How large is too large a travel group?

Our first trip to Europe will be next May-June 2014. We plan on 4 weeks and maybe 5. My husband and I along with our son who will be 8. There are also 5 other inlaws who also want to come. That is 8 of us! Isnt that going to be hellish to try and travel together? Doing Belgium for sure and probably Germany and France as well. Thinking of identifying 4 main places and staying a week in each. Feel like only way to go about this is that everyone gets their own accommodations and sometimes we meet up. But even renting a car together...not possible right? I don't want to rent a car, husband does so we have more flexibility.

Posted by Bob
Gettysburg, PA
1364 posts

" Isnt that going to be hellish to try and travel together? " Yes & you will be blamed for any problems. "Feel like only way to go about this is that everyone gets their own accommodations and sometimes we meet up." Good idea "But even renting a car together...not possible right? " Perhaps possible, but not a good idea. My suggestion is that you make YOUR plans (for you, hubby & son ) available for the rest of the group. As a general rule, at least a third of a large group will back out.

Posted by Jim
Dallas, Texas, USA
495 posts

Wendy, Bob nailed it. I'll add my two cents worth.....don't do it unless you have a gun to your head. I did this with just 6 of us, rented a big beautiful Mercedes SUV, not enough room for six and luggage. We picked up in Germany, dropped off in another Country (Prague, CR), drop off fee was very high, family members didn't understand cost differential or other expenses related to European travel. Another lesson, if costs are being shared.....collect $ in advance, etc. In theory, family trips sound good, but could turn into a disaster for someone. I know this sounds negative,but.......BTW, you are correct, husband wrong on car situation.

Posted by Nancy
Costa Mesa, CA, USA
149 posts

It would definitely make for a different trip!!! Is it doable? I would say "yes" IF everyone gets along and as long as no one expects everyone to do everything together it could work. Being flexible I think is the only way to travel with that large a group. Last year, we traveled with a group of 9 (all friends, no relations) to France and it worked out great. We didn't do everything together and we split up from time to time - one day one group visited a chateau and one group went shopping for example. We rented a chateau so we were all together in the evenings, which was great fun - we swapped stories of our adventures during the day. As for cars, it really depends on what you are planning to see - sometimes cars are the best option (such as the Loire in France) and sometimes public transportation is (in Paris, London, etc.) We ended up renting three cars for transportation since using public transportation just wasn't efficient. If you are doing that, having cells phones helps quite a bit!
Good luck!!!

Posted by Wendy
Sebastopol, CA, USA
5 posts

Thanks for the responses. It feels good when you get told you are right. :) Plus, husband and I are willing to drop the $$ to see Europe the best we can...hopefully staying at mid range places whenever possible, but knowing that food, drinks, museum fees, Eurorail passes, etc are going to majorly add up. But we want to do this right and have saved the $$ for it. Others on trip much LESS willing to drop the $$$ amount we have in mind. 4 weeks, focusing on 5 areas, with airfare, transportation, all food, drink, accommodations, tour fees etc etc for the 3 of us: we figure $18-$20,000. Way off? Too low? Too high? We hope to fill up on breakfasts where we stay when we can, picnic lunches most days and an actual "restaurant" meal maybe 3-4x a week. We plan on drinking beer or wine when we want to, have heard how expensive that can get. Would love to hear feedback on budget.

Posted by Wendy
Sebastopol, CA, USA
5 posts

Thanks for the info Nancy in Costa Mesa. :) We are a very close family...let me just say my inlaws have a actually lived with us the last 4 years. My husband is Hispanic and therefore the familia is a close knit one, with multiple generations all living together often. :) My main fear is the budget that each "group" has...we have a higher budget than my husbands parents do, etc etc. We all cant do the same things, and I don't think we all will want to. Also, the benefit of all going together: my husband and I can split off here and there and our son ( age 8) will still have his other family members there to watch him! A HUGE advantage that will allow us a few adult only evenings out of the month long trip...

Posted by Denise
San Antonio, TX
110 posts

Have you thought about everyone signing up for a Rick Steves tour? On my last RS tour there was a family consisting of young couple (yc), both sets of yc's parents & a sister or 2. It seemed ideal. Each was responsible for paying for their own tour (which leaves you out of the mix), accommodations & transport arranged by someone who is not you. The tour could be for 1 or 2 weeks and you could stay on after or arrive before with spouse & child. I hope it works out well for you.

Posted by Rose
NYC
922 posts

I agree in principle that a tour would be a good idea for the reasons mentioned, but on my first RS tour many years ago there was a group of 6 people (3 couples) who signed up together and they kept together - and mostly to themselves - the entire nearly 3 weeks. This created a clique within the broader tour group and a feeling of exclusion. It was obvious they didn't want others joining them at various times. There's certainly no obligation on a tour to include others at free-time lunches/dinners or free-time site-seeing, etc. but it does seem to happen naturally on the best tours I've been on. The openness and camaraderie that develop among the broad group as they travel together is, IMO, a very important part of the overall tour group experience.

Posted by Frank
Tresana, Highlands Ranch, CO, USA
10884 posts

I know this is probably not a consideration but this when a cruise makes a lot of sense both both economically and logistic wise. You could go in early and do a few things on your own and then meet the group.

Posted by Nancy
Costa Mesa, CA, USA
149 posts

Think your budget is realistic - it's always good to assume the trip will cost more than you think! Couple thoughts on how to minimize your expenses! 1. Look at renting a flat/apt/house for all or part of your trip. In general, renting can be less expensive and you have the added benefit of being able to "eat in" - thus saving money on dinners out! 2. Check the websites of the sites you want to see - many museums have either reduced (or even free!) admission on some days/evenings. If you can take advantage of that you can definitely save some money! 3. Research some restaurants in the cities you are visiting for specials, prix fix menus etc. with a bit of planning you can eat very well without breaking the bank!
Good luck!!

Posted by Nestor
Fairfax
45 posts

I think you answered your own question. All of you are not in the same page so your ideal trip will not match others idea of a great trip. Renting a vehicle will give you flexibility and does not tie you to the train schedule but it creates other problems (parking, gas, insurance). Traveling together from place to place but letting everyone go on their own after you get there sounded like a good idea.

Posted by Pam
Troy, Idaho, USA
471 posts

Sorry Rose had a not-so-great experience with a group within a group, but my brother, SIL and their 2 adult sons and I did a RS tour this May. It was just great. The nephews wound up hanging with other people at times and we all went our separate ways as well. We did hang around together some, and deeply hope we were not viewed as exclusionary. My brother and I were the ones that did the initial planning and we chose the tour for a variety of reasons. Neither of us had travelled internationally in 25-35 years, so our skills were rusty to say the least. We would not have to feel responsible for daily activities and itineraries, we wouldn't have to deal with multiple hotel reservations for the 5 of us and we wouldn't have to figure out the transportation for all 5 of us. I was also worried because the nephews are in their early 20s and like to sleep late and I didn't want to be the one telling them to get up so we could get going. The guide posted a schedule each day for the next day. The nephews were usually the first ones at the gathering point. My brother and I really enjoyed not having to figure out things to do and on the off days that was when we often split up. (For instance in CT, the guys slept in, hiked and enjoyed the beach, Bro and SIL did the trains between towns, I sat in a cafe and drank, er...enjoyed looking at the Med. lol!!) I have not done a RS Family Friendly tour, so I can't speak to how that would work with your 8 year old. I will say the shared travel experience was wonderful. I have threatened my nephews with bringing it up every time they visit me in the nursing home when I am 97.

Posted by Wendy
Sebastopol, CA, USA
5 posts

We have been looking at houses/flats on VRBO which might make sense for all of us to stay in certain locations. Have used VRBO in the states, always been great, never in Europe though. Is there another site that lists rentals that I should know about?

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
4877 posts

I have used vrbo and Homeaway for European and U.S. rentals with good success. My first trip to Europe was for family time in Germany. The group consisted of me, hubby, sister, BIL, and 3 brothers, all from Northern CA, plus 2 German cousins, their mother and her hubby. We all met up in the Black Forest where we stayed in a farmhouse. We had a minivan (side note - it is VERY DIFFICULT to find parking for a vehicle that big in Europe) and there were 2 other cars amongst us. We spent our family time together, then went our separate ways. My sister and BIL were with us the entire 4 week trip. I had been tasked with the planning, although the 4 of us chose our destinations together. When I found lodging I would have my sister take a look, then we each made our reservations. Even with that, if there was something they didn't like about a hotel or anything else, fingers pointed at me. Let's just say that there will be no future trips with them. The most important thing I learned from that experience is that people traveling together should be on the same page. It doesn't work if you want mid-range lodging but others can do only budget, you want to eat somewhere nice but they can't afford it, you like to do certain activities and they don't want to, you like to get going in the morning and they like to sleep in... You get my point. If everyone agrees to separate at times to pursue their own interests it works better. If everyone expects to be joined at the hip it is no longer YOUR trip. Apartments are definitely the way to go. Train or car depends on where you plan to go, but cars are a liability in cities. You will not find a car big enough for 8 people, so you would need at least 2 cars. Good luck with your planning!

Posted by Lo
Tucson
648 posts

The first problem I see here is the money. My husband and I have traveled to Europe 5 months in the last 5 years. Exclusive of airfare, we have consistently averaged between $180 to $200 per person per day except this year when it cost only $150 per person per day. That's primarily because we ate more meals in the apartments we rented. We count everything in that daily average including parking our car at home, kenneling the dog, local transportation, entertainment, etc., as well as lodging and food. There are many on the Helpline who travel much more cheaply, but I must say that we do not travel expensively. Your budget is generous for 4-5 weeks for the 3 of you assuming it does not include airfare. Even if it does include airfare at something close to $1500 per person round trip, it's good. When we spent a month in France in 2012, our son wanted to bring his wife to join us in Paris for the week we were going to spend there. I offered to pay for a 2 bedroom, 2 bath apartment so they could save on those daily average per person costs. But the sticker shock of paying even $100 per person per day (they wouldn't have as many "back home" costs as we do) was more than they could imagine. You need to be very direct and realistic with your relatives about the potential costs for them or you may find youself overspending your budget bailing them out because they don't have enough money in their checking accounts to pull enough Euros out at the ATM for their daily needs.

Posted by Nancy
Corvallis OR
969 posts

The idea of traveling together with family is an enticing one - shared experiences are good things. But, it doesn't necessarily follow that all 8 have to do the whole trip (4-5 weeks). Maybe those with a smaller budget could join you for just a part of the trip (say, 2 weeks).

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
4877 posts

Nancy has a great solution. Doing it that way you have some family time without it impacting your entire trip.

Posted by Dina
Fontainebleau, France
893 posts

Well, my family is already 5, and when we traveled with my parents that made 7 of us. So, from my perspective, traveling with a group of 8 isn't really unwieldly or problematic. It helped that my parents gave only a little input and basically said, "You plan it and we'll go along" and if there was something different they wanted to do, they did it on their own. We were also able to take advantage of the "economies of scale" at times and did some private tours, take private shuttles, etc. that wouldn't have been possible if we'd been a smaller group. But - and the big but - is that we all wanted to do this. We invited my parents to travel with us. And we also kept our trips down to two weeks or less. I gotta admit that after a month of traveling together, we may not have had such positive things to say. That said, I think you have had a few good suggestions as far as having the family join you for only part of the trip, or signing up for a tour or taking a cruise. Honestly, after we got back from a Med cruise with my parents, I recommended my sister take a cruise with them and my parents some time. It was a great way to get to spend time together and yet have the freedom to do our own things. Some ports we did things together, but most times we did our own. And in the evening we came together for dinner and shared our experiences. No one had to cook or clean, and there were kid-friendly activities on the days at sea that gave the kids a break from "seeing old rocks" (which I say jokingly - my kids really do like history and historic sites, but they have their limits.) Good luck!

Posted by Andre L.
Tilburg, Netherlands
2176 posts

My suggestions are these, Wendy: - make the plans (itineraries) for your immediate family (you + husband + son), considering your own desires and budget possibilities - then, extend these plans to allow other family members to join. If they are unwilling to spend as much as you, they can join you for just 3 out of the 5 weeks, for instance, covering just part of the cities you will be visiting. From my past experience, it becomes a bit of a let down do manage travelers with too much different budgets, because those with higher budget feel they are denied the chance for - say - enter, instead of only look from outside a given monument, or eat out on a fancier restaurant instead of a mundane one; and those on a tighter budget might feel uncomfortable having to say no and dragging the group on cheaper alternatives). - make sure, from the beginning, that you all agree not to have to go everywhere together. Your fellow family is free to join you, or to do their own thing, meeting at nights. I actually think this is the best idea: assuming people can head out for different activities during the day if they want to. This way, you preempt discussions of "oh, no, please don't take me to another museum" or "I can't believe I'll waste one day in xxx without visiting yyyy". - renting 2 cars are probably cheaper than renting one big van. However, it might become stressful to coordinate driving if just one driver is responsible for direction and the other will just "follow up". Each driver must be able to independently manage his/her own driving. Else, the "lead driver" comes to blame for everything from traffic jams to wrong turns on rural routes to speed tickets. - do not sign up everyone for a tour. It is a more expensive proposition, and it will deprive the good moments of family trips by having a bunch of "repeated stranger faces" all around you.

Posted by Adam
Boston
2633 posts

In the middle of your trip, rent a house someplace nice for a week and invite everyone to join you. This will be quite memorable enough for all, and other family members can plan their own itineraries around such an anchor. I can tell you from experience that the logistics of even this simple plan will be taxing enough that you will be glad you did not attempt anything more ambitious!

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

Another source for renting apartments is Air BnB. Just check the "whole house" option. The website is very user-friendly and the option of paying through the website with a credit card, instead of directly to thrower ( like VRBO) adds a layer of protection. If your plans include Paris ( a great place to experience with a group) you will also find a good selection of apartments on VacationInParis.com.

Posted by Rosalyn
Berkeley
1009 posts

Based on the experiences we had, three different times, with groups of 12 to 18, I have the following advice. Rent at least two, even three cars, to give the flexibility for a variety of daily options. Each evening we would discuss the next day's plans, then sort out transportation. Everyone got to do what they wanted, and no one felt forced into anything. Some days some of the people opted just to hang out. We found it worked very well to have each couple take responsibility for cooking one dinner. Everyone started the week by contributing 100 euros/pp. The cooks did the shopping, picking up any other items that were running low, like milk or coffee, as well, and reimbursing themselves from the kitty. If there are great disparities, e.g., in alcohol consumption, a separate kitty can created to take care of that. (We did that the 3rd time, as I guess some people were objecting to paying for the gin-and-tonics of others. I don't know, since it wasn't discussed, but simply announced at the outset.) My advice is not to open that door, unless you know difficulties will arise; e.g., some are teetotalers and some, wine afficionados. The communal dinners cut down a lot on costs, and they were great fun. Very convivial. We did one special dinner out, with everyone in attendance. We were all very co-operative about cleaning up and didn't need a schedule; however, you know your relatives. If cleanup could be a source of friction, it would be well to draw up a rota, at the start, to avert the problem.
A large group endeavor can be great fun.

Posted by Wendy
Sebastopol, CA, USA
5 posts

Lola--Thank you so much for the VacationInParis.com suggestion. Assume they book fast, but maybe we can find something since trip is next May 2014? So far what I have seen is awesome!

Posted by Lola
Seattle, WA
5444 posts

Wendy, I am sure you can find something you like with VacationInParis. I don't think they book up a year in advance. Mi like to recommend them,,especially to first-time visitors to Paris, as it is an American company, so no language issues, and their policies are very easy to deal with. And they take credit cards, so you do not have to wire money into someone's bank account or pay a large amount of cash on arrivalthings you often have to do with VRBO rentals. Also, some of their apartments are multiples in the same building, which might be good for a group. For example, the Garden Studio and Eiffel Hideaway are in the same building, a block off Rue Cler.

Posted by Bruce
Whitefish, Montana
611 posts

We did a trip with eight and it worked out very well with many fond memories. Two cars were rented and passengers rotated seats within and between. Establishing in advance how decisions are made when all will participate is prudent. Enjoy.

Posted by Marcella
Hendersonville, TN
91 posts

Hi Wendy, We are planning a similar trip next year. Three weeks in France with 3 generations. The first 2 weeks will be 7 and then 2 more will join us for the last week. We are renting large houses for the first 2 weeks and then 2 apartments in Paris the last week. We'll have lots of room to spread out with separate areas where we can get away from each other if needed! I think your trip can be done if you set expectations now. Maybe have a meeting with everyone to make all the big decisions or agree that you are the planner and everyone goes along with your decisions. Once you set the expectations you will know if people are in or out. Good luck and enjoy your trip.