Is travelling in a group with another family a good idea, or is it a recipe for disaster? The truth lies somewhere between “both” and “neither.” Sure, another set of eyes and hands can make a bad day better, but the flip side is, there is another family, complete with quirks and drama that will now be a part of your vacation. Are you ready for that? Are they?
We’ve compiled a handy list to help you consider different aspects of travelling en masse, and with any luck, come back friends.
1) Dolla dolla bills y’all! Splitting costs between a group can be a huge perk to travelling together. The combined funds might mean you can rent a house with a pool. Maybe you will save enough to go on an adventure or for admission to somewhere fun. These are good things. The bad things happen when there are different expectations that aren’t communicated clearly. Something like “I’d rather skimp on accommodations in order to put our money towards great food” is a good start. But numbers are important. “Not too expensive” is relative. “We can spend $1200 for the week on a place to stay” is better. Being clear with budget constraints and priorities will save you from resentment if one family feels obligated to keep up and spend more than they are comfortable, or hobbled by the other group’s frugal ways.
2) Plan or no plan? Part of my job as a travel writer is making sure we maximize our time at a destination. Often I have PR reps to meet and a schedule that needs to be maintained. To make sure we do that, I do a lot of research and I plan ahead. I like it that way. It suits me. So even when we go on a trip that isn’t for work, I have a hard time letting go of that. A recent trip with friends was preceded by multitudinous emails from me with increasingly passive aggressive subject lines like “Some Day Trip Ideas” and “Follow Up: What do you think?” and “If you don’t have an opinion shall I just book for all of us?” Turns out we were traveling with people who are far more spontaneous than I, which leads to…
3) Activity level. Laze on the beach, a nap and afternoon cocktails or parasailing before scuba lessons and then a catamaran excursion? If your idea of a good time is wildly different from that of your prospective travel companions, you may be headed for a crash. Another consideration is the age and abilities of the people you are travelling with. My 3 year old would go zip lining in a heartbeat if he could, and watching others do it while he can’t would be torturous. Are you comfortable doing your own thing if the group can’t come to a consensus? The silver lining in that is you may find yourself drawn outside your comfort level on an adventure you would have missed if not for your friends.
4) Sustenance. There’s a reason we have a word for hunger induced anger. Hangry is a real and present danger to your travel welfare and to that of your companions. Do your best to ward it off and you will have a better time. Planning which restaurants you want to visit before the pre-dinner slump kicks in can help, as can agreements about what constitutes a meal. Popcorn and granola bars might be an ok lunch for adults who know a big meal is coming later, but lean proteins and slow burning carbs are a better bet for kids who haven’t established our glutton-y ways. There is also the consideration of dietary restrictions. For some, sharing a table or fridge shelf with meat is anathema; for some gluten and dairy free meals are a must. If you are camping, will you potluck every meal with friends? Cook together? If you are staying somewhere with shared kitchen space, who is in charge of cooking? Meal planning? I hate cooking on vacation and prefer to eat every meal in a restaurant. Does that mean everyone has to eat in restaurants? All this can make it harder, so put it all on the table (so to speak) when you are still in the planning stages. Maybe meals apart will be built-in separate family time.
5) What about the children? At odds with my mostly type-A personality is my admittedly somewhat laissez-faire approach to parenting. I prefer to let my kids work their squabbles out without intervening at every whine or raised voice. I like to let them play their own games on the playground and climb as high as they want. I try not to stress about how they are eating because I think it more or less balances out at the end of the day (well, end of the week anyway.) I have friends that are stricter (control freaks) and I have friends who are less strict (negligent) and for the most part, it’s all good. Travelling is a special case though, because it will quickly become obvious who gets to do what, and we all know what diligent arbiters of “fair” kids can be. If you can agree on things like reasonable bedtimes, and times where each family does their own thing you may save some screechy “But they get to…”
With a bit of planning and, honestly, some luck, travelling with friends or another family can be an amazing experience that draws you out of your usual travel routine/rut. You can do it. Don’t let the obstacles stop you!