Whether it’s a family reunion, vacation with your folks (or in-laws) or a family road trip, family trips are infamous for being crazy and stressful. Now I can’t fix all the trials that come with traveling with relatives, but I do have a lot of experiences traveling with my family that can probably help make the process and planning go smoother.
This tips are an amalgamation of many family trips over the past few decades form international trips to road trips, weekend rendezvous to 2-weeks over the holidays, nuclear family to extenced. You name it I think I’ve done it.
Incorporate all parties in your planning
Since I am the resident family planner, I hold a lot of power to make the trip a success or failure (that’s a lot of pressure!). They way I get around it is to make sure to give everyone the ability to voice their opinions about our plans. After a destination is chosen, I make sure to listen to all ideas about possible activities, museums, and excursions. At a bare minimum, everyone gets to pick at least one activity during the trip. This way, everyone feels like they have a say in the vacation and it gives each member of the family something to look forward to.
Now, there are times when wishes cannot be adhered to either due to time constraints, cost, or external factors and, as the planner, I make sure to let that person know so ahead of time so they can pick another activity for the trip. The hardest thing for me is to not hijack the planning and just pick things that I love to do. But that’s just plain rude and quiet honestly exhausting if you are trying to corral a large group; don’t try it! You might be pleasantly surprised by an experience you would have never picked on your own.
Read more: Travel Tips: How to Plan a Balanced Trip
Get a house or apartment
The best money-saving tip for traveling with a large group is to skip the hotel rooms and get a house or apartment to fit everyone. Not only is it a lot cheaper this way, but it’s fun to all come back in the evening a play a game or talk about your day. I’m obviously a huge fan of AirBnb but there’s a ton of options our there to meet your family’s needs.
While my family of 5 was in Germany last Christmas we stayed in AirBnb apartments the entire 2 weeks; from a spacious three-bedroom penthouse in Aachen to a cozy studio-apartment in Berlin. They all worked out really well and we had enough room to get out of each other’s hair for a bit each day. The most important thing is to pay close attention to the number of bathrooms, no one wants to be 8th in line in the morning!
Read more: 2018 Italy Planning: November Edition
Plan time apart
You DO NOT have to spend every waking and sleeping moment together! It’s actually unhealthy if you do; you’ll get on each others nerves and start to get really stressed with your vacation. Make it a point to plan time apart so that different parties can do things they want to do without inconveniencing the others. This tip is especially useful if traveling with young kids (hello nap time!) or grandparents (hello nap time!). lol
The easiest way to coordinate this is to agree to meet up at a very specific place at a strict time. That way there is a set time apart and a plan to meet back up together. This is especially useful if you do not have a way to communicate with each other because of lack of phone service or wifi when out and about. This also alleviates the need to all agree on the activity for the day; however don’t overuse the “divide and conquer” plan because then it defeats the point of being on a trip together.
Read more: Travel Tips: Traveling as a Couple
Be conscious of varying abilities
In the past few years I have gone on trips with kids, a cripple on crutches (my dad), and my almost 80-year old grandmother. It can be a ton of fun to travel with a variety of ages, you just have to be conscious of the speed and fullness of the days. Maybe plan to stop at a cute cafe so grandma can rest before going on for the afternoon or visit a park where the kiddos can nap as you explore the gardens. However you decide to accommodate, it’s important to make sure all members can still enjoy different aspects of the trip.
That being said, if there is something you REALLY want to do that is just not accessible (i.e. desert hike, cross-country skiing, etc.), set up a day apart (see my previous tip) and make that your adventure day while the rest of the group does something at their own speed. This way you can come back and share stories about your day apart.
Read more: Travel Tips: Holiday Travel
Cook dinner together
It can get really expensive to eat out all the time while on vacation, exponentially so if you have a large group. My family likes to do rotation cooking while traveling: one night my husband and I will cook, another night it’ll be my parents, then my sister, etc. It goes around and around until everyone has had their turn in the kitchen.
This does not mean that we shun eating out while on vacation, anything but! But we focus our eating-out dollars on lunch and snacks while out for the day. Not only does this save money but it’s healthier for you and fun to sit around the table as an extended family eating a home cooked meal far from home.
Designate a decision-maker
Nothing is more useless than trying to decide on where to eat with 8 people voicing their opinions all at the same time. In times like these, decide who is going to be the default decision maker (the default can change each day if you want to keep it fair). This prevents you from wasting useless time deciding on stupid things and stops one obnoxious voice from drowning out the others.
Typically I am the decision-maker since I was the one planning, but my husband is way better at picking food places out so I defer to him for those decisions. And let’s be honest, if my parents are opening up their pocketbooks to pay for lunch, they have ultimate veto power.
Read more: Travel Tips: Surviving your Summer Road Trip
Family trips are a good way to kill two birds with one stone: you get to see a new place AND spend time with loved ones; and it’s our preferred way to spend the holidays. With these tips you hopefully will have the courage to take your family on the road (or in the air) this upcoming year.