I’m in the middle of planning two group trips — one involves going to a conference in August, and the other is a Christmas cruise.
As I plan these trips, I have to manage costs, expectations, and people. Putting together an itinerary that fits every budget can be a challenge — in part because of how much money people spend on travel in general. In fact, the average spending on leisure travel in the U.S. by domestic and international travelers totaled $718.4 billion in 2017, according to the U.S. Travel Association.
Traveling with friends can be fun, allowing you to experience new places with the people you care about and enjoy spending time with. Planning the trip, though, can get complicated with different budgets, expectations, and timelines.
If you want to travel with your squad, here’s what you need to know.
1. Choose a leader
Someone needs to be “in charge,” according to Erica James, a travel consultant and founder of Erica James Travel.
Appointing a group leader can be a way to stay organized, keep a bird’s-eye view on trip costs, and ensure that people’s efforts aren’t being duplicated. The leader can delegate travel tasks to other members of the group, but ultimately, it’s best to have someone who can be the main point of contact.
“The group leader should be mindful of the people they invite to the travel squad,” said James. “Have an idea of what the members of the squad can and cannot afford, and keep that in mind as you move forward.”
When choosing a leader, it also makes sense to focus on someone who is organized and has the time to hunt down deals. A group leader also should be willing to follow up with members regarding their assigned tasks and be accountable for maintaining the timeline.
2. Decide on a budget
“Group travel can be hard because everyone has different incomes and responsibilities,” said Kristian Grant, a planning expert with Game Plan Planner, a lifestyle planning tool. “Creating a budget is one of the most important things you can do to get on the same page and make sure the trip happens.”
Find out how much each person can afford for the experience and break down the payments so that participants can manage the cost over time, James recommended. It’s often easier to think in small chunks, rather than trying to come up with all the money at once, she said.
For example, if you decide to spend $1,500 per person on a trip that’s taking place in six months, it can be broken down to $250 per month or $62.50 per week.
You can set up the trip’s finances in two ways:
- Each person pays for their own part of the trip as they go, booking their own accommodations and airfare.
- One person is in charge of a joint purse and makes all the arrangements. The other people pay the amount as arrangements are made, or by making regular payments.
It also is possible to use a variation on the second option, where different people take turns in paying for different aspects of the trip, allowing participants to take advantage of credit card rewards. The group leader needs to keep track of what’s going on, though, so everyone’s on the same financial page.
Consider opening a high-yield bank account to keep the money so that you earn some interest — and to ensure that the money isn’t diverted to other expenses, which can jeopardize the trip. Each member of the group can open their own account and save up for their portion. Or, if you trust one another, you can open a shared account.
3. Identify nonshared costs
Not every cost on the trip ends up being shared. As you determine your travel budget, make sure you’re clear about which costs can be shared.
Sharing accommodation costs and buying items together such as concert tickets make sense, according to Atiya Brown, a financial consultant and the founder of The Savvy Accountant. It also is a good idea to split costs for activities and tours that you’re all doing together.
But not every expense can be split.
“Food is personal, so my friends and I don’t split those costs when we travel,” said Brown. “We come up with restaurants we want to visit, and we can all order — and pay for — what we want.”
Nonshared costs should be included in the overall per-person budget to make sure everyone can afford to have an equitable travel experience.
4. Pick a destination
Grant suggested making a checklist of what everyone wants from the trip and use it, along with the budget, to nail down a destination.
“This will help you decide whether this trip should be in-state, on the other side of the country, or on the other side of the world,” Grant said.
Try to form a travel posse with like-minded people who all want the same things out of the experience. That makes it easier to create an itinerary everyone can enjoy.
Pay attention to the travel restrictions some group members might have. Find out if you need to allow time for someone to get a passport, or whether you all are trying to get Global Entry cards to speed through customs. If someone can’t meet the deadline, you might need to stay close to home this time.
Don’t forget to choose a destination that’s affordable for each person on the squad. Look for destinations that include a variety of activities that fit even the smallest budget.
5. Start planning early
The earlier you start planning, said Brown, the better off you’ll be.
“Reserve rooms very early so you don’t have to worry about rates rising later,” said Brown. She also suggested booking other items, such as airfare, as early as possible. In general, you’ll get the best airfare prices when you book between four and eight weeks in advance, but there are exceptions.
Even if you don’t reserve your rooms or travel accommodations immediately, deciding early that you’ll go can help you monitor sales. When I decided on the Christmas cruise with my squad, we agreed to keep an eye out for sales. Because I was vigilant, we were able to pounce on a great deal after four months of reviewing sales.
6. Use tools to stay organized and save money
Throughout the process, it’s important to stay organized and get the best bang for your travel buck.
It’s possible to use a spreadsheet — or even pen and paper — to organize and stay on task, but you can take advantage of other tools that can help you specifically plan a vacation.
Grant said she uses the travel template from the Game Plan lifestyle planner for her annual travel with her friends.
For complex trips, it can make sense to get help from a travel agency or consultant, James said. Additionally, depending on the agency you use, you might be able to plan your trip and pay in installments.
Mobile payment apps such as Venmo and Zelle make it easy to transfer funds and keep track of who’s paid — and who owes money. Another useful app is Splitwise, which can help you split costs on shared expenses.
Finally, productivity apps such as Asana and shared to-do list software can enable you to stay in contact with one another. These tools can help everyone see what they’re responsible for, manage deadlines, and get payments on time.
Pack your bags
If one of your squad goals is travel, it’s possible to make it happen. The bigger the trip, though, the more planning you’ll need so that you can avoid costly mistakes. Gather your crew and start planning today.
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