Inside the mind of a GTO

Date Posted: 20/01/2015

Group organiser Mike Battman reveals what he’s learnt from more than a decade of organising trips.

It is great fun to go away with a group of friends, maybe your golfing or walking friends, it may be a hen or stag weekend away. In our case we are a group of 12 people (six-couples) all around 60-years old who enter a weekly pub quiz.

Every week, when we meet up for quiz night, each couple puts money into a ‘kitty’ that, when added to any winnings from the quiz, enables us to have nights out and weekends away.

We have been enjoying a ‘long weekend’ away at various locations around the UK for about the last ten years and ‘long-weekend’ usually means Friday to Monday, i.e. three nights.

We have tried hotels, pubs and guest houses, but in recent years, have found self-catering cottages to be the preferred option.

The word ‘cottage’ is a collective word as many of the properties are certainly not cottages but for the purposes of this article I will continue to use this term.

Booking and enjoying the cottage should be straightforward but there are some key issues that should be considered, including…

1.    Location

Travel time can be a key factor when travelling in the UK. We normally drive, but certain city breaks may be better accessed by train or coach.

We usually allow a maximum of three hours driving and occasionally we have arranged an en-route meet up for a pub lunch to break the journey up but also to ensure that we all arrive together and with the minimum fuss at our destination. A longer journey time will be feasible if the length of stay is to be longer.

Should we go to a town, the seaside or the country? This is a personal/group choice and will be chosen to suit the group’s requirements; we tend to go for smallish towns.

Our group insist on a pub or two within walking distance and if possible a similar amount of restaurants. Access to the property will usually be available from early afternoon.

2.    Finding and choosing your accommodation

Having chosen your location, unless you are lucky enough to know someone with a large cottage or have a recommendation, you will normally have to resort to the internet.

There are numerous websites that specialise in the rental of holiday cottages, from the high profile Cottages4you and English Country Cottages to smaller companies such as The Big Cottage Company. Most sites will include the growing selections of complexes with numerous chalet type properties around central facilities.

Additionally there are private rentals available and if you have a location in mind these can prove significantly cheaper as you are not paying ‘agency’ fees. Often these can be found on-line but also in local newspapers.

A search engine will quickly reveal these websites; try the likes of “Cottages for 16” or “Cottages for 14 North Wales”. All these sites enable you to refine your search by criteria such as number of guests; number of rooms; swimming pool; proximity to pub or shops; parking.

Most cottages can be booked by the week, for a three-day weekend (Friday to Sunday nights) or for a four-day mid-week break (Monday to Thursday nights).

Booking usually involves a deposit at the time of the booking with the balance to be paid about a month or two before the trip. This deposit is not usually refundable if the trip is cancelled, further charges may be incurred for late cancellations – read the small print! There may also be a damage/loss deposit which is returnable if none occurs.

If you are a group of stags or hens make sure that your property will accept such parties, many don’t!
Additional costs for credit card bookings are standard.

3.    Rooms

It may seem a minor issue but rooms can be a problem with arguments emanating from the size of the bedroom and the facilities therein.

If you are booking a property for a party of 12, I recommend that you book a property for at least 14 or very carefully check that the 12 people to be accommodated are in at least six separate rooms.

It is not uncommon for ‘sleeps 12’ to include rooms which sleep three or more and are meant as family rooms.

The number of double and twin rooms and number of rooms with en-suite facilities should also be studied and considered before booking.

It is normal for there to be significant differences in the bedrooms, it may be necessary for a draw to choose bedrooms to prevent arguments. However, remember, hopefully you are not spending much of your waking hours in the bedroom!

We prefer the self-catering approach to sorting out breakfast each morning however, there may be cafes or similar in the area that can provide this for you.

A good tip is to have your supermarket deliver your breakfast needs in the afternoon of the day of arrival, it saves shopping on arrival and frees up space in the cars.

4.    Local facilities

With a group trip it is usual to plan days out and some group meals. So the proximity to a larger town, historical sites, sporting venues, good walks or other attractions will help make the holiday a success. Don’t forget the British weather, wet weather alternative venues should be considered.

We have had a variety of trips out from a brewery tour, clay pigeon shooting, a fly fishing lesson to a meal on a steam train. A walk around the local town/city, National Trust (for Scotland) and English Heritage (Historic Scotland) attractions are worth investigating.

Guided tours, open top bus tours are great ways to explore new towns and cities. The possibilities are endless, some research of the area before the trip will normally throw up ideas that can be put to the group.

It is not imperative that everyone does the same; the walkers may leave the museum visitors or shoppers to do their own thing.

5.    Payment

The accommodation and possibly some trips can be paid for in advance but group meals are an unknown quantity and the amount can be considerable.

It therefore needs a ‘treasurer’ to take care of payment; this may mean transferring sufficient funds from the kitty into a personal account to enable payment to be simply made.

Cash is possible but it is a big risk carrying the amount of money needed for three meals for twelve people, especially when wine and other drinks are factored into the equation.

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