We’ve all seen those movies where a group of friends go on a life-changing, outlook-altering trip together. They sit in cafes eating incredible food, ride in convertibles down scenic highways and achieve deep spiritual insights in remote temples, and their friendship becomes a lifetime bond.
Unfortunately, trips with friends can sometimes come closer to ending a friendship than solidifying it. Especially when kids are involved, traveling with the wrong people can turn a dream trip into a nightmare.
Thus, I give you Rule #6. Choose your travel companions wisely.
Choosing good travel companions has almost nothing to do with the quality of the friends in question (you wouldn’t be friends with them if they weren’t great, right?) and everything to do with having compatible travel styles.
If your friends’ house is always spotlessly clean while yours is . . . not so spotless, or their parenting style is very different from yours, those are pretty good indicators that you might have different ideas about what the “ideal” trip looks like. Income inequalities are also obvious contra-indicators for good joint travel. If you usually spend more on a hotel then they do on a whole trip, you probably aren’t going to enjoy traveling together.
But other, less obvious indicators can also predict the success of a joint travel venture. Before you commit to a destination, find out what they imagine their trip to include. Some families prefer action-packed, never-a-dull-moment type trips and would be miserable “stuck” on vacation with a more laid-back, take-it-as-it-comes family. Do your best to make sure your families will agree about the type of vacation you are planning. Ask about their previous trips. Do they sound like ones your family would plan? Do their kids enjoy the same kind of activities yours do?
So, you’ve found the perfect family and you KNOW you are going to love every second of your time together? Wonderful. But let me offer a few pieces of advice that can help along even the smoothest of dual-family trips.
1) Top Threes. This is one we’ve discovered through lots and lots of co-travel and guest-hosting. Nobody else wants to do everything you want to do. Period. So have every person (or every family, if your group is large) make a list of their Top Three priorities for the trip. Then make that list your Must Dos. There are sure to be some things on others’ lists that you don’t have much interest in (like the time I dragged my poor sister-in-law through a tour of Louisa May Alcott’s house), but this is the most effective way we’ve found to make sure everyone’s priorities get honored. And you may just discover a new favorite along the way.
2) Plan some away time. Don’t plan on spending every minute of every day together. You can never predict how kids are going to react to each other in new surroundings. Plan a significant amount of solo-family time together at least every couple of days. Even if your kids are BFFs, a little down time goes a long way toward keeping everyone happy.
3) Get things in writing. Misunderstandings are inevitable when all the details are worked out verbally. If you can, plan the trip over emails CCed to all adults involved. At the very least get the basics (who is booking hotels, who is finding flights?) on paper so you are sure everyone is on the same page (screen?).
4) Decide about food beforehand. Cooking or restaurants? Fast Food or Fine Dining? Decide right up front how you are going to split up the food bills. Spell out details–every family has a different definition of “cheap.” Shared dinner schemes have been responsible for many a falling out. Cook together, by all means, but work out the budgets and menus beforehand. That way, nobody ends up spending more than the others are comfortable with.
But just a tip–cooking full meals, unless they are kept very, very simple, rarely ends up saving much money. By the time you do the shopping, buy all the condiments, spices, and other little items you forgot about, you have made a considerable investment of time and money and also tied yourself to your hotel. When you have already bought ingredients for dinner, you can’t decide to stay on the beach and watch the sunset over chicken kebabs. So sandwiches and cereal are a great idea, but think hard about whether you want to make spinach lasagna in Hawaii.
Remember, somebody has to do the dishes.