When my kids were young, we rented a house at the beach several times for a week with my best friend from college and her family. Almost a decade later, we all look back on those vacations and recall the fun we had hanging out together. It was a special time, and going away together created a special bond between us all that's still there to this day.
While our memories of these trips are happy ones, the reality is that there were many moments of tension (and even arguments). In fact, after the first year, we were all surprised by our mutual agreement to try it again the following summer. Vacationing with other families can be stressful, particularly if you have different parenting styles or financial constraints. Being great friends doesn't always mean you're vacation-compatible. But if everyone is willing to communicate their needs and compromise, it can be a lot of fun.
Everyone parents differently. To vacation together, it’s important to discuss each family’s rules and style before you leave on vacation. On our first trip together, my friend and I discovered that we knew very little about each other’s parenting styles, even though we spoke on the phone daily. It took some adjustments and flexibility on all of our parts. Rules about bedtimes and sugary snacks had to be bent a little so that everyone could enjoy the vacation.
Be honest about what your family’s vacation goals are. Do you like to sightsee or predominately sit on the beach all day? Do you prefer to cook at home or go to restaurants for every meal? Don't assume that you have the same idea about what it means to be on vacation. Be upfront before you start planning to go away together. Again, it's all about compromise. And if you find that you don’t share a lot of common vacation interests, it might be wise to reconsider...
When you're sharing a living space, you gotta be considerate of others. Be quiet in the morning if others are sleeping. Don’t leave clothes in common areas or dishes in the sink. If you are making a meal or going on a coffee run, ask if anyone else wants something. These little things can make a huge difference to your collective vacation experience.
We realized quickly that first summer that traveling with families is not relaxing like a pre-kids vacation. Renting a beach house meant we still had the same chores as we did at home (only with different scenery and a lot more sand to sweep up). The following summer, we decided to bring a sitter to help with the kids and allow us to have a few grown-up nights out. If you can’t hire help, consider taking turns with each other’s’ kids so all the adults get some downtime.
Make sure everyone is on the same page about the vacation budget. Will you split meals and groceries evenly or allocate? Whatever you decide is fine as long as everyone knows what to expect in advance.
One of the keys to a successful vacation with other families is not doing everything together. Even best friends can get on each other’s nerves and need some time alone or in a smaller group. On our trips, my girlfriend and I would go to spin class in the morning while our husbands took the kids to breakfast. In the afternoon, we would be on duty and our husbands would have some downtime. One or two nights we would each go to lunch or dinner with just our family. By spending some time apart each day, we were able to enjoy our time together more.
Things can go wrong on vacation, and you need to pack a positive attitude. One year, it rained for five out of the seven days we were at the beach. There was not much to do. Everyone was getting cranky and stir-crazy cooped up in the house. Rather than continue to complain, we really had to dig deep to come up with activities. So we completed a 1,000-piece puzzle, went to the arcade and power-walked in a torrential downpour (after which we ate the most delicious pizza ever.) On paper, it was one of the worst vacations we have ever been on, and yet we all still talk about that trip. It turns out you don’t need sunshine to create incredible memories.
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