Pairing friends with travel might seem as natural as pairing hot dogs with mustard or movies with popcorn. Unfortunately, it's not quite as straightforward. You and your buddies might enjoy dinners and movies around town, but on the road, you may discover that one of them might snore like a moose or hate museums. To help navigate what can be a complex process, here are tips I've gathered from my travels and from consulting experts.
Pick the right people: Choose people with similar budgets and interests. Vacationers most often disagree about how much to spend and what to do, according to a recent survey from hotel chain SpringHill Suites. If you haven't traveled with someone before, ask him about his travel habits. At least you'll know what you're getting yourself into.
Keep group size in mind: There's no magic number, but be mindful of the size of your group. "Three is often a bad idea because one person can easily feel left out," says Dr. Irene S. Levine, a friendship blogger and a psychiatry professor at New York University's medical school. "More than that gives people options to pair up in twosomes to do some things independently and others [such as meeting for a meal at the end of the day] with the entire group."
Choose a group-friendly trip: Consider a tour or cruise. The major decisions have been made, and the expectations are laid out. The variety of options and structured environment of cruises give travelers the flexibility to spend time separately or as part of the group, says Vicky Voll, president and owner of the Glendale office of Travel Leaders.
Create an itinerary: You don't need to plan your trip hour by hour, but decide what you want to do and where you want to go before you leave home. Your travel companions should have an idea of what they're getting into.
Make sure everyone is involved in the planning: Travel planning involves making many decisions, so ensure that everyone has a chance to contribute. You don't want your friends to feel as though they're being led around by the nose. A travel agent can help pin down the details, Voll says.
Be sure there's enough room: Don't cram too many people into one room. Someone may snore or fidget too much in their sleep, so the more beds and rooms you have, the more options you have to make adjustments.
Help your friends prepare: Some of your friends may have less travel experience than you. If so, offer some advice on what to bring or share some insight on what to expect.
Have snacks handy: Urban Dictionary defines the word "hanger" as "a lethal combination of hunger and anger." Snacks can be harder to come by in an unfamiliar environment, so make sure you have some at hand.
Leave your fussiness behind: Functioning in groups requires compromise. In exchange for setting aside some of your needs and wants, you get to share novel experiences with your friends.
Avoid discussing controversial topics: Proposition 8 passed while I was on vacation in Rome with two friends, so the topic of gay marriage came up one evening. Each friend held an opposing position. The next morning, our apartment was a little chillier than usual. You don't have to limit yourself to talking about the weather, but back off if the conversation gets too heated. Avoiding your friends after a tense discussion isn't easy if you're sharing a hotel room or riding in the same car.
Have some games ready: Think of games to play while you're driving to your destination or waiting to board a flight. You can learn a lot about your friend by asking them, "Would you rather?" questions. Here are four simple road trip games to play.
Make sure everyone gets rest: On a recent excursion to San Francisco, a friend didn't get enough sleep the first night of our trip. He was tired the next day, so he stayed behind while the rest of us went sightseeing. The trip continued to spiral down for him. If you'll be up late one night, don't plan anything too early the next day. If a friend is a light sleeper, give him the secluded bed.
Don't be afraid to split up: If your group can't agree on what to do, split up and explore in smaller groups.
Keep your friends happy: Traveling can be stressful for some, so if you notice a group member who's overwhelmed, help him or her manage that stress. Author and stress blogger Elizabeth Scott recommends engaging the friend. Sharing your own stressful travel experiences can help normalize the situation, or get him or her to talk about topics he enjoys, she says. Don't think of it as baby-sitting your buddies. Friends help one another, and the whole group benefits when everyone is happy.