One question I see a lot and I happen to be at an expert with: Planning around a non-planner, and planning for a group. In this article I’m going to address the non-planner aspect including challenges, strategies, and best tips that I’ve been using for 20+ years!
The first thing to address is the trip basics:
• Agree on when you’re going/approximate duration
• Agree on the general pace/theme of trip
• Know the people and their general preferences
Before you try to plan a trip for any size group, you need to know the who/what/why aspects. Knowing some basic information is going to go a long way! For example I know thanks to 20+ years of travel with him what my husband generally enjoys and what he considers to be torture. I know what our family likes with regards to hotels and transportation, and what stresses us out.
The hard part about being the planner is that it all falls on you. “Why did you pick this? What made you decide this was a good idea?!” I’ve had my fair share of bad experiences. It happens! The important thing in my opinion is to not try and stress about the what if- because inevitably a few bummer situations do arise. So just assume sometime somewhere something won’t be perfect, make like Elsa and let it go, and carry on with the planning.
The most important part of planning a trip is to consider the individuals going, and to aim at a trip everyone can enjoy. In future articles I’ll address groups and my specific brand of planning madness (it’s gonna take a lot to explain – but I’m working on it!) but today I want to focus on how I bring in the opinions and preferences of my non-planning inclined family members.
So how exactly do I do it? How do I detail plan around two people who don’t enjoy a lot of planning and two of us who like to know every last detail? It goes like this:
Once I know the trip we will take and the general parameters I figure out the specifics that work. I determine flights, dates, hotels, and so on based on what I find to be our best options. Unless I find two options that I am torn between – I don’t solicit opinions on this stuff. My younger daughter Rebecca does work on and research all of this with me – by choice. She loves looking at all the options as much as I do, and I welcome her perspective.
When I get into specifics, what I do not do is to bring maybe, what if, or not very good options into the brief meetings with our non-planner members. For example: I didn’t mention Milan as a cruise ship excursion because it would be ½ of the day driving and I refuse. Or, I won’t mention a place that would be great except it’s closed or I already know it either won’t work or isn’t a good idea. I think of myself as the idea gate keeper- keeping out the excess that frustrates and annoys the non-planning party members.
I try to keep group planning sessions casual and short- for example saying “hey do you like Thunder Mountain or Space Mountain better?” when trying to decide on a fast pass. I don’t go into details about fast pass picking and what about and what if – I just ask the root question that I need to know and walk away.
As the itinerary firms up and I have reservations in place, plans, etc. I print out a daily itinerary and let it be known that it is available, and if anyone has a problem they need to speak up. Usually? They don’t really read it but Rebecca and I have it basically memorized by that point. That speaks to my skill as a trip planner in my opinion – they know I take pride in making trips that we all love! But it is there, and it is available so should there be an issue it can be addressed.
Then it’s time to take the trip! I act as the tour guide, and am able to change on the fly as needed (more on that in another article…) and keep things rolling. There are a lot of resources available from creating itineraries to blog posts (like this one, I hope!) to assist you in making the best of your vacations – use them! Here is a recap of my planning with “non-planner” rules:
Rule: I do not approach the non-planners with vague concepts or “what if’s” unless I am sure we want to go for the idea/situation/etc. Ask “would you like A or B hotel better” – don’t ask “Which hotel do you like” and list 10 options.
Rule: I do not attempt daily, or even weekly with questions and talking about the plans. I am very selective about the timing of approaches, as well as keeping it to what is strictly necessary.
Rule: LISTEN. Often times I can get nuggets of info “man I can’t wait to —-” or “I don’t want ___” by just listening to normal conversation. I try to be tuned in, and squirrel away info as I get it so when I am planning I don’t have to go back and ask as much.
Rule: If something really needs a group decision, I call a meeting.
Rule: I make our itineraries flexible and never feeling like a tour group with a set in stone schedule. (More on this in future article)
Suggestion: Join a Disney board or group. Sound your ideas off to them! A lot of the times they can help you realize your timing is off, logistics won’t work, or that yes, that is a wonderful idea. Those are your fellow planners, and they love hearing from you!
Suggestion: Send social media links. Every week I send Instagram posts directly to the other members of the family (the kids have private accounts where they look at fun stuff/Disney/interests, but don’t post) that pertain to our trip. Food, scenic shots, hotel room – this lets them have a peek and be a part, but doesn’t overwhelm with detail.
Suggestion: TV shows. From travel channel to food network- I try to play any shows that would double as research during dinner when we’ve got something to show. A lot of times I can get “oh that looks good” or “we need to do that” type feedback even from shows that are just so-so or that skim over a lot of detail.
Suggestion: Make it accessible. My travel binders are always available for anyone – and if someone decides to ask about an aspect of the trip I am happy to speak.
Above all? Remember that you’re the one who enjoys the planning, so do just that! Enjoy it! I have been working on a European trip for two years now and I’m still not done. I am totally happy to be the one who looks up dates, considers logistics, researches tours, and more. My partner in planning (Rebecca) and I take long walks and discuss the state of the vacation in detail that would have her sister or father running away in terror. For us? It’s fun, and we like considering the details as well as the options.
Our “non-planner” family members do appreciate the work we put into it, the hours and the research. And we appreciate and welcome their input whenever they have it! From articles to recommendations they get from friends – we always take in and consider everyone’s opinion and preferences. The goal is to have a fun vacation – for me that includes planning before and scrapbooking after and it’s all a part of what I love to do with my time!