In the past five years, my immediate family has morphed from a family of five to a family of 14, soon to be 15. My two brothers and I have each gotten married, and between us we now have six children. We’re all blessed to be very close, and one thing my parents have made a priority is family vacations to spend more quality time together.
The beginning stages of planning a trip always sounds so idyllic. We freely toss around locations and activities: Europe! Napa! Cancun! before quickly realizing that for the stage we’re in, with six children under three years old – any of those locations would basically be a death trip, with none of us likely speaking to the other by the end of it.
As we’ve vacationed together over the years with our expanding families, we’ve learned a thing or two about how to prepare for and plan a successful trip with a multi-generational family, with lots of young children. Here are some of my top tips for traveling with family.
- A close location. While it is possible to fly with young children, anyone who’s done it before knows it can be incredibly hit or miss as to whether or not it will go well. And when it doesn’t, well let’s just say the entire airport usually knows it. We’ve found it best to choose a location that’s within driving distance, and even that needs to be just two or three movies away. Selecting a spot within driving distance allows everyone to load up their cars with no luggage restrictions, and make stops on an as-needed basis. In addition, it can be helpful to choose a location that has at least one interesting stop along the way – that way the travel can be broken up and the kids can burn off a bit of energy – hopefully napping (One can hope?) in the car.
- Appropriate accommodations for a large group. Everyone seems to have different expectations about needs and features for where they like to stay on vacations – be sure to talk about these before you book a place to stay so that everyone is satisfied with it. We’ve found it works well to stay in a large house together, that way the kids can nap in bedrooms, closets and spare rooms, while the adults spend time in the main living areas. We usually select a location that has a view, preferably on a lake – that way we have easy access to activities while the kiddos sleep (They have such early bedtimes!) as well as ways to entertain the kids that are older and don’t nap as much.
- Edit your packing list. I remember the first time I packed my family of three up for a short vacation – my baby had twice as much gear as both my husband and I combined! And now on a family vacation, we’re combining that stuff with five other kids. Suffice it to say, there’s a lot of gear that comes along on a family trip. This is where planning really comes into play. Create one document for the itinerary and another document for a packing list. (We use Google Drive so we can all share and edit it.) With children, you can easily end up with a lot of duplicates – or forget entirely something necessary – so we make a long list of shared items and mark who will bring what. Things like baby gates, monitors, toys, sippy cups and travel high chairs – we try to streamline as much as we can, figuring what’s truly necessary, where children can share and what we can live without for a few days.
- Create zones. While sometimes the children are split up to accommodate sleeping arrangements, it’s helpful if every family has a home-base, aka, a bedroom, to keep all their extra things. In addition, we’ve found it helpful to create a space in the main living area for diapers (in all the necessary sizes), wipes and toys that are shared among the kiddos. That way, anyone can change a diaper and no one is running around looking for one when there’s a stank in the room.
- Schedule time apart to take breaks. Even the closest family can get on each other’s nerves when living together in the same house for a week – especially when there are lots of kiddos involved. Consider planning a “date time” for each couple to get away for a few hours to do their own activity. Things like kayaking during nap time, or having their own fire after the kids go down for bed. It can be so refreshing for each couple to squeeze in a few hours of alone time, especially when the kids already need to be back at the house for sleeping and less adults are needed. In addition, don’t be afraid to break the kids up by ages and stages, choosing activities that might appeal to certain adults, and allow the others to do something different, or stay home. Don’t feel like you have to do everything together. Plan activities for a range of times, and make some optional.
- Make your own food and split up the duties. Very quickly, anyone with a child learns that eating out is no longer the luxurious, enjoyable time it was pre-kids. And on top of it all, eating out with large groups can be difficult. It can be hard to find tables, coordinate the check and even just carry on a conversation. We like to find a house with a large, fully-stocked kitchen so we can make and eat meals at the home, with the least stress possible. Depending on how many families are there, assign each family one or two meals to plan, prepare, serve and clean up for the whole group, while the remaining adults monitor the kids. This helps it to not feel like the moms are doing all the cooking/cleaning, or for the majority of the work to fall on one or two couples. Since it’s planned in advance, it’s no question who will do it, and it lightens the load overall for each family.
While this post could go on and on with tips for vacationing as a multi-generational family, those are my top six. Overall, my biggest piece of advice would be to not assume this vacation will actually be relaxing. In fact, it will likely be more work than if you were just traveling with your own family. Remember to be flexible and be prepared for nothing to really go as planned. That’s the name of the game with kids anyway, right?
I can tell you, even with all the planning and work it is to go on vacation with my extended family, it’s always worth it. It’s so fun to see our children bond together as cousins, get to spend extra time with my brothers, sisters-in-law and parents, and take millions of photos that will most definitely be pulled out at our children’s high school graduation open houses.
Any tips you would add? I would love to hear how your family does it!