Frugal Vacations: Traveling With Friends (Part 2)

Like I mentioned in the previous part of this series, we are planning yet another vacation with friends. We have realized that this is one of the most frugal ways to travel, and is a great way to squeeze a lot of fun into the precious few days of the vacation. There are some unspoken do's and dont's that should be followed while traveling with friends though, to ensure that everyone can get the best out of the vacation. These rules will be different for different groups of people. Here are some that we have worked out through trial and error for our group. Ours is a group of 10 (5 couples) – almost everyone with a full time job, with the exception of one who is a full-time student, spread across three different cities. Not everyone can go on all vacations, but we try to get as many people to go as possible since it is more fun that way. By following some simple rules, we ensure that each of us can maximize the fun without getting bogged down by group politics (knock on wood).

Determine “when” and “how long” to travel
This is both the easiest *and* the toughest part of the planning. If travel is during a long weekend, then you just need to decide which long weekend. But for longer trips (For instance, the Alaska trip I mentioned in my previous post, was for a span of 2 weeks) you need to take time off. With every one working for a different company, and school schedule to also consider, this one gets a bit difficult. So we determine a core set of dates that can work for most people. But everyone has the flexibility to get there a little earlier or stay back a little later if they have more vacation time. Note, for short trips where you drive out together this may not be an option. But for longer vacations, where you need to fly in, this is an easy way accommodate everybody’s work constraints.

For long vacations, set up a google/yahoo groups mailing list for coordination
This may not be necessary for a short trip, but if you are planning everyone’s “dream vacation” type of trip, you better have a system in place to make sure everyone’s input is accepted. We used yahoo groups since we could set up polls, upload files and pictures etc. Also, this is a great way to co-ordinate for us since we are in different cities and don’t want to bother each other during work. Whenever anyone has time, they will look into some aspect of the trip, and summarize their findings into a mail (with possibly some links) and send it to the group so everyone can look at it at their convenience. Over the weekend, we call each other up and figure out the details.

Split the work
For a short trip, again this is not that big a deal. But for longer vacation, it is better if you clearly split the tasks. With a group of 10, we need to make sure that there is a method to the madness. So we split the task such as, travel, accommodation, activities, car reservation, etc and each couple volunteers for some task. It is the responsibility of the couple who is the owner of the task to find out all possible details about the task and then get everyone to agree on one option. With some tasks, it is easy to get the consensus. With other tasks, it takes some persistence, cajoling and convincing :) But you need to ensure that once something is decided (a) no one is unhappy with the decision (even if everyone is not jumping for joy, if they are not totally disappointed, it usually works out in the end) (b) it is a fairly firm decision (so we don’t waste time during the vacation going back and forth).

Be flexible
This one is the most important things, be it during planning or during the vacation itself. Remember, everyone has a unique idea of what the vacation should be like. If everyone has set their mind on what to do, and if the ideas differ, you will just not be able to make things work out in big groups. So the best option is to try and be flexible. Try to accommodate as many wishes as possible. At the same time, if something cannot be accommodated, let it go. The intention is to have fun. Traveling with a group makes a lot of different things possible that just cannot be done in solo (or duo) vacations. One the other side of the coin, some things that you could do while you are on your own are just not possible while traveling with a group. Accept that, and things will be so much better.

Leave room for changes
Even the best laid plans can fall apart. So don’t get too attached to a plan. For instance during one of our previous trips, we had planned on two separate ship-based activities. But within a few minutes into the first activity we realized two of the people were extremely sea sick. We were prepared for this possibility and had some dremamine with us, but the problem with it was that it made those two kinda sleepy and overall unenthusiastic. When it came time for the second activity, the two opted out and urged us to go ahead. They said they would look around town, or pick a hiking trail and go trekking. That was certainly an option and we have done stuff like that before – but in this case the rest were not too enthusiastic about the second activity either. So at the last minute we found that we could get a full refund of the advance we had paid, and so we scrapped the activity. If you get attached to an activity, when something like this happens you will have a sense of disappointment. So make sure to remember the priority is to have fun – it doesn’t matter what activity it is that you are having fun with.

Leave room for some "alone" time
Group fun is great. But when on a dream vacation, you might want to spend some time on your own too. Plan ahead so you will have room for some individual activities too. For instance, if the option for choosing a ride is between a minivan or two cars, if you think someone in the group needs individual time, you might want to go for two cars. That way, once in a while they can sneak out for a little bit of individual time. On a bit less romantic note, leaving room for individual pursuits helps accommodate different choices too. For instance during a recent trip we found out that there was a large outdoor market sale by local artisans. All of us gals were interested in shopping (woohoo!). The guys were OK with doing this for a few minutes, but got bored very quickly. So they took off in one of the cars for a macho movie (eeks!!!) that we girls would have never wanted to watch! At the end of the day, everyone was happy (except the husband of one of my friends who bought a *very* expensive souvenir, but that’s an entirely different story :)

Set up a system for keeping track of expenses
We have a fairly rigid rule about this – every night the expenses for the day are recorded in some form or other. Our problem is not that some people might try to dump the expenses on others, but on the contrary, some people are very "generous" when it comes to friends and don't include all the expenses when we settle the bills. So, whenever possible, we keep separate accounts. For instance, each couple books their own air travel and in restaurants where we are not sharing meals, we take separate checks and settle it right then and there. Other activities are recorded on a nightly basis. While we were in college, we used to keep accounts with paper and pen. More recently, at least one of us takes a laptop with us (which is very handy for researching last minutes activities, saving photographs and checking emails too) and we record it in excel. A colleague of mine was recently telling me about online budgeting tools (billmonk, buxfer etc) they have used that make the task even easier but I am not sure how this will work in spots with no Internet access (note to self: look into this for next trip). It doesn’t matter which method you choose, just make sure you have a system in place. The last thing you want is someone to feel disgruntled about money matters, and nothing to pour could water on a fun trip like discontent based on finances.

Finally, leave room for customization
Everyone has a different level of comfort on how much they wish to spend. So leave room for customization. Choose restaurants which offer a wide array of food so different people can choose different items. For foodies, enjoying the local food, even if it is expensive, is part of the vacation. Whereas others may prefer to skimp on meals and allocate that part of the budget to other activities. Some people like expensive activities, while others may prefer lazy relaxation. Leave enough room in your planning in terms of time and locations, so different people can pursue different options if needed.

So those are some of the main do’s and dont’s that we follow. How about you? If you have any other tips to share, please do leave a comment below so we can learn from each other and make our vacations more frugal and at the same time, more exciting!

Related articles:

If you like this article, you can bookmark it or subscribe to the feed.