From bachelor parties to family reunions, group trips are opportunities to explore the world with the people you love. They also have the potential to be planning messes. But they don't have to be. We've rounded up tips, tricks and tools to help plan your next group getaway.
Understand your group dynamic
The first step in a successful trip: Ensure the travelers will get along well together. "Is it a group of friends, or is it a couple of families traveling together? Is it a multigenerational trip with a big age range?" said Kate Doty of Geographic Expeditions. "These factors all come into play with activity level, comfort zones and rooming."
Understanding individual roles is big. "There will be someone in the group who will be the natural leader," Doty said. "Be candid about this! Find opportunities to talk through these topics with humor and lightness."
Group dynamics can play a big role in where to stay. Families might prefer the ease of a hotel or resort. Groups of friends might opt for rental sites like VRBO and Airbnb. Ali Killam, Airbnb's consumer trends expert, recommends creating a shared wish list and inviting group members to add listings and vote on favorites.
"Determine what's most important to the group when it comes to accommodations — a pool, a big kitchen, proximity to town, the beach — and filter the search accordingly," she said.
Shared apps are vital
Figure out when everyone is available. Doodle allows users to create a poll online of possible travel dates. Google Sheets is a decent way to organize options in a spreadsheet and track when and how people will be traveling.
Katrina Kagan of the weekly newsletter Girls' Night In is the designated planner in her group of friends, who try to take group trips at least once a year. She created a trip planning spreadsheet that gathers travel details, expenses, meals and more; her colleagues shared it with the newsletter's 150,000 subscribers.
"If you're a planner, this spreadsheet is a way to get organized enough that you can feel personally at ease during your trip. Why not take half an hour beforehand to get organized?" she said. "If you're not a natural planner and are looking to step into that role, this can be a starting point."
TripIt is an itinerary-building app that allows you to collect details for flights, hotels, car rentals and more into a master itinerary — the app allows you to share your itinerary with other members of your group.
Set up a private Facebook or WhatsApp group to send messages both while planning and when traveling. Google Docs make for a shared repository of events and suggestions and other vital information. And, if you plan on Instagramming your travels, a fun group hashtag is a nice way to keep track of the memories.
Figure out finances
Splittr and Splitwise are popular mobile free apps for tracking, prorating and ultimately balancing expenses, available offline and in multiple currencies.
"I was traveling a lot with friends, and I was the one who did the spreadsheet after the trip. I thought, 'This should be easier!' " said Splittr founder and developer Raphael Wichmann.
Splitwise also integrates directly with the payment app Venmo, allowing you to make payments and receive money directly.
"We're looking to help reduce stress and awkwardness when it comes to finances," said Jon Bittner, the Splitwise chief executive. Bittner suggests creating a group as soon as the first big expense, like a house or hotel rooms, has been booked, and continue adding expenses as you go.
Looking to treat your friends or family to free rides during your trip? Uber Events lets you set up a code to cover transportation for your crew.
Getting group deals
Amtrak recently launched Share Fares, which earns you greater discounts on tickets the more people you travel with. This program can reduce ticket prices up to 35% for groups of four.
Brian Kelly, the Points Guy, has made a career out of understanding the intricacies of airline and credit card loyalty programs. He warns about transferring points and suggests instead on combining them.
"Airlines will generally charge you one cent per point or mile to transfer, which negates the value," he said. He also suggested savings could be had by taking a "look at your trip in terms of one-ways instead of round-trips, and look at it based on availability." If flying together is a priority, consider letting members of your group with the most available points purchase individual legs of the trip.
Some domestic airlines offer perks for groups booking together, including discounted fares and flexible ticketing options.
In doubt? Leave it to the pros
Kelly may be a points expert, but he decided to use a travel agent for a recent group trip to Iceland.
"The number of options when planning a trip can be overwhelming," he said. And when one of his friends left a piece of luggage at the airport, the tour company was able to have it delivered to the group.
Not being responsible, he said, "felt like an actual vacation!"
A return to travel agents and advisers is on the rise. Cece Drummond, managing director of destinations and experiences of Virtuoso, noted that VIP treatment, better value and free benefits are some perks of using travel agencies.
"They can easily be frustration because there's too much information available," she said. "Our advisers can help sort and sift through that."