Do you prefer to travel alone or with someone else? Would you rather travel with just one other person, with a small group, or on a large group tour?
I’ve traveled in each of these ways and they all have their advantages and disadvantages. When I travel alone, I am able to do what I want to do and don’t need to take into consideration the wishes of others. However, I find it more enjoyable to travel with others, so I can share the experiences and memories with them.
When you travel with an organized group tour, most of the planning is done for you. There may be additional options and side trips available, but many of these are booked ahead of time. Even if there is free time built into the schedule, the options for how to use this time are limited to the plans made by the tour company.
If you travel with one other person or a small group of people and have not joined an organized tour, you will have to plan your own excursions and schedule. In this case, there are several things to keep in mind.
What Kind of Vacation?
One of the first considerations in planning a vacation with one or more other people is what kind of vacation you are expecting. Are you planning to lounge at the pool or beach, or spend time people-watching at the corner cafe? A less active vacation requires less planning.
For a beach or pool vacation, you need to know available hours (such as no swimming after dark), clothing requirements (shoes and cover-ups required when dining), and any other restrictions (beach chairs require reservations). People-watching probably has even fewer requirements.
If you plan to be more active, though, you may need to plan more strategically. With a beach vacation, you may want to do some scuba diving, snorkeling, surfing, or boating. Will you need reservations? Do you need to rent gear? Don’t just assume, but check with each person in your party about whether or not they have their own equipment.
If you are going on a sight-seeing vacation, you may need to reserve tickets for some venues ahead of time. Reserved tickets for the Eiffel Tower in Paris can save you hours of waiting in line. A discount city pass can also save time, but it may cost more than it is worth to you. It is important to research the discount passes before you arrive.
It is also important to think about how long you’d expect your visit at each attraction will be. Although organized tours often allot an afternoon for a visit to the Versailles Chateau outside of Paris, many guidebooks recommend allowing a full day. In my experience, a visit to the main chateau might be covered in an afternoon, but if you want to see the gardens and fountains, or any of the minor buildings, a full day is necessary.
Visiting a large art museum can also take all day, but with planning you could see the highlights in an afternoon. Consider your interests – and those of your travel companions. I love visiting art museums – I was an art major in college – but after several hours, even I need a change of scenery.
Who Will Do the Planning?
Some of us love to plan; others do not. If you will be doing the majority of the planning, remember to keep your companions in the loop. Try to get some input as you go along. It is not fun to go on a trip with someone who didn’t help with the planning, and then complains about the itinerary. Even if they don’t help plan, keeping them informed along the way will eliminate unwanted surprises.
Limitations of Individual Travelers
Not everyone travels the same. My brother-in-law goes non-stop when he travels – he doesn’t want to miss anything. My daughter can tolerate two or three busy days in a row, but then needs some down time. If you or a traveling companion needs time to relax, plan a less busy afternoon – a train ride, a couple hours at the beach, time at a spa -or an early-to-bed evening.
One of my daughters has very long legs – it’s hard to keep up with her when we are walking. It doesn’t help that my knees are getting old. If we will be doing a lot of walking, we need to take breaks and add in public transportation options, if possible.
Keep in mind the limitations and expectations of your travel companions. Do not push them into doing so much that they are exhausted. Not only will their bodies react, but they will not be happy or pleasant to be around. Before you leave, talk about problems that may arise and possible solutions to address the problems. Planning in advance will make the trip more enjoyable for everyone.
- For a short overview trip, plan extensively –
When we went to Japan last year, my daughter took over most of the planning. I usually like to “go with the flow,” but she wanted to plan. She explained that since none of us had been there, we had a lot of things that we wanted to cover. We had a short amount of time – only 3 1/2 days – so needed to be sure we could see everything. She also reminded us that with 5 people traveling together, we could have five different ideas of how to spend an afternoon.
She was right. With her meticulous planning, we were able to see everything we had hoped to see. She found a variety of restaurants so we could eat several types of Japanese cuisine. Although there were a couple of minor glitches (like the restaurant we just couldn’t find), she always had a back-up plan. We spent an evening together several weeks before the trip, where we could each select our highest priority attractions. My daughter kept us all informed as the plans came together and acted as a tour guide on the trip.
- For a longer trip or one to somewhere you’ve been many times – less planning may be necessary –
For many years, our family vacationed in Minnesota for two weeks every summer. We pulled out our familiar packing list, packed the boat, and took off. We didn’t plan our days at all. There were a few things we did ever year – we would shop the Crazy Days sales in the nearby town and we would hit up the local flea market on the weekend, but the rest of the time we would just fish, swim, and relax. We would go out to eat at our favorite restaurants – usually planning an hour or so before dinner.
We had experienced this vacation several times,were familiar with the area, and knew all the best places to eat. Once in a while, a new restaurant or attraction would open – we’d just arrange our schedule to check it out. This was the ultimate “go with the flow” vacation.
- For a longer trip with some new and some already visited areas – a mix of planning styles-
I’ve been to Paris several times, so I know how long it takes to see the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, or Notre Dame. This makes planning much easier. And since I have been to Paris before, I may skip some of the familiar sites that I have seen so often. I will still visit the Eiffel Tower – but maybe I’ll skip ascending it. Seeing the tower from below is always amazing, but seeing the city from above can be done from other vantage points.
On my next trip to Paris, I want to see some of the sites that I haven’t seen before. I want to show my daughter sites that she hasn’t seen. We may do more planning than we otherwise would in order to fit in these new places. Someday, I’ll go to Paris just to sit in the cafe’s and watch the world go by, but for now I still have things to see.
Who Do You Travel With?
Do you travel with spouse, your parents, or siblings? Do you travel with friends? When you travel with others, do you get frustrated that they can’t keep up with you? Or that they try to see and do too much?
How have you reconciled your differences with your travel companion? If you have suggestions that I haven’t mentioned, share your ideas so others can learn from your experiences. Leave a comment below.