We all know by now that I am a fan of trips, holidays, vacations, whatever you want to call it…
If it involves getting on a plane, I’m there. My close friends and people I work with also know that I love organising parties and events. Sometimes I think I should just be an event planner because I love it so much!
Last June, two guys from work approached me about arranging a Mystery Tour for our work friends in October, to celebrate working in our jobs for two years. This was just off the back of my friend and I arranging a Mystery Night for 120 work people. The night was a huge success. We piled everyone into buses, no clue where they were going, brought them to a farm (how Irish of us!) and then revealed a barn kitted out with lights, music, food and drinks. It was such a fun night, and even more so because it was a surprise!
I agreed to help out so we sent a video into our group Whatsapp (there’s about 17 of us, with 12 going on the trip in the end), and told everyone to keep a weekend free in October because we were bringing them on a Mystery Tour. Now that I’ve set the scene, let me talk you through my top tips for organising a successful secret trip!
Sort out your dates
Do people need to take days off work? Will people want to or be able to take days off work? Should we do a weekend or go mid week for cheaper flights? Are we asking people far enough in advance to make sure they’re free?
So many questions! But trust me, all of these start swimming around your head the moment you start planning. You need to be realistic and realise that people need a decent amount of warning in order to book time off work, or even just to get money together. Don’t expect to arrange a secret trip for two weeks time and expect everyone to be able to go!
A really useful tool to use when trying to determine dates is Doodle. You can put in the suggested weekends, send the poll link to people, and then you have an easy way of keeping track of what dates suit the majority. Simple!
First and foremost, discuss with everyone what they’re willing to spend. One way to do this is to have a look at the options out there and then be able to determine a rough budget. We created a Google Sheet for just us three organisers (more on this in a bit) and we researched our options. We were then able to come back to the group and say for 250e we could get flights, accommodation, airport transfers, an activity and maybe a little left over for drinks.
When it comes to booking, give people a deadline. We all have the same pay day working in the same place, so we told the group to transfer the money to us on that date, when we knew everyone wouldn’t be stretched financially. Make sure everyone has the necessary bank details, added payees, all that stuff in advance of that deadline date so that it’s a smooth process on the day. There are apps you can use to easily transfer money if you don’t want to be messing around with bank details. I’ve heard that Venmo is a great one to use, if anyone has other suggestions, please let me know!
I would also recommend working in a 10-20% contingency into the budget. As we all know, flights go up, there could be unforeseen expenses. It’s better to work it into the budget, rather than having to go back to the group for more money. Have just one person in the group look after the money, that makes it easier to keep track of everything.
Resources: Google Sheets, Venmo (or other money transfer app)
So I mentioned Google Sheets earlier, this will be the organisers best friend! Using Google Sheets will mean that you all can keep track of the planning, budget, who’s going, passport details, the list goes on. It’s your best friend at every stage of planning.
Stage 1: Figuring out where you’re going is tricky. So start looking up cities, flights, accommodation, airport transfers, activities, cost of going out etc. Put that all into the sheet and total each city. This way you’re easily able to see what is the most cost effective option, which city has the activities most suited to your group and anything else you feel is important. You’re then able to go to the group with your estimated budget (obviously not telling them where you’re going!)
Stage 2: So you know where the group will be going, you now need to keep track of who is going. Google sheets to the rescue! Keep a list of people’s names, their passport details, and whether they have transferred their money here. It will just mean that if you’re never wondering if so-and-so paid and that you’re also not scrambling for passport details when booking
Stage 3: The booking process, I feel, is stressful enough when you’re doing it for yourself. But booking for loads of other people? My idea of a nightmare! Which is why I left the flights to one of the guys, couldn’t be dealing with that kind of pressure! Google Sheets is also useful here because you can keep track of what you have and haven’t paid for. Flights? Paid for. Accommodation? Paid for. Activity? Paid for. You can easily keep track of everything, know how much money is left over, basically just keep on top of the whole trip!
Resources: Google Sheets, Booking.com, Airbnb, Skyscanner, Kayak
This is a tricky one. Getting everyone to an airport on time, hopefully to the gate, and all without knowing where they’re going…? Challenging! To travel within Europe, you really only need to be at the airport 60-90 minutes before your flight. We had told everyone in the airport 2.5 hours before our flight, just so they wouldn’t know exactly when we were taking off. Another thing that helps is having everyone on the same flight. We weren’t able to do that so it meant that anyone in our group who wanted to figure out where we were going was able to do so by looking at different flights out to the same city in the same timeframe.
This will differ from airport to airport, but in Dublin, we were able to get everyone to the gate without them knowing for sure where we were going. We split into group of 4/5 with an organiser with each group who had all the boarding passes. We scanned each person through and then followed them through security. This will be different for different airports, so bear that in mind. You might need to accept that people will know once they get to the airport rather than when they get to the gate. But I’d recommend giving it a try!
I would also recommend setting up a Whatsapp group or something similar, with all the people who are able to go on the tour. This way you’ll be able to send out reminders to the group to transfer money, send passport details, tell them when to be at the airport etc. It’s also really useful when you’re on the trip too.
Resources: Airport authority websites, Whatsapp or other group messaging service
Inevitable questions from the group
Expect when you arrange this trip that you will get a million and one questions from the group! The biggest question is around what to pack. This is tricky because you want to make sure that everyone has all the necessary items, but you also don’t want to give away where you’re going.
Budapest, where we went on our trip, is famous for their baths. So we wanted everyone to bring swimwear. But it was also October and getting cold, so they also needed warm jackets. So you can see the dilemma of trying to describe what people should pack without giving away your location! The best thing is to include everything you know people will need, and then throw in a few items that they won’t need but aren’t totally random either. Here’s the message I sent the group for example with the random items in bold:
- Please pack comfortable shoes, a towel, a rain jacket or umbrella, swimwear and regular clothes . You don’t need to get especially dressed up for nights out, unless you want to of course
- Weather is warmer than here according to forecasts so bring sun cream. However the nights can get pretty cold so bring a warm jacket, jeans etc
People will also ask you about exchanging money, bringing adaptors etc. We told everyone that we would be able to get currency once we landed if it was needed, and to bring adaptors if they wanted, but they wouldn’t necessarily be needed.
A few final tips…
Make sure you factor in time for people to get their money exchanged once you’re in the airport. We had booked a taxi to collect us from the hotel and we were a bit delayed getting to them as we didn’t factor in the time for 12 people to exchange money.
I’d also recommend reserving places for dinner. If you’re travelling on a weekend with a large enough group, it’s tricky to find somewhere on the day that can take you all for dinner. Book your Friday and/or Saturday night dinners a few weeks in advance and that’s one less thing to worry about.
Generally, I don’t like to plan out my day when I’m on a trip too much, but when you’re with a group, having something to do the first day or night can be useful. We went on a pub crawl our first night and it really allowed us to get to know our way around Budapest a bit more. Other than that, we left things pretty open. More on our Budapest soon!
So there you have it, how to plan a secret trip. If anyone has any other tips, I’d love to hear them! If you’re planning a secret trip, let me know if you use any of these tips and if they work for you.
Happy travelling x