Consult This Pre-Travel Checklist Before Your Next Group Trip

A little extra planning can make your trip even more memorable.

Design: Kelly Millington/Thrillist
Design: Kelly Millington/Thrillist
Design: Kelly Millington/Thrillist

Every group of friends has that one Type-A person – maybe it’s you – who takes care of all the planning. Restaurant reservations, birthday parties, holiday gift swaps -they organize it all, but their obsession with spreadsheets really shines when you travel together.

Whether you’re already in a committed relationship with your to-do list or have never even looked at an itinerary, it’s time to get on board with travel planning – especially when you’re going on vacation with a group. Spending a little extra time deciding on the budget, timeline, accommodations, and even packing list can save you headaches down the road – and make your trip that much more fun. Before your next group trip, follow the tried-and-true planning method outlined below. Trust – you’re going to be glad you got the prep out of the way before you caught your flight, so you can just focus on having a good time.

No matter the destination, start with the essentials

Before you book anything – including flights – you need to talk about the budget. Have a frank conversation with the group to determine what everyone is willing to spend, in total, and then work backwards to decide what you’ll budget for transit and accommodations. You might opt to split a short-term rental for a cheaper nightly rate, or decide you’ll want more alone time in the evenings and choose neighboring hotel rooms.

This is also a good time to figure out who among you has travel perks, like airline status, airport lounge access, or hotel discounts. If your friend is a frequent flyer with points galore, it might make sense to travel on their airline of choice to take advantage of the free upgrades. Once you start booking flights and accommodations together, keep a running tab of all expenses and who paid for them, then use Zelle® to pay your travel buddies back. 

It’s also important to find out what kind of traveler each person is – especially if you’ve never traveled together before. The person who wants to keep afternoons free for relaxed wandering or naps might clash with the friend who feels compelled to cram in every single attraction in one weekend. Decide how much time you want to spend together versus solo so you can plan activities and meals accordingly.

Design: Kelly Millington/Thrillist
Design: Kelly Millington/Thrillist
Design: Kelly Millington/Thrillist

For outdoor adventures

Going camping or backpacking? Your packing list will be of the utmost importance. Since you might not be near a store, it’s crucial to pack everything you could possibly need, including extra layers and rain gear in case the weather changes unexpectedly. In addition to comfortable hiking shoes, you’ll also want to pack plenty of sunscreen, bug spray, and first aid supplies. Depending on your group, you might even want to divide up the food shopping – maybe each person brings one dinner for the group, so no one has to cook every single night.
Before you head off into the wilderness, you’ll also want to coordinate a safety plan with your companions. Check to make sure everyone has a designated contact person at home who knows where you’re headed. Send them a text before you lose service and let them know when to expect to hear from you again. Download maps of the area and any trail maps you’ll be using ahead of time so you don’t have to rely on spotty cellular connection, and consider bringing paper copies as a backup.

For city breaks

Your packing list looks a bit simpler if you’re exploring a new city with a group of friends. The only truly mandatory item on your packing list is a pair of comfortable shoes you can walk around all day in -this isn’t the time to try out a new pair of heels. You might also find it helpful to pack a capsule wardrobe full of items you can mix and match into different combinations, rather than individual outfits, to save room in your suitcase. A crossbody bag or small backpack is also especially convenient for trekking all over town to visit museums, parks, and bars.

For house rentals

For big groups, splitting a rental house sometimes makes the most sense – it’s usually a bit cheaper than a hotel, and gives you more common space to hang out as a group. A cool rental can even make the trip – like finding a sprawling ranch with a huge pool for a bachelorette party, or reserving a rustic chalet for a ski trip.
That said, renting a house with a group comes with a few other planning considerations. Figure out the room assignments before you get there -operating on a “first dibs” system only creates reality tv-style drama. You’ll also need to discuss who’s bringing what food for the house and divide up grocery duties (or pay the group’s designated shopper using Zelle®). Don’t forget to pack essentials that will make your stay more comfortable (like extra kitchen tools) and more fun (like portable speakers and decks of cards).

For international destinations

Traveling internationally with a group requires even more planning. First and foremost, have everyone double check their passport’s expiration date before you book your tickets – you don’t want any last-minute freakouts about paying for expedited passport renewal.

Then, a few weeks before you depart, make sure you have a plan for cellular service. Does your provider have an international phone plan you can activate when you arrive, or will you be buying a SIM card when you get to your destination? At least a few people in your group should have cell service for safety and ease of travel. Withdraw some cash in the local denomination, and check with your bank to see if they partner with any international banks -many allow you to use their partners’ ATMs without extra fees. Don’t forget to pick up the right travel converter for your destination, either!

Zelle® and the Zelle® marks are property of Early Warning Services, LLC


Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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