One night over a glasses (or three) of wine in a Brooklyn bar with my friend Amanda, I had a light bulb moment. This was one that would shape the way I interacted with people for the rest of my life, specifically the way I organize group travel with friends and family. Although at the time it seemed super benign.
Amanda was telling me about the year she spent traveling around Europe after she graduated from Vassar and her experiences staying in hostels. I had not been to Europe yet, so I was on the edge of my seat listening to what it was like to stay in a hostel. She described how everyone met in the hotel’s common room and decided to go to dinner. I think this was in Prague, but the location doesn’t really matter.
Then she said:
“It’s so funny because after dinner we were all standing around talking about what we should do next. Aren’t you glad to know that happens all over the world and not just with your own friends?”
I was, because standing around after dinner on a street corner in New York City (I was living in Brooklyn at the time) wondering where to go next, was something that happened to me on an almost weekly basis, and I hated it.
I think everyone hates this:
Person A: “Where do you want to go next?”
Person B: “I don’t know. Where do you want to go?”
Person C: “I’m up for whatever.”
This is so annoying—for everyone involved—and especially if you’re someone who, like me, has tons of places to visit/eat/drink bookmarked on their computer but can’t think of them in the moment.
To combat this, I started doing research before I met friends and brought names and addresses of places I was dying to try – bars, restaurants, museums, stores – anyplace that I was interested in at the time, and I now apply this technique (it’s kind of why I started this blog) to traveling with my family and friends.
Along the way I’ve come up with other tips to make it easier for adults to travel together.
1. Have a basic plan.
Half the time I don’t even end up doing these things I have in mind for a day trip. I’ll stumble upon something else to do when we see a sign on the road or someone recommends a good place to eat or get a drink. I tend to gravitate towards what the locals recommend, but having a rudimentary plan in mind, with addresses, is a great jumping off point for travel.
People also tend to overlook logistics like parking and public transportation. If you’re heading to a museum in a large city, look up places to park ahead of time. If you’re taking the train or bus, how far is the walk from the train or bus to the museum? Think ahead about logistics. You can leave home without this information if you’re traveling alone or as a couple, but it’s really annoying if you’re traveling with a group.
Having general ideas and addresses in hand, and a plan to deal with travel logistics ahead of time will make group the trip or outing run more smoothly.
2. Meet at your destination (or on the way).
If possible, meet at the destination. Unless you’re still in your early twenties, I don’t advise large groups of adults trying to carpool together. You know ahead of time that someone’s going to be late, someone’s going to get lost, and someone else will not be able to find parking. If you agree ahead to meet at your destination, that very late person or persons may hold up another 2 or 3 people but not the whole group.
If it’s long distance, agree to carpool in smaller groups. For instance if it’s a trip out of state to go hiking, plan to meet at a rest stop with bathrooms and a place to buy water, or a parking lot of a Target so people can run in and grab odd and ends while waiting for everyone else to show.
3. Have a freaking opinion.
People often think they’re being accommodating if they say they “don’t care what we do.” This is wrong. I once read (years ago, so unfortunately, I can’t find the link) that saying, “I don’t care, I’ll do whatever” is not doing anyone any favors, and is actually making it harder for your travel companions. Here’s why:
- Unless someone is a real jerk, you’re making their decision more difficult because they’re going to try taking into account what you want to do by guessing.
- You’re kind of being a princess. If you are refusing to give an opinion, you’re not just leaving decisions up to other people, you’re giving them extra work too. They now have to research options, look up addresses and plan timing.
If you’re dealing with an I-Don’t-Care person or group, coming in armed with some ideas (see # 1) actually makes it easier for others to chime in as well. I find that “I don’t care” begets more, “I don’t care.”
If you’re the I-Don’t-Care-er: Start suggesting some things!
4. But don’t be a control freak.
The flip side of the non-chooser is the crazy control freak who wants to do all the choosing—or even worse—the person who stubbornly goes along with someone else’s plan and then pouts the whole time. Even though these are your friends, you’re not going to 100% agree on what you want to do all the time, and that’s a good thing, because it will expose everyone to new restaurants/venues/attractions they would have never done.
If you’re the control freak: Be more flexible! If you can’t manage some good-natured enthusiasm for someone else’s travel tastes, you won’t have any travel companions much longer.
If you’re dealing with a control freak—or worse, the pouter—strike a deal to switch off and on choosing. If they are serial control freak, find someone else to travel with, pronto.
5. Trade planning responsibilities.
Try trading off planning and driving responsibilities with your friends.
Example: Last year I met up with my friends Michelle and Nancy, and their families, at a winery in Rhode Island. This was long-distance for all of us since Michelle was traveling from Boston, Nancy from Norwalk, and me from Hartford. Michelle researched a good place for us to meet where we could bring babies and dogs, I called the winery to find out where they recommend eating or grabbing take out nearby, and then Nancy stopped on her way and picked up snacks at the recommended take out place.
It worked perfectly and no one felt like they were doing “everything!”
You choose one day trip, your friends choose the next, or divide up responsibilities like in the example above.