Everyone has a tale of a big family trip gone wrong, but with a little know-how you can actually enjoy going on vacation with Grandma and your brother’s rowdy twins. Seventeen tips from travelers who have seen it all.
Rent a house. Or a cabin. Or a villa. For big groups, a house beats a hotel. The shared spaces promote bonding, and you don’t have to waste time coordinating when to meet up in the lobby or trying to track down everyone napping in their separate rooms or wandering around town.
Make sure everyone agrees to a system of room allocation. Is it first to arrive gets first dibs? Oldest to youngest? A rotating system from year to year?
Pick a place with lots of outside space for the kids to run around. A pool is a bonus; it gives people something to do if they want to skip an outing.
Choose one place with lots of half-day options nearby rather than a trip where you keep changing locations each day. It makes life easier for everyone.
Cook at home. It’s more fun, and far easier than getting everyone to agree on a restaurant. Put each family in charge of cooking on different nights.
If you’re going to do a group tour, make sure the focus is engaging for the whole family. You need to have a guide who can click with the kids and also answer the “boring” questions adults will want to know.
If there are adult siblings who all bring kids, arrange for each group of parents to have a night out alone, while the others watch the kids.
Talk groceries on Day 1. Who’s buying, how many meals you’re going to go out for. Being forced to pay for snacks that your family will never eat can be a source of tension.
Rent enough cars to allow for subgroups to do different activities.
There are jigsaw puzzle people and there are crossword puzzle people. Accept this. Do not try to force one to be the other. That being said, if you have a house full of jigsaw puzzle people, you should have at least one giant jigsaw puzzle on hand at all times.
Make sure all parents come to an agreement on proper amounts of screen time and the sharing of screens.
Make too many rules. This should be fun for everyone.
Rush things. Moving a group of people around is like herding cats—doubly so when there’s a wide age range. Build in extra time to navigate airports and any excursions.
Turn the trip into a forced march. Let people feel that excursions are optional, and the whole group will enjoy catching up at lunch or dinner.
Talk about tattoos, social media, or politics. Even if you think you share beliefs with your family.
Don’t try to do too much. Plan your day’s activities and then cut the amount of things to do in half, leaving lots of extra time for rests along the way and more leisurely meals.
What Grandma or Grandpa says, goes.
Top photo by Pierre-Olivier Bourgeois.
This appeared in the August/September 2015 issue.