We recently returned from our yearly joint family summer trip. Three children. Five adults. Three Generations. I have to admit I was a bit nervous about our trip this year. Last year we stayed in the gorgeous Yosemite Valley for 4 days. Short and sweet. It was amazing. Everyone had a blast. We were ready to try another year of co-family travel. This year, however, our trip was slated for 10 days in 3 different places! Pre-trip jitters aside, it turned out amazing. With our positive experiences of co-family travel, I thought I would share some of our lessons learned to inspire you to travel happily with other families.
All of the tips below assume that you have already found a good match of co-family travelers. In looking for compatible families, focus on a few key traits. Do you feel similar in your approach to travel? Do you enjoy the same type of activities? Are your children of similar ages with similar interests? Will you look forward to putting the kids to bed and chilling out together at the end of a long day? If you can come up with a yes for most of these questions, then you might have found a great traveling family to hit the road with. Now it’s time to test it out following these tips below.
Discuss the ins and outs of the proposed trip, priorities for each family, interests, budgets and general thoughts on what each family’s needs are. Do you want to stay in one place or move around? Are you a drive by visitor or do you like to really dig in? What about your travel partner? Do your kids need to have a pool at the hotel? These are all really important questions to consider while planning the trip, as well as when choosing a family to travel with.
Make a Pinterest board together and sketch out a shared google map with pinned highlights if you will be moving around. This will make it easier to keep in mind interests for the whole group while planning.
For first timers planning a trip with another family, think of easy destinations that are somewhat defined – a national park, weekend cabin rental, camping or a resort. This allows the cohesiveness of traveling together, but allows for time apart as well.
Plan Time Apart
This is essential to keeping everyone happy and comfortable. Planning for time apart can come in the form of staying in separate hotel rooms, driving individual cars or doing your own thing during the day occasionally. Maybe you don’t need down time every day, but working it into your schedule for yourself or your family is helpful over a longer trip.
Don’t be scared to do things on your own. Just because you are traveling together does not mean you must be together the entire time. Don’t feel bad if others in the group don’t want to wait for your kid to nap or for you to exercise. At the end of the day, it is each person’s vacation and everyone should feel free to do some stuff that makes it fun, relaxing and happy for them.
Having time away breaks up natural tensions that build while traveling with others and provides a spark in conversation while sharing your individual adventures with one another.
Go with the Flow
For Type A personalities this is not always easy (ahem..). However, life as a parent and a traveler requires one to learn to go with the flow since nothing ever goes to plan with children or while traveling. This also holds true while traveling with another family. Someone will get sick or change their minds on what they want to do for the day. Don’t sweat it. Go with the flow. Look at obstacles as a push to do something new – either on your own or to take a day off for relaxing. Try it. It’s good for you!
Figure Out Finances
This is where things can get sticky for people. Decide in advance on budgets. We personally like to mix up accommodation based on different priorities – location, budget and some luxury thrown in when possible. Discuss your accommodation budget honestly and work together to find accommodation to suit everyone’s budget. With accommodation chosen in advance you have one less thing to worry about.
When eating out together try to get separate checks for each family so that you aren’t haggling over bills at each meal. Some families prefer to take turns paying for things and doing the math later. This works for short trips, however, over a long trip with multiple families it can be tricky to remember who ate what.
Dealing with finances can be especially tricky while staying under one roof and cooking meals together as a joint family. Create a group ‘kitty’ for things that will be shared by everyone in the group (snacks, meals, drinks) and do the grocery shopping from this kitty. Menu planning in advance also helps alleviate some of the worry about the costs of food for the group.
Trust me, your kids will not care who bought what, they just want what they want. Go into your trip with the mentality that everything you bring is to be shared with everyone. If there is something that you don’t want to share, keep it with your stuff or don’t bring it!
Discuss Schedules & Discipline
Traveling with kids is a different breed of travel, but it can be so rewarding. Many families think traveling with just their own children is exhausting and that there is no way they could do it with another family. However, traveling as a ‘village’ can provide more relaxation and down time than traveling with just your family. Having other children to play with is especially fun for the kids and having other adults at night to relax with can really make a trip wonderful. However, there are a few things to keep in mind: schedules, discipline and activity levels.
If the children are on different schedules (sleep, eating), try to find a balance that works for everyone. If your child will be expected to nap while others won’t, discuss this with your family (and child) in advance to set expectations and prevent meltdowns. Sticking to routines and schedules helps many children feel secure in new surroundings, but it’s also important to gauge everyone’s emotional levels each day and adjust as necessary.
There will always be differences in parenting styles that will come up during travels. Do your kids get a dessert every night? Do you relax the bedtime rules during vacations? Does discipline go out the window while on vacation? These are things to discuss with one another in advance to set expectations for your family.
As mentioned above, also try to go with the flow a bit. If the kids are staying up past their bedtime, but no one is melting down the following day, let them have some fun. Do what you need to do to stay sane as a parent and enjoy your vacation as much as your children are.
This is the key to having a good trip. There may be altercations. Hurt feelings. Irritations. The best way to deal with these things is to actually deal with them. Start the trip off with something as simple as saying, “If I am doing anything that bothers you during the trip, please don’t hesitate to tell me. I know we can work it out and have a great time.” This can really have a big impact on everyone’s attitude.
If you find you are getting irritated, step back and examine why. If it’s because you aren’t doing what you want, then that is in your hands to change. Try to remember this is also your vacation. Remember your priorities of a trip/vacation and do what makes it fun for you too.
My most memorable trips in recent years have been with my friend and her family. My only child gets to explore the world and experience travel with other kids his age which has been transformational for him. Traveling with friends has also kept me from getting too wild with my itinerary planning. Instead, I have learned to go with the flow, follow the kids lead and play in the river for a few hours instead of doing “one more hike”. I have to thank them for giving me this much needed reminder. The beauty of traveling with other families and friends is learning new ways to travel and creating shared memories that will last a lifetime. It’s worth it. Try it out yourself!
Do you have any tips for traveling with other families?