Traveling with other families has afforded my family luxuries we wouldn’t have been able to enjoy on our own. Even after a long day of skiing, we’ve watched a group of tired but contended kids engage in arts and crafts while the grownups enjoyed fireside chats drinking wine without whining. Traveling alongside other kids also means we’ve reaped the best of peer pressure (never would our kids have willingly gone to ski school for a whole day or eaten a plateful of veggies). Even the grownups have benefited from group synergy (mundane things like cooking become fun in a group setting). Not to mention that traveling with other families lessens the load, quite literally (sharing communal items means there’s less to pack and there’s seldom a shortage of babysitters).
We’ve traveled with the same few families for the past three years and they have been some of the best times we’ve had. But it requires some careful maneuvering. Traveling en masse with other people can complicate decision-making and amplify simple problems. I now know that when it comes to juice boxes or arts and crafts, equality trumps diversity. And little things like having your own space can go a long way to getting good sleep and getting some much-needed privacy. Some forethought and planning is all that’s needed to help you sidestep land mines and walk way instead with lifelong magical memories.
- Choose a compatible family to travel with. It’s not enough to like your friends. Your children must get along.A good question to ask yourself when choosing a family to travel with is, after an exhausting week of work, which family can you stomach hanging out with the following day, for the whole day? See, it’s not just about hanging with your best college bud, but how they interact with their kids and how your kids interact with their kids. The family you choose to travel with can break or make your stay. Learning to get along with different people in life is a great lesson to learn, but not one you want to teach while dealing with possible flight delays and long days of walking and coming back to a home that is not your own. And if parenting styles differ greatly, disagreements between kids can easily become disagreements between parents. Before you buy the car, test drive it. If you’re considering shacking up with another family for a week in Portugal, spend a whole day with them first.
- Agree on a budget. Make it clear in the beginning what you’re comfortable spending. If the budgets don’t align, you will end up cramping each other’s style and moods no matter how good the chemistry may be. Also clarify what costs you will be splitting up so there is no question about double or over paying.
- Find accommodations that afford privacy. If you’re renting a house, try to ensure each family has their own room. Having your own retreat can sidestep unnecessary roommate problems. After a long day of walking and sight seeing and dealing with kids, you’ll want your own space to retreat to, no matter how much you may love the friends and family you’re traveling with.
- Be clear on parenting rules. If your child is allowed a treat after dinner but the other family’s kids have a no-dessert rule, it could make things awkward. The same goes for bed time routines, ipad rules and even parenting styles. On one of my very first group family travels, a friend of mine told me, “It’s totally fine for you to correct my child by the way. let me know if you don’t want me to correct your child.” Clearing the air this way made it a lot less awkward to approach child conflicts.
- Divvy up what you’re going to bring. Traveling with kids makes any travel look like your going away cross-continental for a month. There’s no need to bring 3 blow dryers, or 3 bottles of Tylenol. Make a list and divvy up who’s bringing what. It’s one of the great benefits of traveling en masse.
- Let things go. This isn’t a marriage agreement. It’s not even a rental agreement. All you need to do is survive are the few days and weeks. So let the small annoyances go. Expect to pay a little more than you’re share. Chances are they’ll pick up the tab in areas you aren’t aware of. Expect moments of crankiness. Fatigue comes on all of us unexpectedly especially during travel. If the other family seems to not be contributing their share, just count your blessings you aren’t married to them and move on. If you’re going to get hung up on small details and losses, probably best not to travel with another family. And worst case scenario, it may be a telling moment for you to realize one family may not be a compatible travel companion after all.
- Don’t travel and tell. Every family has quirks. Trust me, yours does too. It’s bad form to talk about the family you’ve just spent a week with in intimate quarters. Respect the time you spent with the other family and don’t travel and tell unless you have something nice to say.