How to be a Good Group Travel Leader

By guest blogger Jeff Gayduk

If you've ever traveled with family and friends, you know what an enjoyable, rewarding experience it can be. Until something goes wrong of course, then everyone turns their attention to the group leader for a quick resolution.

If you're planning your own group trips, being out on an island like this can become very uncomfortable. Here's some tips to help get you through:

  1. Prepare for the best but plan for the worst. While your co-travelers are on vacation, you're working - at least to the extent that everyone is safe and secure. Understand the logistics of your trip and have a contingency plan in case something goes awry. Collect emergency contact information for all your travelers, and a list of any medication they may be on. This way, if something does go wrong, you are prepared to deal with medical professionals and family/friends back home.
  2. Pass out Chill Pills. True story - one group leader gives each of her travelers a sugar pill on the first day of the trip while explaining that at one point during the trip some thing's not going to go as planned, because, well that's the way travel is. She advises them to ingest the pill at the first sign of distress. It sets the mood for a relaxing trip.
  3. Share the responsibility. Not an accountant? Somebody in your group is probably good with numbers. Assign them the task of group accountant for shared meal or drink expenses. Look for buddies that can also help arrange transportation, tours, and make sure everyone stays on schedule and is prepared for the day's activities.
  4. Protect your investment. Travel insurance used to be thought of as an unnecessary expense that was geared for seniors. However, with today's tumultuous travel climate and tighter restrictions on private insurance policies it's a necessary evil. Look for a travel insurance policy with "cancel for any reason" options.
  5. Go with a pro. If handling hotels, sightseeing, meals and activities is too much of a load - find a capable tour operator to plan your group's trip. This is especially true with overseas travel, with companies like Globus, Go Ahead Tours and Collette Vacations specializing in working with small groups. Another benefit? The group leader travels free with as little as 8 paying passengers (shh!).

Group travel planning can be a fun, rewarding experience if you follow these guidelines. For more group travel know-how, visit our magazine website at www.leisuregrouptravel.com

Jeff Gayduk is a 24-year veteran of the group travel industry and the founder and publisher of Leisure Group Travel magazine and InSite on Leisure Group Travel e-newsletter.


Take a Bite out of Fish Feeding - Help Protect Coral Reefs

By guest blogger Susan Wolf

On your next trip to Hawaii you may notice signs in local dive and retail shops supporting the "Take a Bite out of Fish Feeding" campaign. The stickers are part of a larger effort to protect Hawaii’s magnificent coral reefs by discouraging the practice of using food to attract fish for tourists to view. Several companies, including retail giants Longs Drugs and Walmart, have followed the lead of marine recreation businesses across the state and have agreed to discontinue the sale of recreational snorkeling fish food in all of their Hawaii locations.

Take a Bite out of Fish Feeding

The use of fish food by tourists and tour operators can have negative consequences for both reefs and the tourism industry, according to Liz Foote, Hawaii Field Manager for the Coral Reef Alliance, and Carlie Wiener, a researcher at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology. Foote and Wiener spearheaded the “Take a Bite out of Fish Feeding” campaign, working to convince businesses that selling fish food is ultimately a poor business practice. With support from the Coral Reef Alliance, the State Division of Aquatic Resources, Project S.E.A.-Link, and other partners, the two have spent years enlisting businesses to stop selling and using fish food, as well as educating visitors and locals alike about the effects and dangers of fish feeding.

Impacts on Fish and Tourists

By feeding the fish, humans are affecting the natural ecological relationships on the reef. For example, when herbivorous fish are fed by tourists, they eat less algae. With a reduction of grazing activity by these fish, the algae is left to flourish and potentially smother the reefs. For tourists, there are often incidents of accidental fish biting at popular tourist destinations where fish are fed by dive companies and snorkel tours.

Large Retailers Sign On

The recent effort to secure buy-in from the large retailers in Hawaii was taken up by San Francisco attorney Joshua Rosen, who learned about the project while visiting Hawaii last winter. Rosen believes that the companies decided to act responsibly because of their own appreciation for Hawaii’s marine life, and because it is in their best interest to become involved in local community efforts and support the long-term health of Hawaii’s economy, which depends upon visitors having a good experience with the marine environment.

Susan Wolf works at The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL). CORAL provides tools, education, and inspiration to residents of coral reef destinations to support local projects that benefit both reefs and people. Founded in 1994 to galvanize the dive community for conservation, CORAL has grown into the only international nonprofit that works exclusively to protect our planet's coral reefs.


Five Ways to Make Family Travel More Affordable This Fall

By guest blogger Barbara Messing

Being a mom who works in the travel industry, I’m always getting questions from other parents about how they can plan a getaway with the kids that won’t break the bank. These questions range from “Where should I go to get the best value?” to “How can we save money on holiday travel?” to “What is a great family-friendly destination?”… just to name a few. And while the state of the economy has many families feeling stretched, there is a silver lining when it comes to travel. The travel deals out there are better than I’ve seen in years, making this fall a great time to take a family vacation.

I am seeing two interesting trends in the industry these days. First, people are booking their vacations closer to the actual travel dates, as they want to have the best picture possible of their life before they make the decision to book their travel arrangements. Second, I see the “power of the purse” in action, with more women making the majority of travel decisions and taking responsibility for booking family getaways. I call it the “anti-Clark Griswald effect.”

So how do you get the most for your money when booking travel for your family? Here are five ideas to make family travel affordable this fall:

1. Picking the right destination: Deals are abundant, but especially at family destinations this year, so now you just need to decide where to go. Occupancy levels at popular family resorts were already low, and with families back to school the hotels have even more empty rooms. If you can steal a break with the kids this Fall, San Diego, Orlando, Hawaii and Los Angeles all offer amazing value this season and plenty of entertainment for your family.

2. Finding flights: Prices are great right now as airlines are trying to fill seats with earlier and more aggressive fares than normal fall sales. Airline prices change constantly, so look for these low fares now and when you see a great fare, book it immediately. A handful of airlines still offer child discounts, but as a general rule, you will find a better deal if you look out for the lowest fares you can find online and special sales. These are inevitably lower than the full-priced child fares. You can sign up for sale and fare alerts with your favorite airlines and travel sites.

3. Consider all-inclusive resorts: All-inclusive resort vacations are a family’s best friend and are offering some of the best discounts I’ve seen in years. Perfect for a cross-generational family beach vacation - everyone can eat, stay and play at an all-inclusive with one set price. Plus, most resorts offer a “kids camp” so that the parents can enjoy some downtime with a fruity drink and a book by the pool—a rarity on most vacations.

4. Timing is everything: If you want to save even more money and score some incredible deals on flights or beach vacations, try between now and December 19th, when the demand and prices are low. The next few months before the holidays are a great time to visit Florida, Mexico and the Caribbean for some of the lowest rates of the year. Vacation packagers will often offer rates at 4-star All-inclusive resorts that include airfare for around $100 per day during these low-season times. Often children under 12 are able to stay and eat for free at these resorts, so check around for the best pricing.

5. Booking holiday travel: If you haven’t booked your holiday travel yet, I would suggest doing that now. October is a very good time to book travel because you will still see some good options on pricing and routes. I have a couple of recommendations to keep both your costs and stress in check. If possible, try to fly nonstop out of a popular airline hub. You will find more competition among airlines and thus better pricing. More importantly, by flying nonstop you will not get stuck at one of your connections with your tired and cranky family, nor will your luggage with all of the Christmas presents end up at the wrong airport. If you do have to make a connection, try flying on the off-peak days of the holiday and when picking your routing, avoid hubs that get frequent weather delays. Finally, treat yourself well. If you don’t want to sleep on grandma’s air mattress, check out the amazing hotel rates during holiday weekends. Business travelers who head home for the holidays leave empty hotels, which translates to great discounts to gain your business. Or even better, leave the kids on the air mattress and enjoy a hotel getaway for yourselves.

An avid traveler with stamps from over 50 countries on her passport, Barbara Messing applies her passion for travel to her role as vice president of Travel Ticker and new business development at Hotwire. Barbara is responsible for overseeing the new Travel Ticker product, which delivers handpicked, insider deals to motivated travelers. You can also find Barbara on Twitter @Travel_Ticker, where she was recently ranked as one of the top 21 travel twitterers by Condé Nast Traveler.


Fall is here. Enjoy it!

By guest blogger Elliot Cohen

Temperatures have finally dropped and people are donning coats and scarves and heading out to brave the... 60 degree weather? C’mon folks, it’s not THAT cold out yet! Take off your earmuffs and enjoy the pleasant early fall weather before you need those coats and scarves for real.

Until then, how about you plan a weekend that celebrates Autumn in New York, or in Boston, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, or any other urban center where fall means finally having some fun outside in the sun.

The good thing about cities, is that they’re big. That means there’s lots of free, outdoor, fun things to do in Manhattan, and endless number of places to visit in Philadelphia, enough historic sites to keep you busy for days in our nation’s capital, and you won’t have to fight over picnic spots in Boston. These cities come well-equipped with reliable public transportation (so you can leave your car at home), they’re easy to get to, and most of all, the American big city is family and kid friendly, especially those cities that include huge parks.

And huge parks are where it’s at this fall. Many families have trimmed down their vacation budgets this year, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t vacation at all. Splurge on an urban fall weekend and you’ll find that “splurging” doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg! Especially when Mother Nature doesn’t charge a dime to show off her stunning display of fall foliage.

During your 2009 fall family weekend getaway, make sure you enjoy some fun in the shade at these free fall foliage wonderlands:

    • Have a fall picnic in Manhattan’s Central Park, followed by a boat ride and a visit to the Central Park Zoo.
    • Be on the cutting edge of NYC attractions at Manhattan’s brand new High Line Park.
    • Ride your bike through crunchy golden leaves at the Bronx’s Van Cortlandt Park.
    • Have a family game of ultimate Frisbee at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, followed by lunch in trendy Park Slope.
    • Explore the historic old city of Philadelphia, go shopping in some Center City boutiques, and then lay out with a book and a cup o’ jo at Philly’s famous Washington Square Park.
    • Forget about the urban jungle around you and hike through one of the largest city parks in the world at Fairmount Park in Philadelphia.
    • Don’t let the nippiness of a cold fall day in Boston keep you indoors. Visit the Arnold Arboretum or the Boston Common to see what New England fall foliage is all about.
    • Gather some friends and hike the Ridge Trail in Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek Park.
    • Take in the color-changing dogwoods, willow, oaks, and ferns at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C.

Elliot Cohen is CEO of TripCart.com, a leading US Road Trip Planner. What other people do you know who are so passionate about travel that they build their own travel site? Since being an internet entrepreneur is kind of demanding, Elliot doesn’t have nearly enough time to road trip like he used to, but that doesn’t mean he can’t still organize family picnics in Central Park or a weekend boat trip to peep at Catskills and Hudson Valley fall foliage ...both things that you and your family should consider, too!


Visit to the High Arctic

By guest blogger Roger Herst

You don't travel to the Canada's high Arctic without a good reason. Aboard the Akademik Iofe, a converted Cold War Soviet spy ship, my enthusiastic shipmates and I headed north from Resolute Bay into the Baffin Bay between Ellesmere Island and Greenland. Aboard are professional photographers, geologists, meteorologists, zoologists, professors, writers and just plain lovers of the polar regions. The majority had been to the Antarctic, a large land mass at the South Pole surrounded by water. The opposite north pole is quite different. Here at the top of the planet is ocean covered with sea-ice but surrounded by land.

I joined this band of brothers in order to tweak my latest novel, No Land too Desolate, a geo-political thriller set in this semi-frozen region, populated by Inuit in scattered in distant villages. These hardy people once derisively referred to as Eskimos still maintain their traditional hunting-fishing cultures, surviving in bitter sub-zero cold without sunlight for four full months of the year. The best and only time for those of us from warmer climates to visit is during the summer when the days are long and the sun never dips below the horizon. Don't dream about the legendary northern skies. There's no darkness to view these heavenly bodies.

In the course of our short trip, it's hard to observe the effects of global warming, though experts who keep annual statistics are unanimous in their evaluation. Each winter the sea ice is thinner and each summer a great deal less survives exposure to sunlight when cold once again heralds the coming of winter.

We travel to shore twice a day to explore the tundra aboard Zodiacs. Near glaciers one can witness calving as tons of ageless compacted snow and ice tumble into the sea. This material is 100 million years old. As this ancient ice floats beside my Zodiac I snatch a hunk to nibble in my mouth, without doubt the purest water I have ever tasted. Small air bubbles trapped in this ice have survived from earliest geological time. In my mouth I sample oxygen and nitrogen older than the air breathed by Abraham 1600 BCE or by an ancient Pharoah, 2500 BCE!

My fellow explorers and I feel privileged to be here, realizing how we live only on the skin of this vast planet. Mother Earth doesn't belong to us. We are only visitors who like the native polar bear and walrus come and go, leaving this eternal legacy to future generations.

Roger Herst is the author of several novels, short stories and scholarly articles. He is an ordained Rabbi with a doctorate in Middle Eastern History, holding undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of California Berkeley, the University of Chicago, Johns Hopkins and the Hebrew Union College. He is an avid tennis player and musician. There’s nothing outdoors he doesn’t love.


6 Ways to Green Wedding Travel

By guest blogger Kate L. Harrison

An important piece of wedding planning is coordinating transportation and trying to anticipate the travel needs of your guests. These arrangements are often dependent on the season, timing, and location of your wedding. However, wherever and whenever you wedding is, there are many great eco-friendly transportation options to choose from.

First Stop: Let Go of The Limo

According to The Wedding Report, about 75% of couples travel to and from their wedding in a limousine, at an average cost of $674. Just think about how many tons of CO2 and how much money you can save if you choose an eco-friendly option instead! For example, imagine the attention and the fabulous photographs you and your fiancée would get if you traveled to your wedding on a trolley, bus, or subway. Don’t have that far to go? Consider a more romantic option like a tandem bicycle for a farm wedding, an elegant horse and carriage ride for a wedding on a historic property, or a boat for a wedding at the water’s edge.

If you still have your heart set on a limo, see if you can rent a hybrid limo, and always ask the driver to pick up the entire bridal party in one location. This will decrease driving time and save you money too!

It’s Electric!

The hybrid, alternative fuel, and electric vehicle rental market is growing quickly and all of these options are significantly better for the environment than traditional limousines. Look online for car services and rental companies that offer electric, hybrid, biodiesel, or other eco-friendly vehicles in your area. When you find one, post a link on your wedding website to make sure your guests who are in need of rentals use them as well.

Keep It In One Place

One of the easiest ways to decrease the impact of your wedding is to have your ceremony and reception in the same location. The average wedding has 160 guests, so even if four guests pile into a car (which is unlikely; probably most cars only carry two guests), that’s still forty vehicles driving from one location to the next, which adds up to a lot of carbon emissions. A single location eliminates the problem, and saves your guests the hassle and headache of getting from one place to another. If that location is close to public transportation, you guarantee that getting there will be a snap and will have minimal impact on the earth.

Provide Transportation for Everyone

Image: Jessica Barnes

Have a lot of guests staying at a hotel, or all together in one place? Consider hiring a bus or van to move everyone en masse. If you provide snacks and drinks on board, a wedding bus can be a highlight for you and your guests. A trolley is a fun option too, and if you find a company that has electric trolleys, it’s even better. This is also a good way to decrease car travel if you have your ceremony and reception in different locations.

Carpools

Carpools are a good way to decrease the total amount of pollution your wedding generates, and they give you, your friends and family the opportunity to enjoy each other’s company. Cars produce the same amount of pollution whether they carry one passenger or five, so help your guests carpool by setting up a ride board on your website and encouraging guests who live in the same area to connect with each other ahead of time. A number of companies like Rideshare and Carpool World specialize in ridesharing, but you can even set up a blog and just have guests post their plans and contact information in the comment section.

Reduce What You Can, Then Offset Rest

Once you reduce the carbon footprint of your wedding as much as possible, you can use a carbon calculator to figure out the remaining impact an offset it. Carbon-offsetting can be especially useful for a wedding with a lot of guests traveling in by plane or car, or a destination wedding.

Remember that when it comes to the travel associated with your wedding, every choice makes a difference. Choose the options that work best for your celebration and your guests’ needs, and you’ll be off to a responsible, sustainable start to your news lives together.

Kate L. Harrison is the author of The Green Bride Guide: How to Plan an Earth-Friendly Wedding on Any Budget and Founder and CEO of The Green Bride Guide, a comprehensive resource with everything you need to plan a green wedding.


Airport Hub Cities as Meet-Ups

Finding the best spot to gather with family or friends all over the map

By guest blogger Jacquelin Carnegie

When planning family reunions or get-togethers with friends, the first question is, "Where should we go?" Destinations factor heavily into travel planning.

When group travel is short in duration such as a 3-day weekend or 4-day stint, it is wise to minimize travel time and maximize time together. Soaring gas prices also contribute to a need for creative travel.

The best way to achieve maximizing time together and saving on flying time is to fly into a "hub" or "focus" city. A hub is a central airport through which multiple flights are routed—they vary according to airline. Airlines also have focus cities—a large number of non-stop flights are routed into these destinations. These focus cities tend to be major coastal cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami and New York. Hub and focus cities are usually in or near large cities with plenty of entertainment options and activities—perfect for weekend getaways. Same applies to hub railway cities in Europe and elsewhere.

I recently organized a mini meet-up for a few writer friends coming from Colorado, Chicago, Argentina and New York. We figured out that Miami was the easiest, most convenient place for all of us to fly into because there were non-stop flights into Miami from everyone's origination cities.

Major Airline U.S. Hubs

American Airlines
Hubs: Dallas-Ft. Worth, Chicago and Miami
Focus Cities: New York (with its 3 major airports), Los Angeles (LAX), Boston, St. Louis, San Francisco and Washington Dulles

Delta Air Lines
Hubs: Atlanta, Cincinnati and Salt Lake City
Focus Cities: New York (JFK), Boston, Los Angeles and Orlando

United Airlines
Hubs: Chicago, Denver, Washington Dulles
Focus Cities: all West Coast cities

(If the Delta and Northwest merger goes through, travelers may benefit from a larger route network. This might be true internationally. Delta has extensive operations in Europe as Northwest does in Asia. It remains to be seen if domestic options will improve.)

In Europe, hub/focus cities include: London, Paris, Brussels, Barcelona, Frankfurt, Rome, Milan and Zurich. And, the new "Open Skies" agreement should expand the offerings.

Open Skies
Travelers wanting to fly non-stop nationally or internationally will benefit from the recent "Open Skies" agreement. For decades, rules restricted trans-Atlantic air travel. Since April 2008, any European airline can now fly from any European airport to any point in the U.S.; all U.S. airline carriers will now be able to fly from any American city to any European city.

The high cost of fuel is throwing a wrench into the good news, but hopefully, as a result, fares could eventually drop and direct flight choices should increase.

Freak weather conditions and delays can occur anytime, any place. But when you’re traveling non-stop, you can eliminate the worry over missed connections. Less time spent at airports and in transit equates to more time spent with family and friends.

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.


Sailing Over the Canadian Alps

By guest blogger Clark McCann

Looking straight down between my knees 6,000 feet to the blue expanse of the Frazier River, I catch a sudden gut-shot of vertigo and fear. Reality check: I’m a mile in the sky, borne forward by a soft paraglider wing that can fold up like a cheap suit when struck by turbulence. I suck in a couple of deep slow breaths, steady my gaze on the distant horizon of snow crusted peaks, and the queasy moment passes. "Okay, you wimp," I tell myself. "You paid for this ride, now enjoy it!" I lean back in my padded harness, comfortable as an easy chair, and look up at my beautiful red wing, inflated with air, bearing my weight—and life—through the winter sky. I make a slow turn to the right to look back at the sheer icy face of Mt. Cheam, where minutes before I had taken off from the gentle south side, turned back across the ridge, then flown out over the magnificent Frazier River valley. Below was a checkerboard of green pastures, in the distance lakes and mountains, as pretty as any landscape in Switzerland.
 
Less than four hours before I’d left Seattle by car with a half-dozen paragliding fanatics, led by Marc Chirico and his wife Lan, all of us eager to fly off of 7,200 Mt. Cheam in British Columbia.  Among us were seasoned veterans with more than a thousand flights, as well as beginners, like me, with less than 100. One brave girl had just seven solo flights. Marc and Lan run Seattle’s most respected paragliding school and have trained hundreds of pilots over the last decade. Located at the foothills of the Cascades in Issaquah, the school sits at the foot of Tiger Mountain, one of the best paragliding sites in the Pacific Northwest. 

Driving straight north to Bellingham we crossed the Canadian border at Sumas, then headed East on Highway 1 along the Frazier River. Near a town aptly named "Hope," we climbed aboard a small helicopter that ferried us up to the summit of Mt. Cheam, three at a time. The ride was spectacular, and harrowing, as the chopper ducked around swirling clouds and looked for clear air and a level spot near the summit to set us down. Once on the mountain, we found ourselves in a cold, alpine environment. I was worried about the clouds and poor visibility. What if we get socked in and we can’t fly off and the chopper can’t pick us up? My fears subsided as the mists rose in the warming sun and we caught a window of clear skies to launch from the steep snow slope.
 
Now, relaxing into my flight, I’m amazed by the smooth air—not a ripple of turbulence. I indulge myself with a series of lazy turns to better admire the view and still arrive at our grassy landing field with plenty of altitude. After a soft touch-down, we give each other high-fives and head to the resort town of Harrison Hot Springs for beers and pizza.

Too exhilarated to drive back, some of us elect to spend the night at the resort hotel, spending hours outside in the warm mineral waters, talking and reliving our winter flying adventure.

If you’re interested in group paragliding, and live in the Seattle area, contact Marc Chirico at Seattle Paragliding for tips, lessons, training and more. For reputable schools in other parts of the country, contact the U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association. Contact the Harrison Hot Springs Resort in British Columbia for more information about accommodations.

Clark McCann is a Seattle area freelance writer and adventure sports enthusiast.


Timeshare Reality Check

By guest blogger Sarah Gagnon

Timeshares are becoming more and more popular; however, the long-standing stigma surrounding them still exists. There are plenty of voices in the travel industry talking about the positives and negatives of vacation property ownership and it is easy to get confused. Here are the ins and outs of the industry, the market and usage opportunities. Also, some helpful tips in case you are interested in taking advantage of the potential benefits of vacation real estate ownership.

Timeshares aren't evil. In fact, many people find that they are innovative, useful and valuable. That does not mean one shouldn't use caution when considering ownership. The concept of timesharing is inherently helpful, but the same cannot be said for every individual out there trying to make money. This is where the timeshare reputation has suffered in the past, and - although things are improving - continues to suffer today.

Timeshare history: As the timeshare industry struggled to progress in the 1970s and 80s, scams were recurrent and the bad name stuck. However, as associations like ARDA began to step in and refine the process and the amount of scamming dramatically decreased.

Resorts: Resorts are one type of timeshare and unfortunately, many resorts entice travelers into buying timeshare by using high-pressure sales tactics and deceitful information at very long, uncomfortable presentations. Furthermore, resort rates are high due to their large-scale advertising campaigns.

Resales: But there is good news about timeshares. The reason so many people still prefer vacation property ownership is that there are relatively easy ways to avoid the risks of buying timeshare. The most important way is to buy resale.

Timeshare resales can offer vacation value:

  • Low cost, often thousands less than resort prices
  • Private sales - no scams, no pressure, no falsehoods
  • Timeshare resale companies present the very same property that resorts do
  • These timeshare resellers also staff licensed brokers and closing companies to assist you
  • Resale Web sites allow you to search at your own pace and find what is right for you

Timeshare resales aren't perfect. But you can potentially save a ton of money and avoid headaches provided you take the same precautions anyone would when purchasing property. Timeshare resales basically succeed everywhere that timeshare resorts fail.

Timeshare resale benefits: For the money, resales are incredibly effective. You can also find good deals and timesharing can be less expensive than hotels. Furthermore, you don't have to worry about accumulating day-to-day bills. You own the timeshare, so you have a vacation every year already paid for. To sweeten the pot a little more, you can use exchange companies to trade your property and travel all over the world. All in all, if you want to vacation with freedom and flexibility while enjoying low cost and luxury, timeshare resales are something to look into.

Guest blogger Sarah Gagnon, M.A., works for Sell My Timeshare Now, a resale company, and is also known as the "Travel Lady-Bug."


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.