I recently returned home from a weeklong trip in beautiful Tahoe with my family. And when I say “family,” I mean everyone: My parents, Scott’s parents, my two brothers, Scott’s sister, and one very brave significant other (my brother’s girlfriend). All in all, there were ten of us. In one giant mountain home. For a whole week. And while Scott and I were absolutely thrilled to make our dream vacation happen, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous about how it would all go down. What if the personalities of our parents didn’t mesh? Or if we couldn’t come to any decisions as a group? Would we all be sick of each other by the end of the week? (Talk about a vacation disaster.)
Luckily, none of my worst fears came true—and we all had a wonderful time. But there were a few things I learned along the way about traveling with family members that might come in handy for our next big adventure.
1. Work out the financial plan ahead of time. If your parents are anything like mine (and Scott’s), they will offer to pay for as much as they can on the trip—lodging, food, activities—but that doesn’t mean they should have to. Of course, when you’re young (read: unmarried, in school, or without a job), letting your parents help financially may be the only way you can join in the family fun. But as you get older, the lines begin to blur, and it’s up to you (and your spouse) to figure out what you can afford before the planning begins. Scott and I wanted to be the ones to treat our families this time around, so we requested to cover most of the cost of our 5-bedroom mountain home, which we rented for a reasonable price on AirBNB. It’s also a good idea to discuss pretty early in the game how the costs of meals and groceries will be divided up. At the very least, make sure to keep track of group expenses on your trip with a free service like Splitwise to save time and headache for everyone in your party.
2. Bring a deck of cards. Or, if you’re my brother, a whole suitcase of board games. (The former will probably suffice.) I know what you’re thinking: There will be no time for games once we’ve done all we want to do! Right? Well, unless you only have 48 hours to experience Rome, that’s probably not true. After a full morning and afternoon of hiking, swimming, exploring, and sunbathing, we were all ready to just chill by the time we arrived back at the house. Which usually meant taking showers, cooking dinner, and playing games between 5:00 and 10:00 PM. In fact, some of our most fun and memorable evenings were spent around the dining room table in our pajamas playing cards* and nursing a bottle of wine. Not only is it a surefire way to bring everyone together at the end of a long day, but it will also guarantee a good time. Plus, you never know when you might get stuck indoors during a storm. (In that case, don’t forget to pack a good book, too.)
*I also suggest bringing this game if you want to raise the stakes. My sister-in-law won 60 bucks in one night! (WARNING: Not recommended for sore losers.)
3. Take turns in the kitchen. No one likes to be stuck in the kitchen on vacation, and taking turns cooking means you won’t be. Rather than wait for volunteers to speak up right before mealtime, assign each person (or couple) on Day 1 a meal to prepare during the week–including the grocery shopping, cooking, and clean-up. This way, everyone’s aware of their tasks ahead of time and no one person feels responsible for providing every meal. Breakfasts and dinners will most likely be your biggest to-dos, as lunches can be eaten out or simply on your own.
4. Divide and conquer if you must. The sooner you realize that everyone is different—and therefore will have different priorities for the trip—the better. While some may want to take off for the trails at 6:30am every day, others might cherish their slow mornings and request to sleep in. A few adventurous souls might have their hearts set on zip-lining or snorkeling, while the rest prioritize touring the historic sites. And that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with splitting up into small groups, or even going at it alone for a day or two in order to make the most of your vacation time. The key is communication: Have everyone in your family jot down three things they personally want to do or see during their travels, and then get together to discuss who will be doing what and when.
5. But most of all, remember to relax. Traveling with just one other person can be tricky, but traveling with five or more people calls for the utmost patience. Families, especially, tend to come with a variety of opinions and personalities, but the last thing anyone wants to do on their summer vacation is butt heads with their travel companions. So do yourself (and everyone else) a favor, and make your best effort to just go with the flow. While you shouldn’t be afraid to be yourself or speak your mind, remember to always show kindness. Relax, let loose, be open. This sort of quality times with your loved ones is a rare and special thing indeed, so do your best to appreciate every second.
There you have it, folks: Our 5 simple tips to guarantee a successful family vacation—no matter where you’re off to. Happy traveling!