Road Rules

Group Travel

I recently concluded a month of extended travel with a group of close friends. We do this every four years, traveling somewhere to watch the world cup games together – if the cup is in a country we want to visit, we go there (hi, Brazil!). If it’s in a country to which we refuse to give our money (like, I dunno, Qatar) we go somewhere in the right time zone. This year it was the Andalusia district of Spain. What a great trip, what a great group, and what a great tournament it was!

Group shot in our favorite bar in Sevilla.

There were a baker’s dozen of us this year, including a few friends who hadn’t made the trip before. The new folks marveled at how well we all got along. Travel brings people together in a new environment and always includes moments of high stress, but I don’t remember any harsh words the entire month. I believe the reason we manage it is that we follow some basic guidelines, though until now they’ve never been really articulated.

So here’s my take on how we approach travel with a big group.

Group Travel Tips

  • Be flexible. Be generous. Be funny!
  • Be decisive. When asked what you want, always start with your personal preference (or if you don’t care, just say so). Believe people when they tell you what they want.
  • Make sure you do the things you really want to do. Go alone if nobody wants to join (somebody almost always wants to join). Invite others if you’d like company, but don’t feel obligated. Remember that people are on different schedules and have different priorities; don’t go home wishing you’d done something that you could have done.
  • Don’t disappear – let people know where you’re heading, even if you’re doing it on your own.
  • Pull your weight. Don’t worry about everyone doing the same amount of work, but try to make sure you’re net positive for the group.
  • Be ok letting others take the lead.
  • Listen. That quiet voice in the back is often pointing to the best parking spot (or an actual fucking live phoenix).[1]
  • Try not to interrupt too much. We are storytellers, let the tales unfold.
  • Be patient. There will be times of frustration and stress. Try not to add to the stress.
    • In times of heightened stress, prioritize reducing stress over trying to make everybody happy.
  • Avoid subjecting the group to your personal drama. Relationship problems don’t travel well.
  • Use a raffle to decide the order for picking rooms.
  • If there’s a lockbox, make sure there’s always a key in it. If not, the last set of keys leaves with the last person out of the house.
  • Plan for food: hungry people are cranky. When in doubt, stop and eat at the first tolerable place; trying to find a place for the schwarma somebody really really wants can result in an interminable drive down impassable streets.
  • Plan for telecommunication on the road. Remember that roaming plans can be expensive – either set up an affordable plan for your trip, or get a local SIM card when you arrive.[2]
    • SMS probably won’t work for everybody; best to choose an internet approach. We set up a Discord this year and it worked well.
  • Nominate a Keeper of the Spreadsheet: one person to manage the shared expenses.[3]
    • Don’t submit inconsequential bills. The Spreadsheet is work, don’t tax your Keeper needlessly.
    • The Keeper of the Spreadsheet won’t accept receipts without (a) the name of the payer and (b) the list of names sharing the expense. If you pay, you’re responsible for tracking who is sharing the check.
    • If you want a separate check, you’re responsible for your every interaction with the staff.
  • Driving:
    • The driver is responsible first and foremost for safety.
    • There is only one navigator. The navigator must be decisive and crisp: give directions, not options.
    • Navigating is harder than driving! Be 100% forgiving when the navigator makes mistakes. (But if you aren’t confident you’re a good navigator, don’t take the front passenger seat.)
    • When in doubt, keep circling the roundabout.
    • When things get confusing, avoid cross-talk.
    • If your group doesn’t fit in one car, make sure you have the entire drive planned from engine start to key out on your return, including where you’ll stop for meals.
  • With a large group, open ended itineraries are a bad idea. Get the planning done before you leave.

That’s it! Hope this helps somebody out there.


  1. There are flamingoes on the southern coast of Spain (we saw them in the Doñana National Park). Our guide suggested that the legend of the Phoenix is inspired by these birds, glimpsed in the distance and flashing the intense red under their wing in flight. I haven’t been able to confirm it but I choose to believe it anyway. Behold, the noble phoenix! A brightly colored flamingo in an ungainly sprawl, lying back in the water with its feet hooked up above its head.
  2. If you plan to get a SIM card, make sure you bring a tool to replace it when you get home!
  3. It’s a pain to try to split the bill at the restaurant/bar/etc. Generally we have one volunteer to pay for a group event; they keep the receipt, note the attendees, and then we have one large spreadsheet to track who paid and who owes what. There are apps that can help with this (eg. “Splitwise”), but we’re old-school amd we haven’t been using them.

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