When my kids were young, several times we rented a house at the beach for a week with my best friend from college and her family. Now, almost a decade later, we all look back on those vacations and recall the fun we had hanging out together. While our memories of these trips are happy ones, there were also many moments of tension and even arguments. The reality is that 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 — especially when kids are involved. But if everyone is willing to communicate their needs and compromise, it can be a lot of fun.
Here’s how to make the most of your double (or triple, or quadruple?!) family vacation.
1. Communicate parenting styles
Everyone parents differently. To vacation together successfully, it’s important to discuss each family’s rules and style before you leave. 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 to find common ground and compromise; rules about bedtimes and sugary snacks had to be bent a little so that everyone could enjoy the vacation.
2. Outline vacation goals
Be honest about what your family’s vacation goals are. Do you prefer to sightsee or mostly sit on the beach? Do you enjoy cooking at home or usually go out for every meal? Don’t assume that you have the same idea about what it means to be on vacation. Be up-front and honest 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 with this particular friend and their family, it might be wise to reconsider.
3. Be considerate
When you’re sharing a living space, you have to 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 in your collective vacation experience.
4. Think about hiring help
That first summer, we realized quickly that traveling with families is not relaxing like our pre-kids vacations were. Renting a beach house also meant we still had the same chores as we did at home, only with different scenery and a lot more sand to sweep up. So, the following summer, we decided to bring along 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 that all the adults get some downtime.
5. Discuss finances in advance
Make sure everyone is on the same page about the vacation budget. Will you split meals and groceries evenly, or will you allocate? Whatever you decide is fine as long as everyone knows what to expect in advance.
6. Split up into different groups
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 days, we would go to lunch or dinner with just our own families. By spending some time apart each day, we were able to enjoy our time together more.
7. Stay positive
Things can go wrong on vacation, and you need to pack a positive attitude. One year, it rained for five of the seven days we were at the beach. Let’s just say there was not much to do; everyone was getting cranky and stir-crazy cooped up in the house. Rather than continuing to complain, we really had to dig deep to come up with activities. 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 fondly. It turns out you don’t need sunshine to create memories.
A version of this article was originally published in June 2017.