How to survive traveling with friends and stay friends
We were two friends that had met well before children were an option – before marriage was even on the horizon, in fact. Over the years, our situations changed – Keryn now has a six year old and a four year old, and my daughter is just over two years old. During all this time, we always talked about our varying travel bucket lists and compared notes on places we’ve gone – but it wasn’t until just last year that we finally bit the bullet and decided give a try at traveling with friends. And not just together – but with our kids, and without husbands – 2 moms, 3 children – a road trip through Italy.
Traveling with children is a challenge on the best days: foreign languages, indecipherable bus schedules, incompatible restaurant times – the amount of planning, scheduling and management required can make even the most organized or travel happy person freak out. Add to that another family, and you can have a disaster. We knew that this could be a make-or-break (the friendship) adventure, and resolved to make it work. Here’s some of the things we learned:
Communication is KEY
Right from the start, we started talking about our ideas, thoughts, expectations, worries and solutions. Originally schemed as a multi-country road trip, Keryn and I realized that 1300 kilometers in 7 days was overly ambitious – especially since we’d want to actually stop and enjoy the places we were driving through. As we discussed our kid’s schedules and our own interests, we mutually agreed that endless days in a car were not ideal – and mutually created a trip that was interesting and survivable for both of us!
Flexibility is KEY
If you have more than one person on your trip, you’re going to have some kind of conflicting interests and schedules. If one of those additional people happens to be a child, you’re going to have to come to terms with the idea that a successful day means you made it out of the hotel. Being realistic about the limitations and opportunities kids bring to traveling is critical. It’s important to be conscious of everyone’s needs and flexible to accommodate. You may have planned a daylong walk between adorable seaside towns – only to realize that you wouldn’t get more than half a mile due to terrain, short legs, bad back and lack of strollers. Rather than complain about the lost opportunity, revise the plan for a daylong dalliance along those same towns beaches, sampling gelato along the way – sit on a step, and enjoy the world going by.
Don’t Skimp on Home Base
When I was a solo traveler, or going on jaunts with my husband, we’d search out the perfect balance of low cost with some style – knowing that we were spending most of our time outside the hotel, it didn’t really matter if our room had more than a bed and a private bathroom. That is COMPLETELY the opposite situation when traveling with kids and families. Keryn and I spent days working out the ideal living situations (namely: at least 2 bedrooms, a kitchen, and outdoor space.) In one case, we sacrificed the ideal town (cliffside village!) for an ideal apartment (2 bedrooms, kitchen, laundry and a huge terrace.) All that planning and visualization was time well spent when we had the right amount of room to deal with jet lag, hyper kids, messy clothes and peaceful evening wind downs.
Don’t Over Schedule
Every person adds 10 minutes to your schedule; every child adds 20 (or more!) Don’t try to pack in too many adventures in one day or even one trip – and be realistic about how long it will take you to get places. Be sure to factor in jet lag too! We found a great pace with a scheduled adventure every other day, meaning that we would either get on a train or into the car and go someplace; the interim days were “village days,” where we would tell each other our intended destination and keep touch via text, but were free to sleep in, wander through town, do some local shopping, or disappear entirely. Here’s another place where communication is critical: we’d discuss the game plan the night before, working out wake up, breakfast plans, grabbing a meal on the road vs a long leisurely lunch upon arriving, etc. We’d go to bed each night with a plan for the next morning, even if that plan was “whatever” – and that way, neither of us were stressed out about the other’s pace.
Accommodate Everyone’s Travel Interests (at least once).
One person wants to see all the museums; another wants to visit an out-of-the-way vineyard; the third is thrilled at watching poppies dance in the breeze? Be considerate of everyone and make sure that each person has at least one item off their checklist – and go along with enjoyment! Experiencing the world through someone else’s perspective is half the fun of traveling, and getting an up close and personal view of your friends interests could be eye opening. Be sure to include the kids interests when charting out the must dos as well.
Support Each Other
Maybe it was just because we were 2 single mom travelers, but we were both willing to take over the other’s kids for a bit to tackle larger problems together: rather than bring all 3 kids into the store, Keryn would watch everyone while I negotiated prices; then I watched the kids while Keryn was trying to find the apartment management office. We each had a solo night out as well: after bedtime, one mom could go for a moonlit walk or down to the enoteca, knowing that the other mom was fully capable should anyone wake up. By taking on all the kids when needed, we both won!
Talk About Food – and Talk about Money
I am passionate about great meals (check out my Where to Eat in Italy post and you will see why); late dinners are not an option with a passel of kids. Keryn and I quickly settled into a daily routine, wherein we would make breakfast at home before going down to the local cafe for some espresso and cappuccino and then hitting the market for fruits and other daytime snacks. We usually had a big lunch out, with courses and some wine for the moms; then dinner was a quick affair back home before bed; some cheese, olives, salumi and wine were present for the late night read before parental bedtime. When we were visiting a new town as a day trip, I’d be scouting lunch options on our walk, so as soon as we knew we’d be wanting food within a half hour I already had 2 or 3 options identified. Since we were basically ordering shared plates, we got into an easy rhythm of splitting lunch bill responsibilities – she’d buy one day, then I the next. Other options are to hold onto your receipts and split everything equitably at the end of the trip; table side split checks are a little more challenging, but if you’re traveling with cash, splits can be settled easily. Just be sure to discuss this all before your first meal together so that everyone knows what’s expected, and no one feels cheated at the end!
Grocery shopping takes the same balance of conversation and needs: shared food is much easier to manage than segregating a tiny refrigerator. We would always buy a little more than we thought we’d need individually, so that all the kids could share treats, fruits, etc. I’m sure I spent more on cheese than Keryn did, but I’m also sure my daughter ate all her fruit – we’d check in with each other regularly to be sure we were both comfortable with the current state of affairs.
Be sure to discuss how you plan on splitting lodging costs, if they are shared.
Parenting Styles and Personal Styles
This should go without saying, but make sure before your trip that your parenting styles and personal styles dovetail! If you try to maintain your child’s schedule and habits, it can be incredibly detrimental to travel with someone who is very laissez-faire about their kids schedule and intake. In addition, it’s important to recognize that each parent may be dealing with specific issues with each of their kids, and interfering in their conversations and discipline may not be welcome. If you find yourself wanting to intervene, take a deep breath and step back – and talk to the parents separately. Your perspective may be very welcome but you most likely don’t know the whole back story leading up to that discipline. (Naturally this doesn’t apply to physical discipline – any physical action against a child shouldn’t happen and should be immediately addressed.)
Take Some Time Off
We all need some time away. Whether it’s a solo walk, an afternoon by yourself, or a shopping jaunt, coordinate with your traveling partner to help make that time a reality, at least once. Babysitters are available all over the world if all the adults want the same night off – we had offers of babysitting or arrangements from each of our hotel and apartment management companies.
Be Kind when Traveling with Friends
It’s easy to get snippy somewhere around day 3 (and sometimes on day 1!) It’s important to remember that you’re all under a bunch of stress – maybe one kid isn’t sleeping as well as usual, or the other has suddenly and inexplicably decided not to eat noodles – in Italy; the traffic can make your hair stand on end and you’re all packed in the car like sardines…. Regardless of the reason, be aware that you and your adult companions are a little more stressed than usual – help them and they’ll help you.
Remember above all else, you’re here because it’s supposed to be fun! It may take a lot of planning and coordination to make sure that everyone is comfortable and has their expectations met, but with the right families, it certainly is possible!