by TripHub, is anything outside the immediate nuclear family. This may be a group of five women taking a spa vacation to Phoenix, eight guys going skiing in Colorado, or a multi-generational family reunion with 50 participants. Essentially, if there's more than one payment mechanism (i.e. two different credit cards), it is a group. TripHub is re-defining group travel (for small leisure groups, that is) based on the way consumers actually travel.
Groups redefined: Today, the travel industry looks at groups as having the same airplane itinerary or block of hotel rooms. Yet if friends or family depart from different cities or at different times, even stay at different places (Jim might stay with his friend, while the rest rent rooms at various places) the travel industry doesn't count them as a group.
Because travelers going on the same trip may leave at different times, depart from different airports or cities, and stay at different places upon arrival, this doesn't mean they aren't a group of friends or family vacationing together. TripHub allows groups flexibility to define their own trip by creating dates and sharing itineraries all on the same trip home page.
Beyond blocks of hotel rooms and blocks of seats on a flight, there are many other unmet needs for groups planning trips such as tracking money owed for shared expenses, inviting people and getting RSVPs, sharing itinerary information, discussing hotel options, and other planning parts of trips. TripHub also helps solve these problems by offering tools to simplify the group travel planning process.
Group discount myths exist. There are a number of factors that impact the availability of discounts when groups are traveling together or are staying in the same hotel. Do't assume that just getting the right size group together automatically entitles you to discounts. Look for a post on this topic soon.
When renting a charter bus, you are making the decision for many people. You want a competitive price, but also a safe and dependable company. How do you shop smart and make good decisions when renting a bus for a school group, college event, church group, wedding event, cruise terminal transportation, company event, senior tour, or any other group trip?
Keep in mind not all bus companies are created equally. Don't be tempted to shop on price alone. Some companies don't spend enough money or effort on maintenance, driver training, or driver screening. Often, it's these same companies that have the "really good prices."
Here's a quick checklist of questions to ask the bus company:
**1. How many years has the company been in business?**I, personally, will not work with a company that has been in business less than five years. I want to know that they can make good choices over several years. I don't want a bus company learning lessons on my trip. The more experience, the better.
**2. How many buses are in the company’s fleet?**I like to see at least five charter buses in the fleet. It shows an investment in their business provides back-up transportation.
**3. Can they provide proof of insurance?**Any reputable company will happily have proof of insurance faxed to you within 48 hours.
**4. Are they U.S. Department of Defense certified?**Not all companies go through the effort of passing this test. There are good companies that are not DoD-certified. But if you book with one that is, it should give you added confidence that they are credible.
The U.S. Department of Defense certification test is conducted at the bus company facility. Since it’s optional and the majority of companies do not have this certification, the certification gives added credibility by indicating a government entity’s stamp of approval on quality.
**5. Are they a member of Trailways or International Motor Coach Group (IMG)?**Only one or two companies in each city are members of these two franchises. Typically, members of these organizations have a proven track record and are leaders in their region. However, there are many good companies not affiliated with these two organizations.
Shopping for charter bus transportation is a little different than shopping for airlines or hotels. You should do your homework. Don't be afraid to ask these questions because every reputable company is used to it and happy to help you make a confident and responsible choice.
Dylan Peterson is CEO and Founder of Charter Bus America. CharterBusAmerica.com provides price quotes for charter bus rentals for customers in seconds, along with pictures and bus company information.
When planning any group trip—a family reunion, wedding, friends get-away, or other trip involving multiple itineraries and opinions—one of the most frustrating things can be deciding on the best hotel for everyone.
I’ve gone to weddings, family reunions, and traveled with friends in and out of the country and in each instance, finding the right hotel was a key part of our trip planning. Allowing each person to weigh in is important. Most people want a say in where they stay – room type, amenities, food service, location, price.
TripHub makes communicating around hotel selection extremely easy and convenient by offering a “discuss” tool for each hotel as you’re searching for them on the site. Here’s a sample screen shot to illustrate. (My comments are just after the little gold star.)
Once you know how to interpret hotel star ratings, you can easily skim hotels, photos, prices, etc. for the right hotel, make a comment to others invited in your group, and they can do the same (on that hotel or another). Communicating together in one central location (your trip “hub” page) does not get sent to the hotels – it simply stays on your trip hub page.
Put simply: TripHub allows you to both discuss hotel options online and then book a hotel.
Ladies, long to spend a get-away weekend of massages and wine-tasting with your friends? Guys, want to play unlimited golf with your old college friends guilt-free on vacation? Even while you’re in a relationship, it can be important to get some space.
Maintaining friendships outside of a relationship are often healthy ways to sustain not only the friendships, but your relationship or marriage. How comfortable are you taking off to join friends on a vacation without your honey? What are the best types of vacations with your friends vs. your mate?
Dr. Ruth Peters, Ph. D., in an article on MSNBC, offers advice to anyone considering taking a separate vacation from their spouse or partner. She also notes that “there is safety in numbers — group travel is significantly more secure than traveling alone, especially in locations foreign to you.”
Traveling with friends in a group is a safe way to go exploring and return home feeling rejuvenated, ready to share the excitement of your travels and plan the next vacation with your sweetie.
What works? Any tips on ways to get away with friends, while still preserving happy coupledom? Any ideas for group "girls only" or "guys only" get-aways? Post a comment below.
The most common airfare shopping behavior today among online travelers is to shop with an online travel agency, like Expedia or Orbitz, and book direct with an airline site, such as AlaskaAir or jetBlue. In fact, travelers convert (from shoppers to bookers) twice as well at airline websites than at online agencies. The value in booking direct is clear.
When booking at airline websites you:
Never pay booking fees – ranging from $5-$17 with online agencies
Earn valuable bonus miles – generally 1,000 miles, worth up to $20
Always see their lowest fares – not all agencies have access to airlines' web fares
Get exclusive features – upgrades, web check-in, special offers
Deal direct for customer service issues – no more calling an agency just to be redirected to an airline
Given that booking with airline websites provides the most value, the best place to shop for airfare is with travel search engines.
Benefits of shopping with travel search engines include:
Breadth of fares. You can see all the airfare options available on airline websites with one search.
Ease of use. Click through to the airline site to book direct instead. With online agencies, you need to open another browser and retype your search to book at an airlines' websites.
The savings in booking with airline sites really stack up when planning group travel. If it's a group of 10 or more, it makes sense to start with a group flight request form. Airlines will give additional discounts along with the benefits listed above.
Happy airfare shopping!
Mike Fridgen has worked in the online travel industry, as entrepreneur and marketing leader for such companies as Expedia, AlaskaAir, and others for 10 years.
Star ratings are the hotel industry's way of indicating standards - for amenities, quality, service, and often for location. But what do they mean? They can vary across the globe (a 4-star hotel in one country may vary widely in another). The measurement depends on who gives the star rating.
Online travel companies rate hotels, AAA rates them, Zagat rates them, Mobil rates them, even hotel customers write user reviews and give star ratings. While methods and results do vary slightly, the qualifications for a rating boils down to the same main elements. Star ratings, if used as guidelines, provide a good baseline for overall quality and cost.
Once you know your budget or your group's budget, then it's a matter of shopping around to find the right hotel for you. Those little gold stars are a good start at an at-a-glance sense of hotel quality, but be sure to also look at room photos, descriptions, and user ratings (if available).
Whether you're organizing or traveling to a wedding, family reunion, or college reunion with old pals, star ratings can help with trip planning.
Here's the skinny on star ratings:
Luxury, top-of-the-line hotels that are often resorts near the sexiest scenery with the highest standards of service and cleanliness. Think personal pampering, fine art as décor, sumptuous meals, and quality linens. Example: Ritz Carlton.
4-starUpscale, high-class hotels with a host of convenient amenities such as pools, valet, and bellhops. These are often near other hotels of the same caliber and have happy hours and signature dishes by well-trained chefs. Example: Hyatt Hotels & Resorts.
3-starMid-scale full-service hotels are often near major business centers or attractions, have pools, quality breakfast, lunch and dinner, and spacious accommodations. Think standard hotel with simple, yet clean furnishings. Example: Holiday Inn.
2-starMid-scale limited-service lodging often belonging to big chains known for standardized service. Properties are smaller-scale and room service is typically unavailable. Usually quite clean and comfortable. Example: Comfort Inn.
1-starEconomy or budget hotels are generally located near major intersections or affordable attractions. Think bargain basics with furnishings and service, but usually walking distance to cheap eats. Example: Motel 6.
Family reunions often require more than a single notice. Reunion planners commonly communicate with their families numerous times during the planning process. That’s a lotta family! Even before you reunite. Here’s how to make every communiqué count:
1. Include family in early decisions about date and location. By including more family members in the early, pivotal decisions of location and date, other details become secondary. Any decision you make about transportation, food, activities, etc. become part of the bigger decisions they helped select. It also builds interest and momentum. Plus, the bigger the consensus on location and date, the more people you’re likely to get by giving them a chance to plan their travel schedules well in advance. Points for you!
2. Send a "save the date" reminder. Once the key decisions of date, location and budget are made (via the first, exploratory communications), send out a "save the date" reminder email (made easy with TripHub.com's free planning tools) with the reunion dates, location and, if known, lodging info.
At this point, you can also ask people whether they plan to attend to get an estimated head count.
"Save the date" reminders are also great opportunities for enlisting volunteers to help with planning. See The Art of Delegation for ways to get the most out of your volunteers.
3. Lost in email translation. Spam, work and personal emails all create mounds of cyber-data that can be overwhelming. In group planning, I’ve found sending details out in bulk after key decisions have been made mitigates questions and headache for you, the organizer.
4. Written invitations. While email works well for many communications, a written invitation for a family reunion can do wonders - something colorful, eye-catching and postcard-sized that can easily be put on your fridge or bulletin board. This also helps for great-grandparents or others less likely to use email regularly (or at all).
What to include on your invitation:
Times of scheduled events or activities
Location (with full address or map)
Lodging options (including phone numbers and room block details)
Overall trip agenda (if confirmed) so attendees can plan their free time accordingly
5. Highlight volunteers. You might want to highlight volunteers who are helping to plan particular activities. This increases visibility to those helping, shows appreciation and stirs interest in the reunion by alerting the family of fun that will be had by all. This also gives you a way to steer communication to the volunteers in charge of them, freeing up your time to focus on other projects.
6. Get RSVPs back on time. Whether using the "save the date" or written invitation to get RSVPs, give your group a specific deadline. Provide both an email and phone number for people to RSVP. I also recommend picking one key contact per nuclear family to get their family’s RSVPs back on time. This simplifies things and leaves the burden of communication to a head of household or ultra-organized family member (anyone come to mind?).
How TripHub helps track RSVPs:
You can easily track response rates using TripHub, including regular reports on who has booked hotel rooms, who has RSVP’d and more.
Attendees can RSVP right on TripHub or call you and you (as group organizer) can alter their status.
If response rates are low, you may need to send out another email or follow up with people individually. TripHub allows you to filter and alert all or only those who haven’t yet responded. If they don’t respond by email, you might try calling.
7. Final family reunion reminder. Send a final reminder email several weeks before the reunion. This is your opportunity to communicate any updates or changes and to reconfirm key details. This email can also serve as a "last call" to those who have not yet confirmed their plans. Using TripHub.com free planning tools, everyone can see who else is coming. This will get people excited and give them a chance to schedule their own "side events" (i.e., golfing with Uncle Bill). Other helpful items to include are maps, destination information, important numbers (one cell phone number per nuclear family, etc.) and a "what to bring" list.
8. Post-reunion wrap-up. Finally, you can send a wrap-up letter/email to the whole family (everyone who was invited, not only those who attended) with your favorite stories, pictures from the reunion, and a family contact list. A family Web site is great for this as well.
Do you know of other ways to make communication efficient and easy? Share your thoughts by posting a comment.
You shouldn’t have to plan a family reunion (or wedding) all alone. Here are 10 tips for delegating with panache, keeping your finger on the pulse, and stepping aside for others to share the planning responsibilities.
Since weddings often turn into family reunions, many of these planning principles will also work for brides and grooms.
Tip 1: Make a checklist. Create a checklist of everything that needs to get done including deadlines and who is responsible for given tasks. Check this list often. As you get closer to the event, be sure to confirm the details with your service providers.
Tip 2: Start a chain reaction. When individuals get involved, they’ll become event champions who will promote the reunion to their respective branches of the family tree.
Tip 3: Enlist volunteers early. Right from the start, enlist volunteers to help with everything from creating and distributing "welcome kits" to planning specific events and activities. It lightens your load and allows you to tap into the creativity of your group. If planning a destination wedding, early help is critical.
Tip 4: Choose help wisely. You know your family. You know the flakes and leaders. The dreamers and doers. The bakers and candlestick makers. While everyone has talents and skills, I recommend choosing people with some planning experience for bigger projects. Those less likely to tackle bigger projects well would be perfect for a smaller, specific task (find and bring a cake for grandma’s birthday dinner). Match tasks delegated to those best suited for the task to create the most efficient use of everyone’s time.
Tip 5: Connections count. But use them carefully and don’t impose on anyone. Always ask. Never assume. Does Aunt Betty work in catering? Ask if she can find a good caterer. If a wedding or family reunion is in a major U.S. metropolitan area such as Seattle, Washington, D.C. or Chicago and Uncle Fred’s best friend can score a deal in baseball tickets, ask Fred if block of seats are possible to get.
Tip 6: Tap the creativity of your family. You’d be surprised what talents lay dormant in your family’s gene pool. Get help on projects or tasks where others have expertise such as building an up-to-date family contact list (for Excel or database wizards), designing a family Web site (for the graphically-inclined), organizing entertainment for an evening (use a family musician, perhaps), negotiating the best rate at hotels (think sales skills), chefs in the family can provide a "guest meal" one night (mmm… Uncle Bob's barbequed Asian salmon special), and so forth.
Tip 7: Avoid getting spammed. To avoid getting "cc'd" on every email communiqué, encourage the volunteers to make decisions on their own with the group and communicate that you just need to know the final details of their particular task(s). If they have problems/questions along the way, they can contact you. But giving them authority saves you time and gently ensures they’re held accountable, increasing chances they’ll complete the task(s).
Tip 8: Give credit where credit is due. Someone once told me that many who succeed "Delegate and take credit." While this was half-truth and half-joke, you should always give credit to those who help or lead a project. You may be organizing, orchestrating or rallying the troops, but many make it a success. Thank the academy.
Tip 9: Solicit ideas from those helping plan. There is a fine line between directing and delegating. I’ve learned people respond better when their own ideas are heard and carried out. They become invested and feel a personal sense of pride and accomplishment. That said, pay attention to quality and don’t be afraid to guide the process. Your feedback is helpful, as is theirs. Incorporate the best ideas from others and know when to (carefully) suggest alternatives to other ideas.
Brides, you have your ideas and your fiancé has his. So do your families. Use the best ideas, but ultimately the call is yours (and his).
Tip 10: Stay tuned and connected. You're still the leader of the group so once a task is assigned, it's important to follow up regularly to make sure everything's getting done. Schedule a weekly check-in with yourself and/or others to get a status of tasks completed and things that need a follow-up. The more organized you are, the more smoothly things will run.
Have any of your own tips or lessons learned? Care to add to any of the tips listed above? Your thoughts and feedback are welcome. Please post a comment below.
Organizing a family reunion? Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of your relatives are counting on you to plan a great event. Don't stress out. Here are tips for finding locations, hotels and activities to ensure the family reunion is a smash hit.
Location, location, location. As in real estate, location is key. If you have a tradition of rotating between the homes of various family members or there is an obvious central location, this decision is easy. However, if your family is spread out and there’s no pre-established plan, choosing the location may seem daunting. Many families converge at places such as Disneyland and other theme parks, top vacation spots such as Hawaii or the Caribbean, they explore national parks and monuments and also gather in urban, rural and resort towns across the United States. Your choices are endless and depend on group size, budget, time of year and the type of activities best suited to attendees.
Here’s a quick checklist to help you find the location just right for your next family reunion:
Can the majority of folks easily get to the location without a huge expense (or are they willing to pay to travel that far)?
Does the location provide fun and engaging activities for all ages from kids to seniors?
Does the location have multiple activity options both indoor and outdoor (for those who need to get out of the sun, rain, or cold)?
Is there anyone in your family or extended family that may have difficulty in a location (wheelchair considerations, health issues, etc.)? If you choose a theme park as your major destination, can everyone or most participate?
Parents with infants have a special set of needs (nap times, feeding times, diaper changes) and may require easy-access to a quiet room.
Will in-laws (who may not be as excited as y'all about the prospect of spending an entire weekend sitting around listening to old family stories) have interesting things to do?
Check with the convention and visitors bureau (CVB) before setting a date to ensure there isn’t a major event in town to avoid filled hotels and a location busier than normal. On the other hand, you could make a public festival or event part of the fun!
Explore the advantages/disadvantages of having the family reunion in the same location as a previous year. There is comfort for people in being on familiar ground; plus, you can always try new activities, food and places to stay in that same location. Survey your group and find out if they prefer a new destination or an old favorite.
Be flexible and you’ll have the greatest chance of securing a better rate. Keep in mind peak or off-season for various locations. For example, occupancy rates in Florida are very high over spring break but typically much lower in August. Granted, Florida is much hotter in August, but prices are significantly lower.
Hotels, resorts and vacation rental homes. To ensure that you are able to secure your desired lodging at the best possible rate, it's best to start the search as early as possible. Key considerations in selecting the right place(s) to stay for your group include:
Your group's per night budget
Number of rooms required
Amenities required (on-site restaurant, pool, in-room kitchens, etc.)
Meeting space and catering services available (if required)
Shuttle service and parking
When making hotel reservations, simplify this part of the group organizing process by offering options in a range of price categories (for larger groups, arrange room blocks at multiple hotels):
Budget (typically 1-star and some 2-star hotels)
Moderate (mainly 3-star and some 2-star hotels)
Higher-end and luxury (4-star and 5-star hotels)
Suite hotels, houses for rent, villas, condos with in-room kitchens (often ideal for groups with young children)
Schedule events and activities. Why? They increase the fun factor, offer bonding opportunities, serve as fodder for conversations, jokes, photo-ops and turn into life-long memories.
Events and activities vary from formal sit-down meals to casual barbeques, from guided tours to theater, and from physical activities to family-oriented games. Activity-planning tips:
Activities such as swimming, tennis, golf, bicycling, walking/hiking, shopping and visiting museums and historical landmarks provide great entertainment for family members young and old.
Be creative and leverage the talents and skills of your group when thinking about food, decorations and entertainment for these activities.
Schedule two events per day as well as "optional" choices such as a golf tournament or a hike so people can participate or opt out.
Everyone may not know each other (spouses, for example) so think about ways to introduce people to each other. Nametags with names and favorite villain, cartoon, sport, animal, kitchen gadget, dessert or vacation spot (you choose!) is sure to spark conversation.
Make sure that there will be enough space and food per activity.
Alert the group when meals are incorporated or provided with activities. If a stop at a world-famous milkshake joint follows a white-water rafting excursion, you might entice more people to go rafting.
Have a Plan B in case of rain.
Family reunions are designed to bring people together so plan events and activities that encourage group interaction. Something as simple as a potluck brings everyone to one place for mingling.
Provide games (Scrabble, cards, other board games) so people can sit down and relax without feeling anti-social.
Bring a first-aid kit on excursion-type activities such as hiking, biking, touring.
Provide a list of what to wear and bring for each activity.
Have any tips for family reunion activities that have worked especially well? Post a comment.
Congratulations, you've just volunteered - or been volunteered - to organize your next family reunion. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of your relatives are counting on you to plan a great event. Don't stress out. Follow these basic steps to ensure the family reunion is a wild success.
Start planning today. Family reunions can be particularly time consuming. So start early. Planning in advance will increase the odds that more people will be able to attend the reunion, which translates into more fun for everyone. By booking early, you can most likely secure better rates and/or reserve your preferred hotel or retreat site, flights and other travel arrangements.
Guest list size. Deciding which members of the family to invite and how far to extend the family tree can create stress and challenges. It's akin to planning a wedding invitation list. You don't want to hurt anyone's feelings and yet you have to draw the line somewhere. This is a personal family decision. While you can extend the invitation to more people over time, in order to begin the planning process it's critical to understand how big of an event you are planning and to have a rough sense of who will be attending.
Money matters. Your group's budget is perhaps the most important consideration to understand up-front. When estimating the expense for each attendee, consider the costs of transportation (by air or car), lodging, food and entertainment. With input from other family members, set a budget that will be comfortable for the vast majority of the family. If you will be collecting money from attendees to help cover the costs of special events and activities, keep detailed records of your expenses including any deposits for hotels, caterers or other service providers. Unfortunately, trip organizers are often left holding the bag with extra expenses. Don't be shy to ask for contributions. And, while you want to keep the event as affordable as possible, make sure you add some buffer to your budget. If there's extra money left over, splurge on a special treat for the group, or bank the funds for the next reunion. Most importantly, plan activities that can be enjoyed regardless of budget: potlucks, games, music, storytelling.
Choose the date. First of all, know in advance that you will not be able to accomodate everyone's schedule. With that in mind, here are hints to get the best date locked in:
If you're scheduling the reunion around a particular event (i.e., a grandparent's birthday or 50th wedding anniversary), holiday or school break then your options may be limited. If you're not date constrained, and if there are particular family members who absolutely must be there, speak with them first.
Next, talk to key family members (i.e., Uncle Bob who keeps in close contact with many people in and beyond his branch of the family tree) to determine if there are other events that might create a conflict for a number of possible attendees.
Then select 3-4 dates that provide sufficient planning time, and send these dates to the family.
Ask people to let you know which dates work best for them of the 3-4 options you provide, but make sure to emphasize that the majority rules so no one feels singled out if they are not able to attend.
Many people may not be able to fully commit six or more months in advance so you may need to request guesstimates. To increase your response rate and make decision making easier, give people a deadline and ask them to rank their date preferences.
Finally, stick to your decision. Changing dates mid-stream can create a phenomenal amount of additional work.
Give us feedback and your lessons learned by posting a comment. Read Part 2.
Among the myriad of things to consider when planning and booking a group trip, don't forget about safety. Before traveling abroad, visit the U.S. State Department's Web site for up-to-date information on your chosen country's travel policies, including vaccination requirements and more. Embassies are also a great resource when planning your trip.
If you are traveling abroad, the U.S. State Department's has 10 tips for a safe trip:
Make sure you have a signed, valid passport and visas, if required. Also, before you go, fill in the emergency information page of your passport.
Read the Consular Information Sheets (and Public Announcements or Travel Warnings, if applicable) for the countries you plan to visit.
Familiarize yourself with local laws and customs of the countries to which you are traveling. Remember, the U.S. Constitution does not follow you! While in a foreign country, you are subject to its laws.
Make 2 copies of your passport identification page. This will facilitate replacement if your passport is lost or stolen. Leave one copy at home with friends or relatives. Carry the other with you in a separate place from your passport.
Leave a copy of your itinerary with family or friends at home so that you can be contacted in case of an emergency.
Do not leave your luggage unattended in public areas. Do not accept packages from strangers.
If you plan to stay abroad for more than two weeks, upon arrival you should notify by phone or register in person with the U.S. embassy in the country you are visiting. This will facilitate communication in case someone contacts the embassy looking for you.
To avoid being a target of crime, try not to wear conspicuous clothing and expensive jewelry and do not carry excessive amounts of money or unnecessary credit cards.
In order to avoid violating local laws, deal only with authorized agents when you exchange money or purchase art or antiques.
If you get into trouble, contact the nearest U.S. embassy.
Whether you're planning a family reunion, bachelor party, wedding or spa weekend, there are common challenges in organizing group travel. Group communication and decision making are two of the biggest headaches that group travel planners face. TripHub can help you streamline the group travel planning and purchasing process. While using the tools, keep these tried-and-true tips in mind:
Plan in advance. Whether it's deciding where to go, what to do once you arrive, or simply coordinating everyone's calendars, group travel planning always takes longer than expected. TripHub can help! By giving you trip organizing tools and handling the booking process, TripHub will save you time and money.
Include the group in decision making. Although you may be rounding up the troops, it's their trip, too. While it may be impossible to satisfy everyone's requests, it's important for everyone to have the opportunity to voice their travel preferences. Taking a group vote often helps facilitate decision making. TripHub's message-sending feature allows you to communicate with all or part of the group.
Keep it simple and make it fun. The anticipation leading up to a trip, as well as the follow-up and story telling post-trip, are a big part of the travel experience. When you need to assign tasks to the group or individuals, keep it simple so positive vibes stay with the trip from beginning to end. For example, provide a clearly defined set of options to consider or items to research. Make it easy for someone to say "Yes, I'm in!"
Stay organized. Details, details. In travel, it's the little things like the timing of a layover, the cost of a cab ride from the airport to the hotel, or the quality of a meal that will have a huge impact on a trip. Understand and focus on those details that matter most to you and to your group.
Be especially clear about budgets. Make sure everyone is comfortable with the cost of the trip up front and that everyone understands how much they owe and when. Collecting money from friends and family can be awkward. Inevitably, there will be someone who pays late (or not at all). But communicating early and often can help. TripHub's money-management tool helps simplify this issue.
If you have any tips, feel free to post a comment.
Welcome to Group Trip Advisor, a weblog solely devoted to group travel. Here you’ll find tips, hints, resources, and lively commentary all aimed at simplifying the group trip planning process and inspiring anyone who travels with groups.
Anyone planning a trip needs a little help now and then (myself included). I plan to cover topics such as road-tripping with girlfriends, skiing with your pals, jet-setting to a destination wedding, gathering for a family reunion, negotiating group contracts, volunteering for a cause, spring break tips, travel companions from hell, blending in abroad and so much more.
Eventually, I'll feature guest bloggers on subjects of their expertise, photo contests and "lessons learned" from you, my fellow group trip planners. And I'll solicit ideas for subjects of interest to you. Stay tuned….
It's your blog, too. Whether you've organized one group trip, one thousand, or it's your first one, we can all learn from each other. If you see an article or post on this blog that strikes you, please respond by posting a comment at the bottom of that article. I’ll monitor and do my best to answer questions as swiftly as I can.
A little background on me: I’ve worked in online travel for the last eight years (including producing and managing content at Expedia for nearly five years), traveled the globe (from Hawaii to Israel), helped organize events (from presidential campaigns to local auctions), planned numerous group trips (family and friend get-togethers mainly), and have felt the pain of using inefficient methods of planning a trip or an event with groups involved – email after email, endless phone calls, trying to keep track of RSVPs, accommodating changes. So many wasted hours keeping all the details straight! My hope is to help create group travel efficiency in any way possible by sharing and stimulating discussions. Bear with me as I evolve the blog.
Lastly, since this blog is also a content gateway to TripHub, I will occasionally make a plug for its group trip planning services when relevant. Yes, I’ve used the tools and services and find them quite helpful with planning group trips. Peruse the site and see for yourself how to make your next group trip a breeze.