Salo Aburto was delighted with his first trip to Europe last month. The plan was a two-week getaway with his best friend from college to Brussels, Amsterdam, Paris and Berlin. His friend was married and lived in Brussels and seemed eager to play tour guide. (Her husband joined them for a few days.) Aburto, 27, a digital content specialist for a nonprofit environmental group in Washington, was taking two weeks off for the adventure. The couple would be traveling together for the first time.
Within days, the trip turned into his “worst nightmare”.
Cracks quickly appeared: he is organized and likes to have “an itinerary, plus a plan A and a plan B”, whereas she is more spontaneous. He became frustrated with not having time to explore on his own and felt his priorities were being ignored. They even fought for his snoring. Minor disagreements and snipes culminated in an explosive brawl in Berlin. The next time he saw her was at the airport, where she changed seats on the plane they had booked together for Brussels. Aburto has spent the last three days there trying to save the trip on his own.
They haven’t spoken since he left Europe a month ago, although they met for coffee just before his flight home, and he hopes they will reorganize their relationship with the time. But he will think twice before leaving with friends. “It makes me sad, because I feel like this trip completely destroyed an amazing relationship,” he said.
The chance to see new places and make memories with friends is appealing, but a lot can go wrong. Personalities can clash, goals can differ, well-meaning planners can make stupid mistakes. Whether it’s a fun weekend getaway or a multi-week international excursion, here’s how to take a trip from idea to reality — and how to survive it with friendships intact.
Set (and accept) expectations. Clarifying the purpose of the trip can make the planning process easier. A trip to Paris with the goal of seeing as many museums as possible will have a faster pace and more scheduled outings than a relaxing weekend in a lakeside home. Talk about what most group members want to do, and people can decide if they want to participate. During a recent birthday weekend in New York with friends, for example, I made it clear that I wouldn’t be staying as late at clubs as the rest of the group.
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Nail the dates early. One of the hardest parts of group travel is getting everyone involved. People have busy schedules and variable vacation periods; create a Google or Doodle form and have everyone check their calendar and provide date ranges when free. Choose the dates that overlap the most.
“If you’re the person organizing these trips, you have to be prepared that not everyone is going,” said David Bell, 27, a PhD student in physics. at the University of Washington in Seattle who has traveled with his group of high school friends every two years since 2013. “There will be no perfect date.”
Choose a group organizer. The trip will not take place if no one takes care of it. Vanessa Bowling Ajavon, founder of Girls Vacation Club, a DC-based travel agency that organizes group trips for women, recommends appointing one person as the lead planner. This person will make decisions and keep the group on track. Ajavon saw many potential trips disband because no one wanted to take the lead. “If you have too many people doing research, it’s going to get really sloppy,” she said.
Others may be responsible for booking specific aspects, such as hotels, restaurants, and activities, while the designated planner keeps everyone on track.
Fix money problems right away. Don’t go on a trip without having clear expectations about the cost, what everyone can afford, and how people will be reimbursed. Nobody wants to be surprised by a high bill and nobody wants to chase payments.
Travelers with different budgets can still vacation together. Olivia Rempel, 29, a video expert for an environmental communication center in Norway, travels regularly with friends of different incomes. In May, she and her husband joined six others on a diving trip to Jordan and then visited the desert reserve of Wadi Rum; the rest of the group stayed in a luxury campsite with tents with transparent roofs to see the stars, while Rempel and her husband chose a cheaper Bedouin camp nearby.
“If they splurge, we totally respect it, but we know our budget and we stick to it,” she said.
If someone faces cash, determine how and when each will pay their share. Holly Trantham, artistic director of the financial diet, used a credit card to buy plane tickets to see Lady Gaga in Las Vegas; she told her friends when the payments were due to give people time to save. “I was traveling with some very good friends who I knew would reimburse me,” she said.
Keep track of each person’s expenses and pay bills quickly after the trip. Trantham and Rempel recommend using Splitwise, an app that tracks individual expenses. If someone needs more time to pay, set a deadline and stick to it.
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Be prepared to compromise. People with different habits can travel well together as long as expectations are set early. In a large group, make sure everyone is doing at least one thing they care about.
You may decide not to travel with a friend if their travel style or expectations are too different from yours. “You can be a really good friend to someone and decide that’s not someone you want to travel with,” Trantham said.
Keep the itinerary flexible. Most travelers want a mix between scheduled activities and downtime. Secure tickets or reservations for all group activities in advance, so they don’t sell out. Plan group meals, but leave others unplanned, so people can try different places. Rempel saves restaurants to Google Maps, so she has pre-verified recommendations, even as she walks.
Ajavon constructs its routes with flexibility in mind. “You can stay with the group as long as you want, but you can also just leave and do your own thing,” she said. On a trip to Paris, for example, she slept in and met her friends for lunch after visiting the Louvre, where she had been before.
Build alone time. Even best friends need time away from each other. Consider alone time, whether that means staying in separate rooms or making time for solo outings. Aburto said he would always book his own room in the future. “Even if I have to pay more money, I will be happier to come back to my own room,” he said. For an upcoming trip to New York, he booked a hotel room instead of planning to stay with local friends.
Cut each other. Even the best laid plans can be derailed. Bell, the physics student, was in charge of booking Airbnbs during a trip to Europe in 2019 and “got some heat” for “booking some real disappointments”. But his friends forgave. Remember why you are traveling together and try to have fun.