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Group Vacation Planning: How to Keep the Peace

Group Vacation Planning: How to Keep the Peace

Group Vacation Planning: How to Keep the Peace

Keep your friendship intact with these helpful tips.

(CNN) –A vacation with your pals should be the perfect opportunity to unwind, catch up and have fun with some of your favorite people in – ideally – a fabulous setting.

But coordinating large groups isn’t always easy. We’ve all heard travel horror stories of fighting over finances, itinerary arguments, and barbed comments over cocktails.

Whether you’re currently planning a future friend vacation, or about to embark on a long-awaited group trip, here are some top tips to keep the trip as smooth and fun as possible.

Think carefully about who’s coming

So first things first, who are you inviting? Maybe the answer’s obvious because you’ve got a gang you always travel with, or a ready-to-go group of close pals who you’ve always wanted to vacation with en masse.

But if you’re planning a trip with a friend group that’s never traveled together before, or you’re thinking of bringing together a mix of friends from different parts of your life, it’s worth considering the potential group dynamic.

It sounds obvious, but if you’ve got friends who prefer outdoorsy hikes and adventures, they may or may not gel with the group who enjoy bar-hopping and city breaks.

Plus, travel can be stressful – some friends might get on really well at social events, but their personalities could clash when they’re under pressure to make a flight, or dealing with a vacation rental that doesn’t live up to the listing.

So, generally speaking, the closer the group, the more likely the vacation success. But traveling together can also be a great way to get to know people better, so definitely don’t rule out an invitee just because they’re a newer addition to your circle.

A vacation could also be a great opportunity to get to know a friend’s partner a little better, so extending the invite to significant others could be a great shout, just – again – keep the overall dynamic in mind. If the trip suddenly goes from a college pals reunion to a couples trip featuring a sole single friend, that might be a less-than-fun outcome for that one person who’s not coupled up.

Of course, everyone is different, and there’s no general rule for any of these situations – it’s just worth being considerate and thoughtful in the inviting.

On that note, also bear in mind the potential for a friend being offended if they’ve not made the cut. Not everyone can come to every trip, but be mindful that you don’t want to lose friendships before you’ve even boarded the plane.

Have a budget and stick to it

Talking about finances can be awkward, but it’s part and parcel of vacation planning. The best strategy is to set a budget early on for accommodation and travel costs.

If you want to make sure no one is priced out, ask everyone to be upfront from the beginning and make sure there are no surprise extra costs later down the line.

Chelsea Dickenson, the 33-year-old founder of website Cheap Holiday Expert, suggests one way of avoiding anyone feeling uncomfortable in the group chat is to set up a Google Form that everyone can fill out anonymously, detailing their preferred budget and any other concerns or thoughts.

“You essentially create a questionnaire for your friends,” Dickenson tells CNN Travel. “And then it’s down to the organizer – which probably would be me, in my case – to look at that and see, ‘Okay, what are we actually working with.’”

How you split costs both before and after vacation will depend on your group dynamic, your respective financial positions and your own preferences – but whatever the answer, it’s best to have that conversation before you embark on the trip.

While some friends might be happy to adopt an “I paid for the Uber, you buy the drinks” policy, others may feel more comfortable knowing everything’s been split evenly.

Apps like Splitwise do the complicated sums for you, keeping tabs on who spent what when. Or if everyone in your party happens to use banking apps like Monzo or Revolut (both of which generally allow spending internationally without extra fees) you can set up a shared tab and pay as you go.

Pick your destination and accomodation carefully

So the gang’s assembled and the budget’s confirmed. Now you’ve just to figure out where you’re actually going.

If you’ve not already had to consider the word compromise in the planning process, here’s where it’s almost guaranteed to come up. Maybe one of you fell in love with the beauty of Sicily while watching “The White Lotus” and is desperate to fly to Palermo, but someone else already ticked Italy off their bucket list and is dreaming of hiking the fjords of Norway. Maybe some of the group love the idea of spending evenings chilling in a secluded cabin with a hot tub, but your other friends would prefer to stay in a buzzy city hotel with a rooftop bar.

A group vacation is – generally speaking – more about the group than the destination. After all, while exploring a fantastic place together is theoretically the purpose of your trip, if you wanted free rein to go wherever in the world you like, you’re better off traveling alone – or picking just one like-minded travel buddy.

If you’re going on a friend vacation, you’re going somewhere to hang out with your friends, so you should consider their needs and preferences as much as yours. That doesn’t mean totally abandoning your dream trip, it just means being candid and going into the experience knowing what everyone wants out of the trip and making sure you’re all, more or less, on the same page.

And even if the group ends up voting on a destination you’ve visited before, returning with a different group at a different stage in life is always going to be rewarding.

Know your individual strengths - and your group dynamic

Some people are natural organizers. Others are great at map reading. Some people love driving. Others are pros at finding the best flight deals. Some bring the vibes on the day, arriving with a speaker and vacation-approved playlist.

Knowing your own strengths – and those of your friends – will help you plan and orchestrate the vacation as smoothly as possible.

If you’re vacationing with people you’ve never traveled with before, this dynamic might be a little more of an in-the-moment surprise, but you’ll still likely cotton on to people’s natural roles early on.

And depending on how big your group is, some people will naturally step up into organizing roles, while others might take a backseat. If you’re all natural organizers, you might have to reluctantly cede control to a friend – but if they’re your close pal, you know they’ll do a good job and that you can trust them. Enjoy taking a backseat for once and go along for the ride.

Plan in advance - but also leave room for spontaneity

You don’t want to force your friends to commit to a by-the-hour schedule, but it’s worth having some idea of what you’re hoping to see and do on the trip before you set off.

This is especially important the larger the group – if there are 12 of you vacationing together, you might need to prebook restaurants or organize museum entry in advance. Plus, having a pre-planned schedule avoids 12 different people wasting hours each morning just agreeing on the day’s activity.

To avoid ideas getting lost in a torrent of messages in the group chat, you could create a shared Google Doc pre-vacation and encourage everyone to add in ideas and research they’ve done in advance of the trip. As departure day gets closer, you can highlight the favorite ideas, or wait and go through them upon arrival, glass of wine in hand.

And while planning is always useful, some of the best moments in travel happen spontaneously. Don’t commit to a concrete schedule that can’t be switched around in the day, or leaves no room for improvisation.

Some of your best memories are going to be made at that little cove you randomly stumble upon, or the bar built into the clifftops you spot last minute, or just lying on the couch in the evening enjoying quality time with your best pals.

Take time to yourself when you need it

In a big group, people might naturally go their own way over the course of the vacation – everyone has different interests and it’s unrealistic to expect you all to stick together for the whole trip.

Plus, no matter how close you are to your friends, you might find yourself craving a bit of alone time as the days roll on. Don’t be afraid to take time to yourself, if and when you need it – whether that’s popping out for a solo coffee or taking yourself to see that landmark that only you’re interested in seeing.

If you find yourself getting frustrated with any of your fellow vacationers, taking some me time is also a good way to diffuse the situation without ending up doing or saying anything you’ll regret.

Resist the urge to badmouth a friend to another friend mid-trip. If you really want to vent, text someone neutral back home.

Cherish the moment

Long after you move past the weird Airbnb your friend booked, or the restaurant that would never have been your first pick, or the slightly fraught conversation about splitting the grocery store bill – you’ll remember the quality time you spent with your friends.

It sounds cheesy, but cherishing the moment is the most important tip on this list. A getaway with your friends can become harder and harder with the passing years, as life’s commitments build up and people become more settled in their homes and jobs.

No one is flawless, and no trip is perfect, but there can be perfection in that imperfection. Love your friends for their quirks – which may be out in full force on vacation – and they’ll love you for yours.

And before you know it, you’ll be back home sharing your favorite vacation photos and planning the next trip.

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Francesca Street, Cnn