Family vacations are nothing new, but recently more and more people are choosing to take holidays with their extended families. In many ways it harks back to previous generations where vacations were primarily about catching up with far flung relations, but a lot has changed. Nowadays everything from grandparents to siblings and even in-laws vacation together, and all manner of family relationships have been enjoyed – and tested – by travelling together. It’s a wonderful opportunity, as long as you do it right.
The most important thing about maintaining any relationship is clear communication and managing expectations. That goes doubly when you are working with people who aren’t normally under the same roof and may have different perspectives on anything from eating habits to appropriate discipline for the kids. Even at the planning stage, make sure you clarify what everyone is thinking about the major aspects of the trip. What is the point of the vacation? To do things or to spend time together? If one part of the family intends to see and experience attractions, and others plan on making the most of family time together, there is bound to be disappointment for one or both parties. Consider how everyone views a vacation – whether they like to stay in one place and explore or move around and see new places. Try to find some middle ground before you book tickets, and you are more likely to enjoy the outcome.
The length of the trip and even the location needs to be thought through. How will Grandma cope with the heat? Or cousin Timmy with the snow? Is two weeks enough time to make the most of where you are going, or too long to be cooped up with the in-laws? Think through the major activities too. Families with small children are going to be slower on foot and less capable of covering long distances that way. Older family members may not be up to hiking or climbing, and those with teenagers will have a different kind of uphill battle if you intend to spend your time antiquing or visiting museums and galleries.
Some of the basic logistics of the trip will be significant for your experience. What do the people coming usually expect in terms of accommodation? I know my family doesn’t feel like it’s been a proper summer break if we haven’t slept under canvas, but my brother adamantly refuses to stay anywhere that doesn’t have cable TV as a minimum. Trying to vacation together would be a disaster for our two families! Also consider your space needs. While the kids may get on well with their cousins or grandparents, it doesn’t mean there won’t be friction. Will the various parts of the family have enough space to cope, and is there room for meals and times together as well as retreat space for those who need it? Meals themselves can be an issue too. If you are the eating out type, make sure your companions aren’t planning barbecues at the villa, or vice versa.
One of the up sides of travelling with extended family that it can reduce pressure to amuse the kids yourself. Our children love spending time with their cousins and, being similar ages, make easy playmates when we vacation together. Similarly, we can babysit for my brother-in-law and his wife, and they will reciprocate, meaning we can get away from the holiday home or hotel for a night and not worry, or incur extra costs. The important thing is to ensure you are all okay with those sorts of arrangements. Grandparents might not mind one night of taking care of the kids, but if you are expecting them to take over every night, you need to discuss it in advance.
It’s also a good idea to know a little about your different approaches to parenting. Grandparents are notoriously soft on the little ones, and it may become a source of tension if they think you are being too tough, or you feel they are undermining your discipline. Similarly, if you have firm boundaries on things like bedtimes, junk food, portable electronics or roaming alone, you may find others in your group don’t. Reconciling the different standards will be important if you don’t want half the children muttering mutinous thoughts mid-way through your trip!
Finally, think about the costs involved. When it’s family, money can be a touchy subject. Try to be sensitive to the situations of your co-travellers. If you can afford high-end activities and restaurants, what will those on a tighter budget do? Who will pick up the tab for the accommodation, and how will you decide splitting the bill for meals you share? Try to consider how the costs will be different for those with more children or a limited income.
Vacationing with extended family can be a wonderful experience that draws people together and creates precious memories. It can, however, create painful rifts if it isn’t handled carefully. Make sure you communicate openly and often with those you intend to share your vacation with, and try to enjoy yourself. After all, it’s meant to be a relaxing experience!