Many years ago we went on a vacation with another family. Our kids were friends and we knew each other from the pre-school. I’m not sure when the plan was hatched to vacation together. It occurred over a dinner party or maybe during a park playdate. Our kids got along wonderfully! The guys seemed to get along too! It seemed like a great idea at the time.
Ten years later? We’re still not talking to each other.
Let’s just say we had a lot less in common than we thought.
It all could have been avoided, if only we’d considered a few things…
We’ve been wary about co-vacationing ever since. But we’re social creatures. I have such fond memories of childhood summers at our lake house, with friends and family there to join us. I know co family travel can be quite magical. So we’ve jumped back on the horse, back into the RV and taken our show on the road with a friendly entourage on multiple occasions since then with much better results than that first trip. Here are some of the questions we ask ourselves, before we travel with others.
We all have a certain pace we adopt when on vacation. Some people really like to dig into a local culture and spend full days at the museum or exploring tide pools. Others prefer to take a “drive by approach” and snap a picture before moving on to the next site. Talk to your co-vacationers to make sure you have similar expectations and plan accordingly. This may involve some amount of compromise, which is okay, as long as it is evenly distributed.
What are your vacation goals?
Your vacation style may be “drive by” overall, but there’s that ONE THING you have to see, and it will take all afternoon. Or maybe the most important thing about your vacation is that you have ample time to lay around poolside, reading a novel. All of us have some expectation/goal about our time off. Stating that goal before you leave home, and making a plan to achieve it can avoid a lot of unnecessary resentment later.
On our first co-family trip to the Grand Canyon, we brought along our then 21 month old. We let our friends plan most of the itinerary, not realizing how sporty it would be. We didn’t bring a backpack for our son, and the long hikes they’d scheduled were out of the question for our family. As a result, we ended up feeling like a drag, turning back with our son or taking turns waiting behind while the rest of our party did awesome stuff. If your trip will involve athletic activities, make sure that there is a plan that everyone is physically comfortable with.
What do you call “roughing it”?
Speaking of physically comfortable… One man’s tent is another man’s prison cell. When seeking accommodations, it’s best to discuss everyone’s minimum and maximum requirements for overnight stays. This is pretty personal stuff and best to get it out there before someone asks you to check into a hotel with thread counts so low, your skin crawls. There is also the matter of price. Some people are more willing than others to spend a little more on vacation and will insist on mimosas. Some prefer to pop into a local supermarket to pick up supplies for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Call a pre-planning meeting with your fellow travelers to discuss travel style and lodging and dining plans.
Space is an intensely personal thing. Does the notion of a shared bathroom make you shudder? Are you cool with crashing on a couch? How about your spouse/partner and kids? Some people need little more than a curtain to define their area, while others need an entire suite to themselves of they feel crowded. The time to push past your comfort boundaries is probably not the first time you travel with others. At the very least, make sure you have a plan for your family and yourself if and when you need a little bit of “family” or “alone” time. It’s inevitable that you’ll want some separation.
Part of the trouble we had with the hikes on the first Grand Canyon trip was really more of an ages and stages problem. Though our older kids were well matched, and we adored the family we traveled with (still do!) we were the only ones with a toddler. Having a baby or toddler can really slow you down when traveling. It requires a lot of additional planning and twice as much flexibility. If you don’t have a wee one, you may be annoyed at having to take breaks, assist with extra equipment and skip the big roller coasters in favor of the kiddie rides. If you do have a toddler and your friends don’t, make sure your companions have no problem with planning around your limitations. Will they be resentful, for example, about your taking the bigger room so you can set up a porta crib in there? Also important to note here are differences in parenting styles. Are you stricter than your travel pals? Do you allow more junk food than them? How will you avoid conflict over these differences?
What’s the plan for paying when you dine out? Split the bill down the middle? Tally up who had what? It’s best to come up with a paying plan for the whole trip and stick to it.
You know how some families go out for Chinese food and split the dishes, while others have to have their own stuff on their own plate and only their own stuff? Co-family travel is sort of like that too. Some families want to keep it individual. They don’t want help with their bags. They don’t want help corralling and entertaining their kids. You may be here together. But separately together. Others families embrace a group/team mentality when traveling together. Take a moment to assess what you are comfortable with and possibly discuss this with the family you are traveling with as well. Will the kids have “sleep-overs” with each other during the trip? Will you babysit for each other so you can have a date night? Will you be assigning certain duties to certain adults (making dinner reservations for everyone, arranging for transportation, mapping out directions etc) for the course of the trip?
How much do you drink on vacation? How much do the adults in the other family drink on vacation? If there are more than two drinks per night difference between you and them, it’s time to seriously re-think the whole vacation plan. Sober people and drunk people just don’t have that much fun together. Drinkers don’t like to feel judged for responsibly having a few and non drinkers don’t want to have to split the expensive booze bill and worry about whether their friends will be hung over tomorrow. This could be more than a vacation drag, it could be a friendship killer.
Are you early birds or night owls?
You’ve just had dinner and you’re ready to start the evening activities – a game of cards or maybe you’ll go out to a movie… That’s when your travel mates announce they are hitting the hay and will see you at 5 am for quick jog and viewing of the sunrise. You were planning on sleeping in. Some people like the nightlife. Some people gotta boogie, at 5 am. It’s a good idea to pick travel companions that won’t be taking the day shift while you’re on night watch or vice-versa or you won’t get to enjoy each other’s company at all!
Since that ill fated trip many years ago we have had many great travels with friends and family. Last October we returned to the Grand Canyon and also hit Vegas with our visiting Israeli cousins. I can’t think of a single moment of regret, other than the trip went by too quickly.
Earlier this month, we had a wonderful time co-vacationing with friends, luxury style at the Grand Del Mar in San Diego, a resort that seemed almost tailor made to host family reunions and friend getaways.
Later this summer, we’ll be attending a large family get together in Austin. It’s going to require a lot of planning to make sure everyone is comfortable and has their expectations met, but I now know that delightful co family travel is not a myth.
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