Friendsgiving Travel: A Thanksgiving Alternative

On Thursday, another (American) Thanksgiving will upon us,  and people will be sitting down with their families for the big Turkey Day food and football fest. Every year, however, I seem to get more and more Friendsgiving invitations – the (often lower stress and more fun) alternative to the traditional family Thanksgiving celebration.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my family to pieces, but I haven’t spent Thanksgiving with them in at least 10 years. Traveling from Chicago to Northwestern Pennsylvania twice in the span of a month, when the weather could dump snow and ice on us at any time(,) just isn’t appealing. In my family, missing Christmas is NOT NEGOTIABLE, so I have been spending Thanksgiving with friends. A few times I’ve stayed in Chicago, but I’ve also found that (against all conventional advice) it can be a great time to travel.

Ten Tips for Planning a Memorable Friendsgiving Trip

In the U.S., we usually get a four-day weekend (Thursday-Sunday), so it’s easy to extend that time with minimal use of paid time off (PTO). We can actually take a 10-day trip using only 3 PTO days; what a bargain! I’ve taken advantage of this bonus time in a lot of different ways. I’ve played in Thanksgiving hockey tournaments in Minnesota and traveled to Tunisia, India, Mexico, and Vancouver, among others. This year I’m going to London.

Thanksgiving picnic at Dougga, Tunisia
My friend Jen at our 2012 Thanksgiving picnic at Dougga, Tunisia

I know Friendsgiving is oftentimes an necessary alternative for people who can’t go home over the holiday, but for those who want to get away, it’s a great way to build new traditions with your chosen family.

Over the past few years, my friend Lisa has organized trips to Vancouver and Baja, Mexico for our group of dispersed Midwest friends, hockey teammates, and travel buddies. She and I put our heads together and came up with the following tips for planning a memorable Friendsgiving trip.

1. Identify Your Crew

Maybe you already have a group of friends who don’t get to see each other enough. Maybe you’d love to introduce friends from your different parts of life. Just make sure you plan the group dynamics for minimal friction. Decide if you want to make it family-friendly or a getaway sans kids and pets. The goal here is to be inclusive, but we’re trying to avoid drama.

Friendsgiving regulars at Baja, Mexgiving 2015
Friendsgiving regulars at Baja, Mexgiving 2015

2. Choose the Destination

Pick a place that is both accessible and appealing, perhaps something within driving distance of a major hub serviced by lots of different airlines. Consider places where there is a lot of free or cheap entertainment and where you can rent a large house. Choose a neutral site location so that everyone gets away from home.

Consider international options to avoid some of the American holiday stress and ensure attractions and grocery stores are open. Travel to many destinations will also be off-peak, so prices might be more reasonable.

Eating the freshest fish tacos ever at the beach in Baja
Eating the freshest fish tacos ever at the beach in Baja

3. Plan for Delays

Plan some extra time into your transportation logistics. SOMEONE will miss a plane, lose a bag, or need to arrive a few hours later than everyone else. Minimize inconvenience to the group; the policy should be “no friend left behind.”

4. Manage Financial Expectations

Set cost expectations at the outset of planning, and be sensitive to budgets. Group size can help defray the costs of house and car rentals. Collect deposits to ensure commitment; get full payment in advance for any big expenditures like house rentals. Distribute any group incidental costs (e.g., groceries and gas) fairly without nickel and diming everyone.

5. Foster a Familial Atmosphere

Rent a big house where everyone can stay together but still have some space to get away for a bit of quiet when needed. For last year’s Baja Mexgiving, we had 14 people and used Airbnb to rent a 10-bedroom, 6-bath, beachfront house we dubbed “the compound.”

Our beachfront Airbnb rental for Baja Mexgiving
Our beachfront Airbnb rental (the red one) for Baja Mexgiving

Have at least one communal meal where everyone can cook their specialities. Do a traditional American Thanksgiving or experiment with local ingredients. Either way, bring everyone together for the prep, eating, and (most importantly) cleanup. Some Airbnb locations actually offer the option to hire someone to make a meal featuring local cuisines.

Our Friendsgiving meal: A mixture of Mexican and American favorites
Our Friendsgiving meal: A mixture of Mexican and American favorites

Encourage people to incorporate their family traditions. Is there a special dish they always make, or a post-dinner cocktail? Does everyone usually gather around to play board games after the feast? Is a Black Friday hike the norm? Bringing out what everyone loves about the holidays just might create new traditions in your own household. It also adds a bit of adventure and creativity to the mix, trying to find local substitutes for old favorites.

6. Don’t Overplan Activities

Allow people to pick and choose activities for themselves, and make sure there are active vs chill options. Consider a place that just naturally has stuff to do, such as a house on a beach (chilling, swimming) or in the mountains (hiking, skiing), or maybe in a fun city neighborhood where you can walk to local spots.

Some of our Friendsgiving group opted for a hike
Some of our Friendsgiving group opted for a hike

That being said, do your best to find at least one group outing that everyone would enjoy. The beauty of Friendsgiving is that you get to travel and explore somewhere new with your chosen family and make new memories that you can all share. In Baja, for example, the entire group chose to tour the Guadalupe Valley wine growing region, and later went out for an incredible dinner at Corazon de Tierra, considered one of the top restaurants in Latin America. 

7. Know You Can’t Please Everyone

Someone will get a bug up their butt at some point. People will have different interests, circadian rhythms, tolerance for groups, etc. Let people have their me time if they need it. Presumably everyone will be there because they want to be social, but if someone needs to hide from the crowd for a bit, let them. Just know that someone might have to play den mother occasionally to keep the peace and make sure everyone does and pays their fair share.

8. Have a Communication Strategy

Have a communication strategy, whether it’s pooling all resources and details in a Facebook event page, a shared Google doc, a group chat on WhatsApp. Make sure everyone knows where to find the “command center” if they have to refer back to what’s been planned or need to get in touch with someone in the group ASAP. Technology makes this so incredibly easy these days, so almost no matter where you roam, there shouldn’t be much excuse for people being left out of the loop.

9. Bring Madlibs

Trust us.

10. Plan for next year

While you have all your cats herded and everyone has the warm fuzzies, start brainstorming for next year’s Friendsgiving location. It’s never too early to start planning!

 

What are your favorite Friendsgiving memories?

 

Thanks to Lisa Labovitch, one of my favorite travel buddies, for helping me out with this! If I could figure out the code for adding a co-author to the post, I would! 😉

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