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August 2007
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October 2007

Tips for Making Group Trips Great

By guest blogger Jacquelin Carnegie

On a group trip, even when you're traveling with family and friends, you usually find the good, the bad and the unexpected. The good—you make a new friend. The bad—one annoying person drives everybody insane. The unexpected—you visit a destination or attraction you never would have discovered on your own that blows your mind.

No matter where you go, any great trip begins with smart planning. Here are some tips to consider as you get your family, friends or wedding party ready for a trip together:

Test drive the group: Your wild friend Bob and crazy Uncle Larry may be fun to hang out with on a Saturday night but they might drive everyone nuts during a two-week trip. Before spending a vacation together, try a long-weekend group trip to see what the dynamics are like. Then, plan accordingly.

Set ground rules: It is very important to make the "ground rules" crystal clear at the beginning of the trip. It helps to have them written down and handed out (even to your family members). Ground rules can include how costs are divided up, daily departure times, who’s responsible for driving, etc.

Timing is everything: When traveling as a group, the "on-time" issue usually causes the most friction. Invariably, one or two people are always late for the morning blast-off and/or wander off at stops and are nowhere to be found when it’s time to hit the road again. Nip this situation in the bud immediately! It’s not only annoying but unfair to the rest of the group.

If a gentle (or harsh) reprimand doesn’t work, a) assign an on-time "buddy" to the person (this task can be rotated among the group members); b) simply state that the car/van/bus will take off at the appointed time and persistent latecomers will be responsible for getting to the next stop on their own. (You can put this in the ground rules memo.)

Schedule downtime: Don’t let the desire to see everything blind you to the need for daily downtime. Be sure to plan for time to relax by the pool and/or change clothes back at the hotel.

Staying connected: Even on vacation, we are all so attached to our need to check e-mail. Find out in advance from your hotels if there’s a WiFi connection in the rooms or if there’s a business center for those who don’t have or don’t want to bring a laptop. Also, check if there is a hotel "hotspot" charge to access the internet.

Provide options: You may love your family and group of friends, but spending every waking moment together for a week or two can be trying. Plan optional activities and restaurant choices so individuals or smaller groups can branch off on their own.

Activity options could include a choice of museum hopping, shopping or a sports activity. For restaurant choices, contact your hotels in advance and get three good restaurant suggestions for each place you’ll stop for meals. You might wind up eating together anyway, but it's good to provide choices for those who might need a break from a little too much togetherness!

Jacquelin Carnegie is a contributing travel editor to Accent magazine. For the past 15 years, she has covered international travel destinations for both consumer and business publications.


German Group Journeys

By guest blogger Jacquelin Carnegie

Germany is a wonderful place to visit for anyone who loves art, architecture, culture and history. It's also a bike rider's paradise. On a group trip with your friends, family or wedding party, there's plenty to do and see in every region of Germany.

Bike, Art and Culture - Here are some ideas for places to visit with a focus on art and architecture. You can tour these areas by bike (it's easy to rent bikes locally) or by car: 

Focus on Art - Muenster and Kassel:

  • If you and your group of friends or family members love contemporary art, there’s a "solar art eclipse" taking place in the Westphalia region (until the end of September 2007). In Kassel, documenta 12, a prestigious, contemporary art exhibition—like the Venice Biennale—takes place every five years and the Muenster Sculpture Project takes place every 10 years—see them both now! (Trains linking Muenster and Kassel take about two hours.)
  • Muenster is a lovely town with cobblestone streets, historic buildings and charming churches. The Sculpture Project is not in a museum but strategically-placed throughout the town. You can tour the sculptures with a knowledgeable guide on a bike or walking tour. Even when the Sculpture Project is not taking place, it’s worth a trip to Muenster. This university town is full of pubs, restaurants and year-round cultural events. Be sure to sample some local beer at Muenster’s oldest brewery, Brauerei Pinkus and enjoy regional specialties at the oldest restaurant, Gasthaus Leve. In the surrounding countryside of Muensterland, there are 100 castles to be viewed on a bike tour or by car.
  • Hotels: In Muenster – Stadthotel; Hotel Feldmann. In the countryside - Hotel Hof zur Linde; Hotel Schloss Wilkinghege. In Kassel – During documenta, there are special hotel package deals.

Focus on Industrial Design - The Rhur Region:

  • The Ruhrgebiet area has transformed sites from its former industrial past—steel mills, coal mines, gas tanks--into incredible venues for art exhibitions and other leisure and cultural activities. As a result, the area has been named European Capital of Culture 2010.
  • In Essen, the Zeche Zollverein, a former coal mine, is now a UNESCO world heritage site and a vibrant arts center with space for emerging artists and an outstanding showcase for design at the Red Dot Design Museum. You and your group can hike or bike around the site as well as have a great lunch in the Zollverein Casino.
  • In Oberhausen, the Gasometer at CentrO used to store gas for the steelworks. An installation by Christo and Jeanne-Claude made the site popular for unique art exhibitions.
  • Other cultural highlights in the area include Essen's Folkwang Museum (its fabulous collection is currently in the Villa Hügel). In Duisburg, stroll along the lovely Inner Harbor. The Lehmbruck Museum is a must-see, then head for Landscape Park on the grounds of the former Meiderich Ironworks, now an entertainment and recreational center. The Ruhrgebiet tourism office can help arrange tours for your group. If you'd like to discover the area on your own by bike, the RuhrTalRadweg is a signposted trail or your group can do an organized bike tour.
  • Hotel: Castle Westerholt is a lovely and convenient base to use for visiting the region.

Focus on Medieval Architecture – Lower Saxony:

  • The Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony) region of Germany is a treasure trove of half-timbered architecture (similar to Tudor style with strips of horizontal, vertical and diagonal wood framing on the houses). One of the most picturesque spots is Hannoversch Münden, located at the juncture of three rivers—Werra, Fulda and Weser—it has over 700 half-timbered buildings centuries old. The town is on a few incredibly scenic routes that your group can tour via bike or car including the Fairy Tale Route and the Framework Road.
  • Hotels: Try Hotel Alter Packhof.

Focus on Modern Art and Architecture – Düsseldorf:

  • Düsseldorf: Although people often come here on business, anyone who loves art and architecture should definitely put Düsseldorf on their travel itinerary. First, it is situated on a lovely stretch of the Rhine River lined with magnificent buildings such as Neuer Zollhof by Frank Gehry and William Alsop's Colorium that have made Media Harbour a hot spot for architecture. Next, Düsseldorf has outstanding museums (Kunst means art): the Kunst Palast features old masters, contemporary art and a fantastic glass collection. K20 displays 20th century masterpieces and K21, cutting-edge contemporary art of the 21st century, while KIT (Kunst im Tunnel) is a unique exhibit space for emerging artists and the Hetjens Museum features ceramics.
  • After all that museum-hopping, you and your group of family and friends might need to recover with a cold brew. The best place to taste test Düsseldorf's famous Altbier is in Altstadt, the charming old section of town with more than 260 bars and restaurants.
  • If you like, do some designer shopping along the tree-lined boulevard Königsallee and have a tasty meal in one of the all-glass restaurants along the riverside such as the Cafe Curtiz or the Lido with a view of Media Harbour.
  • But don't leave the area without a visit to the splendid Insel Hoimbroich, art pavilions in a nature preserve and the adjacent Langen Foundation, a stunning museum for Japanese art designed by renowned architect Tadao Ando.
  • The Düsseldorf tourism office can arrange any kind of biking, city or cultural tour for your group.
  • Hotels in Düsseldorf: Lindner Hotel Rhein Residence; Sir & Lady Astor Hotel; Carat Hotel.
  • Arrival: All the above regions can be easily reached from Düsseldorf. Delta, LTU and Lufthansa have direct flights from several U.S. gateways, as well as flights to Berlin. In Germany, there's an excellent train network between cities; you can even get your tickets before you leave through RailEurope.

Focus on Culture and History - Berlin:

  • No trip to Germany would be complete without visiting Berlin. Not only is it a major European city, its also become a trendy spot for contemporary art. East and West Berlin now form one huge, fascinating urban scene. But you can get anywhere in a jiffy in the excellent subway system (U-Bahn and S-Bahn). If your group prefers biking, there are several biking tours or you can just rent a bike and pedal around on your own.

Sightseeing highlights include: The Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie and the Holocaust Memorial: Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, designed by internationally-renowned architect Peter Eisenman. Sections of the Berlin Wall that still stand, with landmark status, have become a canvas for modern graffiti art. There are museums galore and contemporary art lovers can tour hot, new galleries with Go Art! Berlin.

  • For an authentic cabaret experience, spend an evening at the Bar Jeder Vernunft. For trendy nightlife, the East Berlin neighborhoods of Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg are the new hip spots, filled with twenty-somethings partying to all hours at the clubs.
  • Classical music fans will also be in seventh-heaven here as there are three opera houses and eight symphony orchestras; the Berlin Philharmonic is considered one of the world's best.
  • Berlin even has two zoos—one in the East and one in the West. In fact, your group should spend some nights in a hotel in East Berlin and some nights in West Berlin to fully experience this marvelous city.
  • Hotels: In East Berlin - Juncker's Hotel, a small, friendly place with great breakfasts; in West Berlin - Steigenberger Hotel, a pleasant spot in the heart of the shopping district.

The tourism offices in all these places can help you arrange any kind of group trip—city tours, bike tours, museum visits. Almost everyone in Germany speaks English and those that don't will still make every effort to help you. In Germany, it isn't just the art and culture that shines, even the sparkling-clean restrooms are impressive! So, no excuses. Get your group organized for a great journey to Germany.

Jacquelin Carnegie is a Contributing Travel Editor to Accent magazine. For the past 15 years, she has covered international travel destinations for both consumer and business publications.