In September 2021, we were so blessed to take a trip with both sets of our babies grandparents to Croatia. This trip was absolutely wonderful, but required quite a bit of planning and strategy, as necessary when planning a group trip for diverse age ranges/physical abilities.
Here are some lessons learned from our experience:
Schedule in advance: Choosing a date that works for everyone in you group is probably one of the biggest hurdles. Select the core group of people who you want to include in the trip and base the dates around them. Once a date is finalized with the people that you definitely want, invite other members to join in (if you would like). I like to use tools like Doodle Poll, to determine dates that work for the majority of the group. For our September trip to Croatia, I begin the planning 4 months in advance, and probably could have started a bit sooner.
Select the destination: Think of the specific time you’re traveling and the specific individuals on the trip. This is a ‘know your audience’ situation. Consider budget, interests, and abilities in mind when picking the location. Think through activities and preferences of each member. For us, we knew that our parents would appreciate beautiful scenery, walking around a nice city, tasty food, and relaxing. My husband and I wanted to stick to Europe, so the flight would not be too long for our young children, and Croatia happened to be on everyones bucket list! Croatia is a diverse country that had different activities to impress all our families!
Draft an Itinerary: Similar to the destination, do some research on activities to do. Ask around, including asking on social media, researching instagram accounts, conducting Google searches, and reading travel guides. I like to make my itineraries on Google Spreadsheet to keep track of reservations, confirmation codes, exact dates/times for specific items. I consider my itineraries ‘flexible’, in that if we have not paid for something, I am willing to move things around (this is essential with young children). I like to incorporate feedback from all parties of the trips, to make sure everyone will be generally happy. Mapping out an itinerary can reduce miscommunication later on and limit disappointment if certain things get booked ahead of time or someone really wants to see a particular sight.
Booking the Lodging: Again, keep in mind everyones interests and abilities when booking a lodging. When I booked our villa in Dubrovnik, I figured the families would prefer to stay in one villa rather than separate hotel rooms, so that our parents would have direct access to our kids. I also figured it would be nice for it to be within a 15 minute walk to the city. In retrospect, even a 15 minute walk to the main restaurants is a bit lengthy. Although the villa was beautiful and we thoroughly enjoyed staying there, next time I would opt to stay within a 5 minute walk (if possible) from the city center. I would also double check the stairs situation, because there were 160 steps that we had to walk up to every time we got to our villa. Because our parents are fit and were able to help us with the stroller and our kids, we made it work. But had someone not been in great shape or we had been alone with the kids, it would have been difficult.
Booking reservations: I researched restaurants and put down our names for restaurants that did not require a credit card or financial deposit. Because of the size of the group, I knew it could be hard to get last minute tables, but because of our kids, we needed to have the flexibility to change our minds and switch restaurants if necessary.
Booking a private driver/private boat/activities: Because of the size of our group, after I conducted some research, I found that booking a private driver for our day trips was actually the same price, if not cheaper, than arranging group trips. This made us feel more comfortable, due to COVID concerns, that it would be just us on our trips. Check the standard prices and compare with private tours – it was worth the cost savings for us! It also made it easier to arrange for car seats.
Make it flexible: Keep in mind that everyone is entitled to want what they want on their vacation, and their minds might change! Try to have a balance of a structured itinerary and plan for the trip to keep things efficient, but flexible enough that people can decide if they prefer to do everything with the group. Thankfully, my husband and I traveled well with both our families, but I had to remind myself that our moms might prefer to add in more shopping in the day, my father-in-law would like time to chat with the locals, and my dad would prefer to sleep-in and relax rather than exert himself. Making sure our overall trip incorporated aspects of all these preferences was key to making sure everyone had a great time!