Note: Capital One sponsored this post to introduce its partnership with hotels.com. That partnership ended January 31, 2020, so I’m deleting some of the information about it below. But this post is still highly relevant if you’re planning a group trip with family and friends!
Extended Family Vacations
Summer vacations are a great time to meet up with family and friends who you don’t see often. Not only do you get to take time off work and relax, but you’re doing it with some of your favorite people. And seeing people in real life is far preferable to seeing them on social media!
It’s hard enough just to plan a trip for your own family, though. How are you going to do it when there are multiple groups involved? Relax! I’ve got you covered. We’ve met up with family and friends in Colorado, California, Hawaii, New Orleans, New York, Canada, Costa Rica, England, France, Italy, Ireland, and Bora Bora, and even planned a destination wedding in Hawaii for 40 of our closest friends and family. Based on all of that experience, here are my top five tips on how to craft the best possible vacation:
1. Talk About Everything
Whether it’s by text or email, over the phone, or in a private social media group, communicate with everyone involved about their preferences before a destination is selected. Find out who prefers to drive and/or stay closer to home, and who doesn’t mind flying. Talk activities. Who wants to relax at a beach? Who’s hoping for big-city exploration? And discuss your kids. Where do the kids want to go? Who wants to see animals? Who likes museums and who doesn’t? Are there specific things like asthma that rule out high-altitude destinations? Food allergies? The more you know about everyone’s issues and preferences, the better you can try to keep everyone happy.
And make sure going into discussions that you have a leader – the individual who is going to make the final decision. Maybe it’s the person who thought of the extended family trip in the first place. Maybe it’s the person who offered to cover a larger share of the expenses (if you’re lucky). Maybe it’s the most frequent traveler – the individual who’s good at organizing trips. Regardless, you need someone to take all destination preferences into consideration, compare them to each family’s budget, and choose the vacation spot.
2. Be Prepared to Split Up
Even after all that, there’s a good chance that the final destination choice isn’t going to be everyone’s first choice. So do what you can to make everyone happy. Are there things that can be planned that would engage everyone? Does it make sense to separate for a day so that people can do what they want to, and then meet back up in the evening? Or maybe there’s something perfect for the kids to do together one day, which means that the adults can have a grown-up day. Remember that kids can’t keep up an adult pace for long, so unless you’re separating from your kids for a day or half a day, you’re going to be moving at the kids’ pace. Not a bad thing, but maybe not something that everyone on the trip is prepared for.
This then gets into hotel planning. If your vacation destination is a city or island but not a specific hotel/resort, and if there are a lot of kids on the trip, look into staying at a property with a great kids club. Most kids clubs offer area-specific activities, like nature walks, animal excursions, and cultural activities (think hula or ukulele lessons in Hawaii). And a lot of resorts don’t charge more for kids club activities, no matter how amazing the activities are.
3. Plan Ahead
According to Capital One’s 2018 Travel Survey, 59% of Americans book their vacations at least a month in advance, and 15% book over six months in advance. Be in that 15%! Choose your destination early, and then immediately book your flights, hotels, activities, and ground transportation. Chances are if you and your family/friends are able to take time off to travel together, a lot of others are going to be traveling those same dates. Book the best flights you can to minimize the likelihood of delays and missed connections (we always book early-morning departures). If you need a larger rental car, typically the earlier you reserve it, the better. If you want that resort with the great kids club, or a hotel with connecting rooms, or if your first choice of a hotel only has a few rooms that are perfect for you and your family/friends, book it before others do. And if there’s a perfect tour guide somewhere, or an activity that everyone is looking forward to, lock it in now. That goes doubly for cruise ship excursions in smaller ports, which can book up more than a year in advance. I’m all for spontaneous decisions when traveling, but not at the expense of the major experiences everyone is looking forward to.
4. Pay for the Trip with a Credit Card that Helps You Save Money and Earn Rewards You’ll Use
The very best way I’ve found to save money for travel is through using a credit card for everyday expenses that earns miles. We’ve literally traveled around the world for free using miles! But there are two specific reasons to book travel through your Capital One® Venture Card®. First, you can apply your accumulated miles to your travel expenses. For instance, if you’ve earned 50,000 miles (the current sign-up bonus), and you just booked a $500 plane ticket, you can apply those miles to that purchase and essentially get the ticket for free. It couldn’t be easier to redeem accumulated miles. And above where I advised to book the best flights and the best hotel for your specific trip? That airline may not be a redemption option on other cards, or that flight may not be available for miles, and that hotel may not even have a frequent guest program. With the Venture card it doesn’t matter – miles can be applied to any airline, any flight, any hotel, even any ride share. And with family travel, you want flexibility.
Note: there’s a $95 annual fee for the Venture card, waived the first year. But the 50,000-mile signup bonus (after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening) more than makes up for that. And it doesn’t take forever to earn enough for flights or room nights. If you spend the minimum $3,000 in the first three months, you already have enough miles (56,000) to apply to $560 worth of travel charges.
5. Be flexible
Remember, you wanted to vacation with everyone! So if your sister lets her kids stay up until midnight and yours are usually in bed by 9, go with the flow and let your kids stay up a little longer if they want to. If you’re the only holdout when everyone else wants to go into town, go along anyway. You’ll probably have fun!
And be flexible on finance. There’s nothing more annoying than trying to calculate the split of everyone’s meal down to the penny – while you’re at the table and the kids just want to get back to the hotel room. Make everything as simple as possible. When a check comes, do a rough calculation of the split and throw down a couple of credit cards. Or alternate the nights that each of you pays. Or, you can offer to pay for everything over the course of the trip with a card that you know will earn you great rewards, and let others pay you back at the end. That way you’re getting all of the miles, and you can either apply them to this trip and reduce everyone’s expenses accordingly, or apply them to your next trip – depending on how much you like your relatives! In all seriousness, if you have a great mileage earning credit card and others in your group don’t, take advantage of it. There’s no sense spending money if you’re not getting miles for it. We couldn’t travel nearly as much as we do if we weren’t earning, and redeeming, as many miles as possible.
What am I missing? What’s your top tip for organizing a group trip? Any success stories or failures?