Group travel can be a dream come true—you’ll never forget the memories made strolling along the beach or exploring a new city with your family, friends, or partner. But before you can get to that dreamy vacation spot or start planning in your ultimate travel spreadsheet, you need to get through the headache of actually deciding where to go.
As luxurious as vacations sound in theory, the work required to rally a group from Point A to Point B can put a strain on your relationships. I’d love to throw a dart at a map and buy a plan ticket based off my romantic spontaneity, but the reality of group decision-making is a lot more tense. Here’s how to choose your group vacation without turning into an asshole.
Group decisions are always hard
There’s no shortage of hacks to improve your decision-making skills. There’s the 37% rule to make decisions, as well as our guide to make better decisions in general. Unfortunately, group dynamics throw those classic hacks out the window.
Before diving into the nitty gritty of locations and lodging, you have to evaluate the group you’re traveling with. The pull you have naturally depends on your role within that group, and this pre-planning stage is where you must understand all the different forms an asshole can take.
To state the obvious: The person who is overly controlling and picky can quickly become the asshole in the group. However, it’s possible to be too “low maintenance.” If you’re chill to the point of not speaking up or contributing to the group decision at all, you’re equally difficult to work with. You’re being a different kind of asshole by putting the burden of decision-making on everyone else.
As explained in Harvard Business Review, making decisions as a group brings out everyone’s desire to minimize dissent and preserve harmony, which can lead to less-than ideal outcomes compared to if everyone could make their choices as individuals. With this knowledge in mind, our hack is to find a way to collect and weigh everyone’s individual opinions, so that no one is overly swayed one way or the other.
Below we’ll break down all the different deciding factors that go into planning a vacation so that you know what sort of individual opinions to collect in the first place.
Consider your vacation destination dealbreakers
Not everyone cares about the same details on a vacation, and not everyone prioritizes those things in the same way. Here are some factors to rank individually hopefully clarify your decision making as a group. It makes sense to start with any major dealbreakers to will really help you narrow your choices:
- Location. How far are you willing to travel? What sort of weather do you want? What about overall experience: Does one person want a relaxing getaway, while another wants a challenging culture shock?
- Budget. This is one of the most helpful ways to eliminate expensive options altogether.
- Lodging. Are hostels out of the question? Can you rent out a whole beach house? Consider looking into the best rental alternatives to Airbnb.
- COVID safety. If someone isn’t comfortable with flights, then your vacation must be within driving distance.
- Time commitment. If you’re going to book an international flight, how long are you willing to stay abroad? Can some people manage to work remotely, if they so choose? What time limits to people want to impose?
After the major dealbreakers, start to work in all the little things, like food, photo opportunities, and specific attractions. These will all hold a different amount of sway for different people. Do your research about what you want to experience before coming to the group.
How to collect and weigh everyone’s opinions
Now that you’ve created a list of deciding factors, you need a way to collect and evaluate everyone’s opinions. Third-party voting apps, like a Doodle poll or a Google form, are an easy way to gather and organize everyone’s thoughts. In addition to polls, you can create a tournament bracket to put all your different destination options head-to-head until a winner emerges. If “voting” doesn’t make sense in your group dynamic, you can also come to a group consensus in a shared wish list. This can be a DIY collaborative document or travel spreadsheet where everyone has access to edit and add their input.
Try online templates to get your planning off the ground
It can be challenging to make decisions when everything feels far-off and abstract. Sometimes you need to start planning logistics to realize what your travel priorities really are. If you prefer to start planning and then make big decisions along the way, here are our favorite online travel tools:
- Johnny Africa, which includes a fantastic explainer and itinerary template for Google Sheets
- The Travel Itch, similar to the above and includes Excel-specific tips
- Travel Mapper, the Google add-on that includes a ready-to-use customizable template
More apps to stay organized include TripIt, Tripify, and Wanderlog.
Put the decision in perspective
A vacation can be a huge lift in terms of your time and money. Still, it’s not going to alter the course of your life. You don’t want paralyze yourself with an abundance of choice, or else you’ll never leave your home.
The best analogy to lower the stakes for your group vacation: Treat it like solving the “where should we eat?” argument. For instance, you can save yourself a whole lot of work by having all parties eliminate what they aren’t “in the mood for.” Some other guidelines to further narrow your choices:
- Consider each other’s travel goals: Are you trying to relax or go on an adventure? Experience a new culture? Treat yourself to peace and quiet?
- Consider each other’s travel limitations: How far are people willing to go? What about transportation once you get there? Look back at the time and money limitations from your initial shared document.
- Look ahead: Use the power of visualization. Picture yourself after the vacation and tune into your gut instinct about how you’ll feel about it in retrospect.
It’s all too easy to spend months floating around the idea of a big family trip, only for you to realize that you never committed to a dream destination and now it’s September you feel like you missed your shot at summer vacation. A little perspective can help you take the leap to simply make a decision and finally act on it. Happy travels.
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