Vacationing with friends takes an already fun adventure to new heights. On a recent trip to California with my children, 10-year-old Olivia and 8-year-old Dante, we learned that joining forces with two other families broadened our vacation possibilities.
Suddenly we could spring for a dream house, kids and grown-ups alike had a built-in social group, and I shared "adulting" responsibilities with the rest of the tribe. Here are some lessons to consider when planning your next multi-family jaunt — and help ensure you stay friends long after the trip is over.
As with late nights, uneven schedules and lots of action, the meltdowns — for kids and parents alike — were inevitable. But having a healthy, laid-back attitude helped the group weather the minor tantrums. We learned to support each other in contentious situations, allowing parents to address their children in their own manner.
My kids learned a great deal from seeing common values reinforced and their peers held to the same standards. Being in close quarters meant that everyone made an effort at laid-back living. And we learned that nothing happens quickly when traveling in groups. We had longer waits for restaurant tables (try seating 10 people together during peak dining times) and getting out the door took twice as long. But we also left the watch at home and let the day unfold naturally.
No matter how much fun a big house can be, little ones need fresh air and physical activity to stay positive and energized. When bickering hit an all-time high one morning, my friend Tawnya and I knew it was time to take the crew to the beach. Once in the sanctity of the open ocean, warm sand and endless waves, everyone took a chill pill and busied themselves with the task at hand: soaking up the moment.
Hours later, we ventured home with tired, happy kids without a complaint or argument. We factored in one big excursion outside each day, allowing the kids freedom to explore and express themselves. Everyone was revitalized and refreshed — parents included!
Managing lots of personalities was a true test in mutual respect. There were occasional tears and blowups as strong personalities clashed, but it was also an opportunity for some great lessons. My kids and I had talks about compromising, learning how to say sorry (and mean it) and how forgiveness is essential.
After long days together, we also encouraged kids to take down time by respecting others' personal space, and doing quiet activities like reading or vegging out to a movie.
There were a few major attractions we wanted to hit as a collective — namely, Legoland — but the other days were a pleasant mix of "every family for itself." It was fun to give the kids a break from the group dynamics and have stories to share around the communal dinner table after a full day of adventure.
When we ventured into Legoland, our cellphones were our lifelines as we parted ways and satisfied our individual family's curiosities and passions. My kids made a beeline for the Star Wars mini-world while our friends chased their own adventures. We had loads to share around the dinner table when we reconvened.
One key to success was our ability to share responsibilities and take turns. I got in a few great solo runs early in the morning as the house was just waking up. It was amazing to have an hour to myself to reset, while I knew the kids were happy and occupied.
We also divvied up shared meals and grocery runs — we didn't count pennies or whip out the calculators, but each took turns hosting a meal, cooking and cleaning up, and it all seemed to even out. Traveling in a pack illustrated to my kids the possibilities that could be achieved en masse. They took note of one parent cleaning the kitchen while another vacuumed or a mom threw a load of towels in the dryer.
By the end of the trip, our kid crew had picked up some great habits: setting the table, loading and unloading the dishwasher and putting dry, folded towels back into the linen closet.
My daughter was over the moon at the endless cycle of playdates that merge into sleepovers. There was never a shortage of activities to do or people to have fun with. One morning, the kids burst into a spontaneous singalong session to hits from "Moana," had an impromptu break dancing lesson, and learned how to tap out the "Cups" song on a kitchen table much to the bemusement (and maybe a tiny bit of irritation) of the grown-ups.
Even an ordinary jaunt to the beach became an adventure as we donned unicorn horns and celebrated a birthday with a cupcake picnic. After one communal home-cooked dinner we managed a massive game of "Apples to Apples" with a dozen players that had kids and adults alike in stitches. We even broke the rules one afternoon and had ice cream right before dinner — just because.