My family of five loves to travel, so we escape Chicago as often as humanly possible. In fact, my youngest had his first trip out of the country when he was just 4 months old! Right now we are sitting by the ocean in Mexico on our fourth trip in 3 months, so, yeah, you could say we are seasoned veterans of the traveling circus!
We began our journey vacationing with our extended family (oh, how I love a good pun!) after having our 3rd son and officially being outnumbered by our children. My dad had actually just retired and we thought a trip would be a great way for him to spend some quality time with his grandsons and – quite honestly – help us entertain the newest wildling. Now, 5 years later, family vacations are a regular part of our lives, and we often travel with grandparents from both sides!
So, how do we all get along? Why do we keep enduring airports (and a really persistent motion sickness gene) to get away? How do we come home not needing a month-long vacation from each other? If you’re the cruise director for your family, listen up! With these tips, paradise is closer than you think.
GET ON THE SAME PAGE
Be proactive about sharing travel details in advance.
Write the trip details in 1 mass email to everyone, so that there won’t be any misunderstandings about the plans. I email the extended family 2 months before the trip, then again when we’re 1 month out, and finally the week before blast-off. I make sure I am super clear about what the core itinerary is, while at the same time asking the grandparents if there is anything they’d like to add. It’s so much easier to accommodate everyone with early, consistent communication! This way, there are no frazzled last-minute plans or disappointments.
SET FINANCIAL EXPECTATIONS
Money talk makes most people squirm, so before your big happy clan hits the road together, be sure to agree on who is paying for what. Traveling is expensive, and even the best laid plans can result in some unanticipated expenses, so the clearer you are about financial obligations, the less stress your group will have when the bill comes.
KEEP IT LOOSE
Remember why you're all on vacation together? Oh, yeah – to sloooow down and be together. If you’re traveling with children, they don’t want to be cooped up on a tour bus traveling for hours to see ancient ruins. Nope! Keep the vacation activities centered around meals and local activities. If anyone wants to venture a little further to do some sightseeing, they can do that on their own.
HAVE YOUR CHILD’S BACK
Keep the focus – first and foremost – on your child's needs. He will be overstimulated by this fun, new environment, and it’s your job to make sure he doesn’t go off the deep end. Do your best to maintain the same feeding and sleeping schedule from home when you’re away. And, yes, this means standing up to grandma when she suggests a late dinner at 8pm. Here's a big GIT Tip: If your child is crying before 9am, he is exhausted! If this happens take a day to calm down your plans to help him re-set.
HAVE A BUFFER
Leave extra time for troop movements!
Whenever the group is going somewhere, plan for it to take an extra 15 minutes to get out the door. People move slowly in vacation mode, so give yourself this buffer and avoid creating stress for everyone. Plus, this way you’ll never run late to a reservation and get caught with a whiny, hangry child (or adult).
HAVE GROWN-UP TIME-OUTS
Make sure to set aside daily breaks for the grandparents because they're not used to the extreme pace of daily child rearing. You don't want to wear them out after only three days – plus not everyone wants to be together all of the time. Family vacation is not a sprint – slow and steady wins this race.
If you can't say anything nice don't say anything at all.
Let's be real, not every moment is going to be easy. Every family has its own special dynamic, so spending countless days together may be frustrating at times. But stay calm, hold your tongue and breathe. Just be nice – if they go low, you go high.
EXPECT IT TO BE WORK
While you are definitely creating awesome lifetime memories together, don’t assume the vacation will actually be relaxing. In fact, it’s usually more work than if you were just traveling with your own family because there are more personalities and needs to manage. But you’ve got this – just be flexible and go with the flow.
As I sit next to my dad on the beach watching the sunset and talking about our many trips together, we agree that family vacations are not all rainbows and unicorns. However, we have figured out the best formula for our family so that we want to keep traveling together again and again. Drop me a note about your next extended family adventure; I'm always looking for new destinations!