“Come and look! Dad and Billy are in a play!”
Sure enough, when we ran to the small bush hut in our Winton campground, there they were out the front. One of the dads, still wearing his dishwashing gloves, had been roped in to some audience participation. In a bush poetry reading, of all things.
Before we knew it, all of us “Sydney city folk” were dragged up and dressed in various costumes as the sun set over the dusty campsites.
Years later, that moment still stands out to me as the moment I realised travel is all about the people. We laughed with the bush poet over cups of tea after her show was over, and chatted with the other campers and caravanners about where we’d come from. We met Nell, an 80-year-old champion whip cracker who still knew her way around a stock whip.
I was in primary school at the time. I loved meeting people on the road and loved travelling as a big group. We had two big families, plus some add-ons, and camped our way around outback Queensland. I learned the importance of compromise, flexibility and a good sense of humour. I learned that the characters you encounter and the companions with whom you journey always colour the experience irreversibly.
With a few more shared travel experiences now under my belt, these are my tips for a successful time away with a group:
The early bird gets the worm
In general, it is better to allow plenty of time to book airfares, rental cars, restaurant reservations and accommodation. This is especially true when there are lots of passengers, hungry mouths and beds to account for. Booking in advance will mean you can secure adjacent cabins on a cruise, or lock in a city tour when there are still 10 tickets available.
Money, money, money
By researching well and asking the right questions of tour operators, you may be able to get group discounts. This applies for entry into attractions, hiring multiple vehicles and reserving two or more hotel rooms.
Agree on a budget early on in the planning process. Decide how payments are going to be shared. It is not a comfortable conversation but will help avoid a lot of heartbreak on your trip.
Plan well but plan less
It is a lot harder to just jump on an overland train when there are eight of you carrying big suitcases. Itineraries have to be planned more carefully, but when travelling in a group extra time must be allotted. You’ll be surprised how much longer it takes to mobilise a group of the highly organised and punctual individuals. Gaps in the agenda also offer everyone a much-needed break.
Many hands make light work
Delegate the responsibilities. Everyone can be in charge of cooking one meal. Someone can take care of researching transfers, someone else can navigate. Split up what parts of planning will be shared (deciding where to go, for example) and what each individual is responsible for (booking their own flights, perhaps?). That said, it helps to have a leader to coordinate everything and finalise all travel documents and bookings.
It’s not you, it’s me
Take some time apart. In fact, take plenty of time apart. Don’t be afraid to split up entirely and then meet again for a meal at the end of the day. Spending time separately helps solve the problem of varied interests – it means everyone gets to tick off their must-sees and relieves the inevitable tensions associated with too much time in close proximity.
Moving the luggage of an enormous group through airport security or out of hotels is no mean feat. The strain is lessened if everyone sticks to one manageable bag.
Where to stay
The toughest question of them all – where to spend the night. I would recommend renting a house, with a kitchen, living areas and bathrooms. It means you can cook and eat meals together and don’t have to duck off into separate hotel rooms. Split between group members, you can also make decent savings by opting for self-catered accommodation over hotels. Capitalise on the user-friendliness and simplicity of rental websites like Airbnb, Stayz and more.
For multi-generational groups, cruising and large resorts are both very popular options. Everyone gets to retreat to their own space for some me-time, and there are varieties of activities to suit all ages and preferences. On cruises, there are shore excursions, Kids Clubs, toddler pools, adult-only pools and a variety of restaurants. Resorts can offer golf, spas, sight-seeing trips, walking tours and water sports.
Phone a friend
There’s nothing wrong with calling in an expert for help. Some travel agents and advisors specialise in large group travel and can help coordinate all the planning for you. It will take an enormous logistical load off your shoulders. You can try planning services like GroupTravel.com or Virtuoso.
Tour de force
Sidestep the trials and tribulations by joining an escorted tour altogether. Tour companies are used to looking after groups and finding accommodation and activities suited to larger numbers. It is also a relief to have everything taken of for you. Even short day tours are a delight. Check Airbnb experiences and sites like Viator for pasta-making workshops in Flroence, bike-riding in South East Asia and art classes in New York. Organised tours are ideal for meeting new people, which can refresh your own group dynamic.
Check out our great tour offers here.
Above all, enjoy each other’s company. Everyone will have to be willing to negotiate and make concessions. There will be plenty to laugh about and plenty of stories to tell when it’s all over. Our night in Winton something we laughed about for the rest of the trip. We reminisce to this day, long after saying goodbye to the bush poet, to an 80-year-old whip-cracking champion called Nell and to other permanent campground residents with whom we made firm friends after humiliating ourselves onstage.
Travel is all about the people so make the most of it.
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