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As Benjamin Frankin said, “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.”
That quote also seems to ring true when it comes to traveling with family. There seems to be an arc in time: The first 24 hours are blissful, catching up on everything and talking about how much fun we’ll have together. Then there’s the slight but noticeable descent into familiar territory. Everyone has a different idea of how the day should go. When we should eat, what we should do, who forget their wallet or their rain jacket or their sunglasses, who rides with whom in what car…is this just my family?
For this reason, I’ve compiled a list of thoughts on what seems to work when it comes to traveling with family. We’re all comfortable with one another, but we all have our own way of getting out to see the world. Sometimes those plans don’t mix perfectly; sometimes they do. Regardless, here are some tips that help me remember to be patient, smile, and laugh as much as possible with these people I love.
Think About How and Where You’d All Like to Travel
The key here is to start by thinking about everyone’s comfort level. Would your folks be OK sitting on a bus for seven hours from Panama City to the beach? If yes, that’s part of the adventure that you can share. But if not, be realistic and don’t force it. Remember that your travel style won’t always match everyone else’s and the best thing you can do is to support the comfort of the whole group.
For example, my parents love to go on cruises, specifically, Alaskan cruises. Although this isn’t typically the way that I travel, the fact that they are such fans has convinced me to try to join them next time. A cruise might be the perfect way to travel as a family. Food, accommodations, sightseeing tours and everything else you could think of is covered. All you need to do is show up.
Have a plan that everyone (loosely) agrees on
When you’re traveling on your own or with a partner, it’s easy to go with the flow and take one day at a time, remaining flexible and open to new ideas. What I’ve learned about traveling with my parents is that they like a plan. This doesn’t mean that we can’t deviate from our daily agenda. It just means that they are more comfortable if we’ve all agreed on some basics before the trip starts. Plus, it’s kind of fun to put together a customized trip that everyone will enjoy — it keeps the day-to-day decisions down to a minimum (which I’ve found is key for relaxing and enjoying our company).
Figure out what activities everyone enjoys
When you’re traveling with your parents, not every second of your time will be spent together. You’ll want solo time, nap time, reading-in-the-hammock time, etc. At the start of the trip, it’s helpful to go through your daily itinerary and figure out what activities you all want to do. Then you can map out time together. Typically, we’ll eat our meals together (eating is certainly a common bond in my Italian-American family) and then figure out a few other places to check out during the day. This might mean a walk through the park, visiting a museum, or taking a side trip somewhere nearby. When we have the basic structure of what our day together will look like, it makes the schedule much easier. It means we aren’t waiting around for someone to show up or decide what they want to do — we’ve already got a unified plan.
Dedicate time for solo re-charging
This goes without saying but must be said anyway. One of the best lessons I’ve learned when traveling with family is to set expectations around solo time. Spending a little time on your own doesn’t mean you’re upset or tired of your company. It means that you’re re-charging and allowing yourself to be your best when you’re around them. Be careful not to just disappear, though. That can send the wrong message. I’ve found it to be helpful to actually say the words out loud, “I’m going for a quick walk.” If you offer to grab something from the store or the market, that’s even better. Solo time can also be dedicated to doing those activities your family isn’t really into. If there’s a concert one night that you’re interested in attending while everyone else is winding down, don’t be afraid to strike out on your own. You might find a cool new spot that you can share with the whole crew the next day.
Try something that’s new for everyone
Although remaining in a comfort zone is often the key to happiness when it comes to family time, travel is an opportunity to push those boundaries as a common experience. So find time to do something weird and different. The great thing is, if your parents are already traveling with you, there’s a good chance they will be game to try a new type of food, activity, or experience. That’s part of the fun of travel. Plus, this is what great stories are made of. That time your dad tried that chapulines (crickets) in Oaxaca? That’s now a piece of family lore.
Maximize travel rewards by booking for everyone
Hey, you know they will pay you back. So why not offer to book everyone’s flights and hotel rooms on your rewards card of choice? You might even end up like one of our contributors, who has traveled to 48 countries by maximizing rewards from her Chase cards. Even if your ambition isn’t to check that many countries off your bucket list, you might at least earn enough miles to take a nice solo vacation after the family time. Believe me, that will feel like a total treat.
Do you have any suggestions for traveling with family members? What has and hasn’t worked for you? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below! Maybe there’s some insight that others could find helpful.