On April 22, 2016, 50 mainly African-American, mostly millennial international travelers headed to Vermont for a weekend getaway of relaxation, connection and bougie fun via carpools, trains, shuttle buses, tiny planes and more. This 4 day event was hosted by Tamara Hawkins of Stork and Cradle, Noonie Greene of Socially Single, Omar McKenzie of Omega Imagery and myself, Sheena LaShay. Everyone attending were members of an online travel community known as Nomadness Travel Tribe, as well as many other network groups such as Bucket List Beast and Up in the Air Travel.
I previously shared an overview of WHY such a seemingly obscure place would be the hot spot for four incredible days of home cooked meals, fire place talks and one epic, glamorous photo shoot. Today I’m sharing HOW it all happened.
There is an art to project management, event management and travel management. In the past, I’ve shared how I used a candle making workshop to also manage group dynamics. I’ve also given some insight into my philosophy of work back when I shared my tips on planning creative retreats. You can find a lot of my thoughts on business, management, planning and more by exploring the “Round Table” tab on my blog, as I’ve been a production stage manager and project manager since 2001. After every event, conference, retreat, workshop and cocktail party I attend or plan, I learn better operational tips and more for increasing the efficiency, productivity and pleasure for my own events and productions. It also helps that I am a Strategic Special Project Manager for a Luxury Travel company.
So Vermont. How did we go from an idea to an incredible weekend in a seemingly smooth and easy way? Well, it wasn’t easy but this is some of my favorites parts of the process.
Let’s talk LOGISTICS AND PLANNING!
When planning anything you have to start thinking, how do I ensure that everyone is on the same page? You have to think about how do I foster a guest list of “good energy”…that’s fairly open to the public? Public being the 12,000 members of our shared travel group. How do I keep everything organized…considering its a 4 day/3 night trip with people flying in from all over to attend? How do I know at a moments noticewhat’s going on, who’s assigned where, and who the house nurse is?
Create a Hosting & Planning Committee
Building your team, even if its a group of volunteers from your friends who will help you plan the event is key! In 2013, I shared some thoughts on leadership and explained the philosophy of how we created the board of a blogger network, I helped co-lead. Many of those pointers are still true today.
Please know, its simply better if you don’t do it own your own. I recommend that you find hosts, admins or co-planners to help you with your trip. The idea for hosting group houses began with a friend of mine who wanted to do a Weekend in the Hamptons last year. When she first stated the idea, our group of close girlfriends, including myself volunteered to be her helpers. We set a standard of expectations regarding who was responsible for what. She would be the person disseminating information. I would be over negotiating the house rate and collecting money. Someone else would track the guest list.
Think about how you want attendees to interact with the hosting/planning committee. Should attendees always copy the whole committee when emailing questions. If someone private messages me thoughts and questions, am I to just handle it and/or let the rest of the committee know. Would we all always have access to the same information. For the group house trips I plan, I decided I wanted anyone on the committee to know everything I knew. Therefore if I was busy one day, or something happened to one host, everyone else was always on the same page and had access to the google documents.
Choose a Date and Location for your Group House
We choose the Hamptons in August because it seemed really bougie and sophisticated. My friend Wayne chose Maryland in January because it was a friend’s home and the house was incredible. We choose Vermont because it looked gorgeous and why not! Typically, I’ve chosen with the committee a date that works and then I tell the group interested in attending when and where. Trying to first figure out a date and location that works for everyone in the group…won’t work. You’ll be stuck in this planning process for a long time. Therefore, as the lead or team, YOU pick the date and location, tell everyone else and if they can come, they can and if they can’t…well, they can’t. One of my favorite things so far is seeing those who have been able to attend all three of our house trips. There are 7 of us. I’m hoping…as we plan our July 2017 trip that at the least, all 7 of us can be there again!
Create an Informational Document
For your own sanity, create an informational document setting the standards for everything and everyone that serves as a FAQ page. Before allowing anyone to pay or sign up for the trip, send that link and INSIST that they read EVERY SINGLE LINE.
Your document should answer the following highlights.
- What is this trip
- Who is the trip for and who is the trip not for <– trust me.
- How will roommates and even bedmates be determined. <– We are a group of friends and acquaintances travelling together who want the most people to attend as possible, as we love hanging out together. We don’t do single supplements and such as its a GROUP HOUSE. So we make sure that everyone knows.
- What is the cost breakdown <– whether you’re sharing a king bed, have a twin bed, arriving a day later than everyone else, we split the cost of the house equally between everyone
- How are you handling food <– When we did the Hamptons house, we told everyone we were just securing the house and they were responsible for everything else including their food. Please listen to me. You can not tell 20+ people to all bring their own food when there is one refrigerator in a house. We had numerous coolers sitting in the kitchen with ice holding food as we ran out of space. We realized for these group houses we would either need to cook meals family style or as we’re planning now…hire a chef. Everyone could go out and eat too. However…for instance, we managed to serve 15 home cooked meals between 3 houses and it only cost each person $50 each, TOTAL. Well technically, each person enjoyed 8 meals that varied depending on their house but it only cost $50. Trust me, cooking together is more cost effective, saves space and fosters even more long lasting friendships and conversations.
- What are the protocols for drop outs and replacements <– Are there refunds? Are attendees responsible for finding replacements? Are the host responsible? Is it a collaborative effort? What if their replacement isn’t someone with the right vibe?
- How are activities being handled <– As the host, are you doing local events in the city you’re visiting? Will there be a game night? A talent show?
Use your informational document to help people determine if this trip is the right trip for them. Every travel event and trip is different. These that we hosts are group trips where we share a house together. Its not a personal vacation. There are no presidential suites. It’s not a typical meetup where everyone flies to a city to party at one main event and each person is responsible for their housing and everything else. Its sort of the opposite. Its a house we are sharing for a long weekend. Fuck any personal particularities individuals may have. With being in numerous travel groups where we love hanging with each other, most people want to attend. Therefore there are no single supplements. You can’t get your own room. If you want that, stay home. So that info doc is key and if people have questions, send them the link. (I created the document in google drive.) And if they don’t read, the trip is not for them.
Curating your Guest List
At some point, you’ve go to determine how you will fill spots for your group house. As mentioned, I’m in the Nomadness Travel Tribe, where members constantly create/plan/host meetups. For the Hamptons house, we posted our trip in the big group and anyone could join and pay. This left some risks but it made it a bit easy to fill all the spots for the house. For our Maryland house, we approached the people who were in the Hamptons house first as we wanted to collectively travel together again. Then we used word of mouth in the Nomadness group to fill the remainder of the spots. When members of Nomadness didn’t fill those spots, we invited friends from other networks.
The Vermont Farmhouse (house one) was filled by telling the Hampton’s and Maryland people first. But not to fill the spots. (People don’t like feeling excluded or like they didn’t have any notice.) People from the previous houses were added to the private Vermont group and I told everyone to add their friends from the tribe who fit the guest profile vibe. We did this versus posting it in the bigger group of 12,000 to keep things simple. We wanted to cast a smaller net. Once we had about 70 people to fill 25 spots we created a buy in and filled the house within minutes. After that, I removed the remaining 45 out of 70 people so that the private group could just focus on paid attendees. Anyone removed was added to the waitlist and that was it. Except, we decided to add a second house, The Cabin. First we added our friends back who were on the waitlist but because we needed everyone to pay to secure the house on the same day….no deposits but to actually pay in full to get the house which could go at any second…..we posted the news in the bigger tribe group. We filled the spots for the second house in minutes. And then up until the final day we kept a 60 person wait list that was selectively used when people dropped. I say selectively used because if someone dropped from the trip who was a driver, we wanted to find another driver. If someone dropped who was a designated cook, we wanted to find another cook. Also, we tried to keep vague gender ratio numbers because that matters to some folk.
I haven’t determined how Seattle, Portland, Lake Tahoe, San Francisco or St Martins will be determined. (Yeah, we’re planning trips to those places and more.) I just know there is an energy to cultivate and expectations that not everyone has. And by sharing a house, rooms and beds, there needs to be some curation for safety and more. Remember when filling these homes use your big networks or smaller groups within big networks or your friends!
MONEY MONEY MONEY
Here’s my simple tip for your sanity, COLLECT ALL THE MONEY UPFRONT. A lot of houses accept first and second payments. Some time later, you determine the cost of the food. Maybe you determine you want to pay extra for one of the house amenities. The Vermont house offered us the opportunity to pay $300 for a bonfire. A house we’re looking at for next year offers tennis lessons and such. Whatever attendees will have to pay, determine that ahead of time and insist they pay in full. Its not cute or worth the headache to track people down later to pay. Just, no.
The other thing to do is to inform people how to pay. While I haven’t used it, I hear that Travefy is a great way to deal with group payments. To date we’ve used paypal. One person collects the money and everyone paypals them using “Friends and Family.” What should be noted is that these group houses are not for profit events. They aren’t a part of a business. Its just friends hanging out and renting a house. So inform them not to select “Goods and Services” There should be no fees taken out. This trip isn’t hosted by a travel management company, a travel agent, a travel curator/consultant or whatever. Its friends going in, equally on a house.
Create Guest Profiles
A lot of travel management companies insist that their new clients create guest profiles which usually contains information such as their legal name, home address and passport information. While I don’t need that information for a gathering I’m planning with friends, I still need some stuff. Following the tragic Panama accident, I decided that any out of state event I hosted or overnight trip I hosted would require attendees to complete a guest profile. One of the challenges following the accident was that we did not know everyone’s real names. Most of the travel groups I’m a part of are via facebook closed or secret groups. A lot of people do not use their real names on facebook. We have found time and time again that at certain events when things happen, a call is put out to the group asking for information on the person in question. What’s their real name? What’s their cell phone number? Where are they from? Does anyone know anyone who knows the person?
Seeing questions like that scare me. Therefore, using google forms, I created my “guest profiles.” At any moment, should anything happen, my guests are accounted for, I know their information and even who to contact in case of emergency.
Your guest profile could be as simple or extensive as you want. I’m OCD. Considering we have group meals, its imperative that I also know everyone’s allergies or dietary restrictions. Considering we share rooms, I ask everyone’s sleeping habits. Are they a night owl? Do they wake up and mediate? Do they snore like a dragon? If we’re car pooling and such, I ask questions about their willingness to drive and how many spaces? I get all up in their business. I ask fun questions too like what needs to be on the house playlist and more. You can set up google forms to automatically populate an excel spreadsheet when attendees complete them and MAGIC!
Create a MASTER spreadsheet
You need one MASTER spreadsheet that is the go to document for you and your committee. It should have data from the guest profiles, it should have a tab for the final guest list and roommates, it should have a tab for the waitlist, a tab for the replacement list, a tab for your checklist and so on and so forth. Point. Blank. Period. Update it daily or as needed.
Create a Private Group for the Group House
I’ve mentioned it a few times, but as soon as we get the idea to do a group house, we create a private group on facebook as one central location for all attendees to get to know each other, ask questions, and plan collaboratively. By the time the trip happens, all the guest feel like they are meeting someone they already know. There have already been inside jokes, important conversations, shared ideas and more!
A Few Other Tips
- For fun, pick a theme or vibe you’re going for. This can serve to inspire your official invitations, your activities, your menus or even photo shoot
- Create a pinterest board for inspiration for the trip
- Hire a chef or rotate chefs internally. (Remember collect money up front)
- Hire a photographer and videographer. (We do well with having photographers at our events as many of us attending are already pro or hobbyists. But to give everyone a break here and there, consider hiring an official photographer for the whole trip or for portions of the trip)
That’s what I have for you today folks. There’s a lot more that goes into planning and logistics but that could turn into a novel, so I’m breaking it out further for you. Up next you can expect the following posts below. Is there also anything I’m not covering or questions you have that you’d like me to address? You can view all of our photos over on facebook. And you can read part one, here.
- Food and Menu Planning – we were renting a home. Which means, why eat out? Its more cost effective and tasty to cook the meals in the kitchen in said rental home. But how do you do that for 50 people and all those allergies and shit?
- Vendors. Supplies & Tech – What vendors, websites and apps did I use to make my life simplier? There are some great resources out there to keep you from going insane.
- Attendees & Group Dynamics– how do you keep track of everyone, keep them happy, informed and satisfied. How do you foster community long before the trip every occurs so people feel like their meeting a long time friend the day of?
- Agenda/Itinerary/Activities – how do you keep everyone entertained and ensure everyone’s having fun without spending more money on tours, events and such?
- On Site Logistics – Now you’re at the event, as a host, how do you not go fucking insane? Is it possible to relax and enjoy the trip to?
- Feedback and Review – After all of this was it worth and did the guests have a good time? What did they have to say? What was their feedback, critiques and review?