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One Itinerary, Different Travel Budgets: How to Make Group Trips Work

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There are six of you sitting at a table. You’ve just wrapped up dinner and the bill has arrived. The following conversation ensues…

  • Traveler #1: Let’s just ask for separate checks for everyone.
  • Traveler #2: That will take too long; just split it eight ways evenly.
  • Traveler #3: But I just got a salad. And you ordered Champagne…
  • Traveler #4: I can’t take this! I’ll just take care of the check.
  • Traveler #5: But you already got lunch. You can’t pay for everything.
  • Traveler #6: Let’s just put everyone’s credit card in a hat and have the server randomly pull one out…
  • Everyone else in unison: “NO!”

Now imagine an entire vacation of tough and awkward conversations just like this one. It’s maddening, right?

Just because there are many of you traveling in one group doesn’t mean you have the same travel budgets. And if wide-ranging travel budgets aren’t addressed before you board the plane or jump in the mini-van, they can be a source of stress and unrest that fester well beyond your arrival back home.

In this article, we’ll provide tips and advice for ensuring your group trip is smooth sailing when there are different travel budgets at play, whether you’re heading to a destination bachelorette party in the Caribbean or a big family reunion in America’s Heartland.

Breaking the Ice About Having Different Travel Budgets

It’s going to be almost impossible to make a group trip with different budgets work unless everyone first acknowledges the elephant in the room: not everyone has the same budget.

So while it may not sound like the savviest step in your typical travel planning, the best place to start out is simply to talk. Have everyone taking the trip, or as many as possible, get together or even schedule a conference call (UberConference is a great free option) to share their hopes, dreams, fears, and budgets for the upcoming trip. Talking about money can sometimes be uncomfortable, so try and steer the conversation by talking about what you want to do or the tiers of service you prefer. Stating you want to be pampered with first-class service from the minute you leave your door vs. being smart and thrifty don’t translate to specific dollar amounts, but they can get the conversation started.

You also might find that you’re all in the same ballpark in terms how much you want to or expect to spend. Conversely, you may find you’re miles and thousands of dollars apart. Or more than likely, you’re somewhere in the middle.  Simply sharing this information before you embark — and not at the dinner table that first night — is a huge first step in making a trip work with different budgets.

Now it’s time to take it one step further and create potential itineraries for your specific destination. The reason? Travelers may believe they have a certain budget in mind, and once they actually do the math, realize they have a different one. For example,  they may initially plan to be a big spender, but realize they need a budget travel plan once the reality of the true cost hits them.1

Here is why that scenario is becoming a more common occurrence: the average American spends 10 percent of their annual income on vacations. But the problem is that 55 percent don’t account for them when it comes to budgeting. In other words, one of the biggest line items on American budgets is an afterthought, setting up the frequent scenario in which they spend more than they planned on travel.2

Other Tactics for Managing a Group Trip with Different Budgets

Once you’ve started talking with your travel mates about how you’ll handle the fact the different members of your group have different budgets, and consequently different ideas about lodging, meals and more, there are a number of tactics you can undertake to create an itinerary that everyone can enjoy and afford.

  • Have an amicable split: Just because you’re going on a trip together doesn’t mean you need to spend every waking moment with each other. Designate specific days or parts of days as group time vs. free time to explore solo or pair up according to budget. That way everyone can gather for an afternoon tour, and then choose their own adventure in the evening: make sandwiches from cold cuts stored in the hotel mini-fridge or check out Michelin three-star restaurants.
  • Pick destinations friendly to all budgets. When you fly to Sydney together, some travelers may break the bank on airfare alone. Vegas, on the other hand, offers hotels, restaurants, and attractions that span price points. Someone on a budget, for example, could crash at the Stratosphere for under $50 a night, swing by the Wicked Spoon at the Cosmopolitan for some Express Takeout buffet for just $20, and watch the Bellagio fountain show for free.3

On the high end, there is no limit, really, just like that exclusive blackjack table set up behind the casino’s velvet rope. But when it comes to a high roller dinner, you can’t do much better than the tasting menu at James Beard award-winning chef José Andrés’ Bazaar Meat, which can go for close to $200 a head before you add drinks.4

  • Handle the money before (or after) the experience. Even if you’re out with friends or trusted family members, it’s tough to seamlessly account for who paid what at the time of the transaction. Instead, if you know the price ahead of time for an excursion or prix-fixe meal, pony up the cash ahead of time or keep a solid ledger to reconcile who owes what afterward. (Pro tip: Splitwise is an intuitive app that will let you do the math on shared expenses and send IOUs friendly reminders to family and friends.) You may even find you have one member of the travel party aggressively seeking miles or status on a credit card, so they’re happy to pay now and settle later.5

Common Trips When Different Travel Budgets Are at Play

Your typical family vacation isn’t likely to spur arguments over budgets. That’s because everyone is on the same one.

But there are several common types of trips that frequently bring together travelers who aren’t on the same page when it comes to how much to spend. Be sure to apply the tips and strategies shard above. Here are a few of them…

  • Bachelor & Bachelorette Parties: We’ll be honest. This is the exact trip we had in mind when putting together this article. When grooms and brides-to-be gather with their friends and family before tying the knot, they’re bringing together folks from many paths of their lives into one trip. And very likely, they’ll have different travel budgets, too. It doesn’t help that these trips, while short, are often big budget affairs involving everything from limo rentals and bottle service to ski weekends and spa treatments. So, here’s an idea: if you have the budget to live the high life with your bestie before their big day, go all in. If not, suggest planning something more low-key closer to home — a meal out, wine or beer tasting, or a good ole pot luck or BBQ where locals can honor the special couple before they get hitched.
  • Destination Weddings: If we’re looking at things in chronological order, the destination wedding comes after that last big hurrah we mentioned above. And sometimes, those weddings aren’t held in quaint churches near the bride’s hometown. Sometimes, they’re held on Caribbean islands, mountain retreats, and other hard-to-reach, expensive locations. There isn’t much room to compromise on costs if you’re traveling on a budget. If you’re a couple, maybe only one of you makes the trip. Or perhaps you only make the trip for one or two nights instead of three or more to save money on lodging, pets sitters, meals abroad and more. Then there is the option of straying from the hotel everyone is staying at and opting for one that’s a bit more budget friendly. If you feel obligated to make the trek and are pinching pennies to make it happen, don’t sweat it. After all, more than a third of those invited to a destination wedding reply to the invitation with regrets. If you’re the bride or groom, we’re probably stating the obvious, but faraway fairytale weddings aren’t realistic for all your guests. Make sure you let them know that you understand if they can’t make the trip.6
  • Family Reunions & Get-Togethers with Friends: One of your long-lost friends or a distant uncle decided to get the gang back together and it comes at the worst possible time for you. You just had to get the transmission replaced on your car, your recently retiled the kitchen floors, and you have a college tuition payment next month. When you get the invite for a once-in-a-lifetime get-together, the timing may not be ideal. But you still want to make it happen. This is another time where you might be able to make an appearance — swinging by for the day and maybe an evening — especially if the destination is a manageable distance away. Also, if you have one lump vacation budget, see if it’s possible to combine the reunion with the family vacation you were going to take a few months later. 

The Great Equalizer: Travel Insurance

There may be a great distance between what you and a second cousin or long-lost college roommate intend to spend on a trip you’re taking together. But that doesn’t mean that either of you would feel any less frustration or relative financial loss in the event that your scheduled getaway was canceled, delayed or interrupted.

Much like hotels, airline seats and restaurants are available in tiers featuring varying price points and benefits, so is travel insurance. At Allianz Global Assistance, we’ve created a well-rounded selection of travel insurance plans that can serve budget-minded travelers, such as the OneTrip Basic Plan, to plans with higher limits, including the OneTrip Premier Plan.7 That way, it’s easy to find the right plan for you.                       

Taking a group trip with friends or family who have different travel budgets may seem daunting, but it’s absolutely doable. You just need to break the ice about money up front, structure your trip accordingly, and be sure to pack a load of empathy for your fellow travelers.

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Mar 21, 2019