Traveling with a large family or friend group can be one of the most rewarding lifetime experiences.
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There are many plans afoot to travel back to Europe after the last couple of COVID affected years and for some these plans have been underway for quite some time.
If you’re intending to travel from Australia and New Zealand, or even from the US, Canada, South America or anywhere out of Europe really, it is a long way to France and takes a long time! But if you’re like me you will know the time and distance is worth it! Even still, most people like to make sure they are going to both get their money’s worth and cram in as much as possible on their trip. The key to achieving those things is good planning.
Now I’m sure you’ve sat around sharing a glass of French bubbly with friends before and rabbited on about travelling together to the Champagne region, or Provence or to Paris. I love this part of the travel planning process! The I’m-dreaming-but-really-I’m-a-bit-serious kick off to a group travel experience! But there’s so much more to consider. Dreams are not always the same even when coming out of the same conversation. So here are some tips to consider once you get past the stage of dreaming and get to the stage of doing!
UN – ONE – 1
Meet with everyone involved before you start making formal plans.
Travelling in groups is not a one size fits all situation. Your group’s needs may alter depending on whether the group is all the one family, or maybe extended family. It could be a group of friends travelling the whole time together from departure to arrival home, or it could be groups meeting up for pockets of time during longer separate trips. Whatever the arrangement, I recommend a meeting with everyone involved once the decision has been made to travel together. These days meeting online might be a good way to go for this and perhaps get most of the meeting out of the way before hitting the bubbly so you all have the same understanding of what’s going on!
DEUX – TWO – 2
I know this is number 2 but it is actually the most important thing to consider. My biggest tip for group travel is COMMUNICATION with your fellow travellers! Find a way to communicate that works for you all and use it! There’s no point doing all the planning via a closed Facebook chat group if some of the travelers aren’t on Facebook. Find something that is inclusive and use it to communicate consistently.
TROIS – THREE – 3
Where to and for how long?
The first decision to make as a group after the initial choice to turn the group vacation dream to a reality, is usually where to go and for how long. If you haven’t decided where you all want to go, firstly sit down and make a list of places everyone would like to visit, then try to narrow it down. If things are getting contentious already at this point perhaps these travel buddies are not the ones for you! Maybe just a shared weekend when you cross paths travelling is the way to go!
QUARTRE – FOUR – 4
The next big consideration is: BUDGET. What type of vacation are you envisaging? Budget can be a huge issue if not discussed clearly with the group. Lay out the trip expenses as clearly as possible with the group together beforehand. There is a bit of work to do at this point as an individual too. Take a good, honest look at your own budget just by yourself without the group. Include everything, from your airfare to accommodation costs, a realistic estimate for meals, alcohol, transport or transfers, souvenirs, sightseeing entry fees, for me I’d include the cost of my Paris hairdresser! Write down the lot so there are no surprises and so that you can be sure you can afford it. You don’t want to be the one to let the group down once everyone has committed to the vacation together because you didn’t check it is all within your price range. If you’re a group on the larger side, it is worth checking out whether you qualify for a group rate discount. Ask your hotel or perhaps a tour that you’re considering whether a discount or private tour rate is a possibility.
An important consideration if travelling with a large group, to avoid money coming between friends, each person committing to the trip should put in a deposit up front to cover the group costs that will still need to be paid if someone is a last-minute cancellation or just can’t make up their mind. Sometimes situations like that can sadly end up with friends no longer being so friendly, so it is good to agree on a non-refundable deposit among your group.
CINQ – FIVE – 5
Are you Airbnb people or do hotels suit you better? Does everyone going on the group trip have the same budget ideas for accommodation? Do you all want to stay in the same house or will having your own separate places give a little respite at the end of the day? Sometimes this decision comes down simply to how many bathrooms the home has that you’re looking at booking! Whether you’re travelling in Paris or country France might also sway some people on this topic too as the chance to cook up the fresh produce from a farmers’ market in your own kitchen in a maison in a French village might be just too good an opportunity to pass up by staying in a hotel. Staying in a château and splitting the cost with your large group might be what suits you all best? Communicate clearly about your needs and wants from all perspectives with regard to accommodation to find common ground and make a group decision.
SIX – SIX – 6
On your own or book a tour?
There are so many options for either of these ways to see France now. Are you after a self-guided holiday or is booking a tour necessary, or perhaps a bit of both? A full-blown guided bus tour where everything is already taken care of might be just the thing for your group, although booking a number of small specific tours might be the way to go if you want to keep your vacation personal. This could be influenced by the expertise of your group, like for example the ability to drive a boat if you’re considering a barge vacation? Whether or not a tour guide is needed might come down to how comfortable your group members are with driving in France or even their level of fluency to speak in French.
SEPT – SEVEN – 7
Creating the itinerary
So you have decided to create a bespoke holiday to fit all that you envisaged, but how to fit all the various dreams, wants and needs into the schedule? There are some questions to ask of the group…
Are there little children or older people involved who may not be able to go like the clappers for a full day, day after day?
Are there common interests to tailor the trip towards? Do most people want to visit the main sights and see the sparkly side of Paris and France or is “rustic and quaint” more what you’re after? These are important considerations for each group member before decisions are made.
Most people when they are visiting Paris especially, will have a wish list. This is especially so for travelers who are coming to experience Paris for the first time. Whenever I have travelled with a group, I have asked for each person’s top 5 things for their wish list. You can imagine when asking 20 people including kids, oldies, Francophiles and even reluctant tag-alongs for their faves, there is going to be a broad list. But there is also likely to be some overlap.
It is good to group the wish list items into arrondissements and then made itineraries based around a day spent in the same geographical area or at least nearby. This means less time wasting going from one side of Paris to the other constantly! It’s also an idea to make an itinerary for a couple of the days in Paris for your group but be mindful of time needed for individual wishes. Some days on various vacations with different groups of either family or friends, we would do stuff all together and on other days some members of the group would do their own thing or a smaller number of people might do a day trip together to Versailles or Giverny even Paris Disneyland for example. The key to this again is communication, but also inclusion, understanding and respect for people’s differences.
HUIT – EIGHT – 8
Consistency when making transport bookings
When doing regional travel and moving big groups of people around together, it is an idea to have either one person make the bookings or ensure the one message is sent out to everyone clearly so everyone is booked on the same train for example, and even in the same carriage if possible. Car hire is an important matter to discuss too. Do you want separate cars for each group of 4 or so people, or a minivan for the lot? I have travelled with groups in both ways and there are pros and cons for both. Do you want the flexibility to take a couple of different day trips simultaneously when the group is all staying in the same village or château? That might be high on the list of importance for you if you don’t all like the same things and want to be able to split up for the days and come back together for dinner. Or is trying to keep the costs down by only having the expense of one vehicle and one lot of petrol the go for you? Again communication to work through this is key.
NEUF – NINE – 9
Book ahead when you want to do something together as a large group.
Whether in a French country village or in Paris, if you’re travelling with a large group it is important to book a restaurant if you all wish to dine together. Some French bistros will move tables and get something ready for you at a moment’s notice with minimal fuss and maximum flourish! But if travelling in peak periods, or even just wanting to make sure your arrangements are locked in, book ahead. For fancy places, booking for your group dinner might need to be made before you even arrive in France, I have previously booked a couple of months in advance for a large group for a high-end restaurant, but mostly dropping by and booking ahead the day before or sometimes even the same day can be fine. It all depends on how much you wish to be at that particular restaurant with your big group of travelers! The more important it is to you to be able to eat at that particular place, the better it is to book ahead and get what you want!
In this COVID era too there are many tourist sites that lock in attendance times. So on your itinerary if there is a particular place you all wish to visit together, book the entry time in advance online.
DIX – TEN – 10
Share your personal health and insurance details with the group.
I have had the misfortune to need to go to hospital in France with a bit of an emergency a few years ago on a group vacation with some girlfriends. Luckily I was able to speak for myself, but if I couldn’t, having my details known to my group so they could share my health information with the hospital… well let’s just say, it’s crucial. Things like daily medications you might take, any allergies, any relevant conditions, and also your insurance details. This is just a precaution of course, but worth the peace of mind.
The following tips are not necessarily just for group travel, but for all travelers! These tips are a not really just optional tips in my opinion, they are a must!
Following on from the health theme of my tip number 10, make sure you have travel insurance and also pack a first aid kit. In this COVID era of travel I always pack some RAT tests as well as some cold and flu meds so if I’m unwell I don’t need to find the local pharmacy in an unfamiliar place. If you’re due for any vaccination, get that done before you leave so you’re less likely to be sick while you’re away. Take all your regular medications with you and a mask as a precaution during these times. I know we all like to think of the vacation as being lovely and dreamy, but it is worth planning for when stuff goes a bit wide of what was expected.
Another consideration for every vacation regardless of whether you’re on your own or with a group… don’t overpack! Take it from the best over-packer going around, that is ME! You will not need those extra shoes or those 3 favourite dresses that you can’t choose between. If you like to wear something different from time to time, pack scarves and accessories so your travel photos don’t look like everything happened on the same day in the same outfit! But remember you will probably see things to buy and you will need that space in your luggage!
Now all the planning is sorted, just go and enjoy your trip! It doesn’t happen that often that we can get a whole group together to experience the joy of travelling whilst also enjoying each other. These people are clearly special to you or you wouldn’t be making plans to spend such valuable time together. Go and enjoy and make some gorgeous lifetime memories!
Also, I love my socials as much as the next person and I take a load of pics to share with all the Loulabelle’s FrancoFiles followers on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube, but don’t be so focused on the pictures that you forget to enjoy the moments. It’s important to remember too that all the planning in the world can’t make the magic happen, so be open to wonderful things that might come your way when travelling. Those unforeseen happenings might just make the memories that stay with you for life.