Expert Advice

How to Travel in a Group Without Being a Jerk

by Team Fathom
Photo by Kimson Doan / Unsplash.

So often when you travel, what you take matters less than who you take. Because the company you keep can make or break a vacation, it’s important to consider your travel companions carefully. The below is an excerpt from Fathom's new book, Travel North America (And Avoid Being a Tourist), in the chapter called: The Company You Keep.

Raise your hand if this sounds familiar. You’re at dinner with an intimate group of friends you love dearly, and, somewhere between the second and third bottles of wine, someone suggests that you all go on vacation together. That you rent a cottage on a lake in Ontario. A houseboat on Lake Mead. A ski condo in Vail. Or that reliable standby, a farmhouse villa in Italy or France. It’s such a great idea! Before dessert, it’s settled: This will happen.

Within a few days, someone sends a follow-up email to the gang with links to rental options around the world. Let’s call her Jasmine, because 90 percent of the time, it’s going to be a woman. (Sorry, chaps, the truth hurts.) A flurry of emails later, it’s settled: Next summer, you’re going to that gorgeous spot that everyone loves in San Miguel de Allende. Mexico, here you come.

In the ensuing ten months, Jasmine is the one who forwards the email alert about the Delta sale on airfare to Mexico City. Who reminds everyone how much they still have to Venmo her for the deposit she placed on the villa – five months ago. Who coordinates the information that Oliver has gone paleo, that Carmen is gluten free, and that Pablo is now vegan, and sends it to the rental company so the chef she arranged can prepare a menu that’s not only totally locavore but good for everyone’s dietary peccadillos. In the weeks leading up to the trip, Jasmine gets texts at 3am from Keysha, asking her to resend the link to the car service she found because she’s joining the gang from Mérida.

Once settled into the villa, Jasmine gets a daily onslaught of questions. “What’s the plan for dinner?” “When are we going to the ruins?” “What time is the concert in the cathedral square tonight?” “Did you put my matcha on the list for the supermarket run?” “Where are the clean towels for the pool?”

By the end of the week, everyone has had an amazing vacation. Except for one person.

This is, of course, an exaggerated version of what we’re talking about. But if you’ve ever gone on a bachelorette weekend or a boys’ ski trip or a family reunion or even a getaway for two, you’re familiar with the situation: One person usually ends up doing a disproportionate amount of the heavy lifting in planning and coordinating the vacation that the whole group is going to enjoy.

This is totally unfair.

From left: Photo courtesy of Golden Eye; photo courtesy of Taylor Mountain Lodge.

The next time you’re involved in planning a vacation – whether it’s with a big or small group of friends or family – be the one who reminds everyone that you should all chip in on the planning. Break it down depending on the kind of trip, and suggest that you all divide the tasks: researching the destination, accommodation options, transportation logistics (how to get there and how to get around), activities, places to eat and drink, and travel essentials like where to buy the supplies you’ll need once you’re there – groceries and wine, sunscreen and insect repellent, lift tickets and spare flip-flops. Give yourself bonus points for circulating in-case-of-emergency info like the nearest hospital, rescue resources if you’re deep in nature, and the closest embassies if you’re in a foreign country. (Isn’t there a travel superstition that says disaster only strikes if you didn’t plan for it? If not, there should be.)

Bring everyone in on the action, no matter how young they are or how “totally hopeless at planning” they claim to be. Children will be glad they were asked to contribute and will take particular pride in knowing that they planned certain days – and it might make them more willing to spend an afternoon exploring that boring old museum. All ages planning taps into a (terrific) growing trend we’ve seen in recent years: Young children are playing a bigger and bigger role in organizing family vacations.

As for those so-called “incompetent planner” types, they might be surprised and delighted to learn that they can coordinate an unforgettable dinner or arrange an afternoon excursion to the underwater caves. Those hopeless planners, by the way, tend to use their alleged hopelessness as an excuse to avoid doing any work. Don’t let them get away with it.

Even with all this democratic division of labor, the Jasmine in the group will still end up doing a little more because, well, groups tend to need a leader (and Jasmine might, let’s be honest, be a control freak). But encourage her to assign tasks rather than shoulder them all herself, and keep track of the master task list or Google doc where everything is being recorded. She can assign Becky and Daniel the job of arranging a kayaking afternoon and beach barbecue, and ask Callum to circulate a list of Mexican movies everyone can watch before the trip to get psyched about where they’re going. The more hands at work, the lighter the labor. By the way, this counts when it’s just a couple traveling. Don’t let your special person do all the work.

Because here's the bottom line when it comes to group travel: If everyone helps plan, everyone is that much more invested in the trip being a success.

If, for all these good intentions, you do end up on a trip that has been largely planned by one person, then be grateful. REALLY grateful. Get everyone to chip in to give Jasmine an afternoon at a spa, or buy her the beautiful blanket she admired at the artisan’s market in town. She’s your friend (or your cousin or your mom): You should know what would make her happy. And don’t forget to raise a glass to her – at least once! – to acknowledge and thank her for the work she put into the vacation.


Photo courtesy of Mohonk Mountain.

Tools of the Trade

Make group trip-planning easier. Organize your travels with these digital assistants.

Dropbox
Create a folder for everyone to upload their pics. (A shared iPhone, Google, or Flickr album works as well and can be uploaded right from your phone.) This will help everyone relive the trip while you’re on it, and avoid turning the photo project into a chore when the vacation is over. The long flight or drive home is another great time to organize photos.

Venmo
Create accounts and pay each other as you go.

Google Docs
Make one document with the itinerary, the address, and contact information for the places you’ll be staying, along with other essential information like flights and car services. A shared spreadsheet is where you can keep track of the things you want to see and do, and will be most useful if organized by category: restaurants, bars, sites, shops, cafes, neighborhoods to explore. A doomsday document of emergency info has everyone’s in-case-of-emergency contact back home, passport numbers, insurance info.

Whatsapp
Create a group so everyone on the trip can communicate by phone or text.

Social Media Hashtags
If you’re active on social media and are planning to share your trip, settle on a shared hashtag for your posts. And don’t forget to establish ground rules on what is and isn’t okay to post.

Don't Stop There. Read the Whole Book!

Buy Travel North America (And Avoid Being a Tourist)from your preferred local bookseller or online from Amazon.com or Bookshop.org.

Excerpted with permission from Travel North America: (and Avoid Being a Tourist) by Pavia Rosati and Jeralyn Gerba, published by Hardie Grant Books, June 2021.

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