Traveling with kids can be hard. Traveling with extended family can be even harder, but throw a friend in with her kids and you may just want to skip the whole thing. Don’t. With a few key talks before your trip, and constant communication during, you can survive the journey and really enjoy a trip while traveling with friends and their kids.
The key to traveling with friends, or outside of your core family group (parents plus kids) is to have one person in charge of the planning. This is not to say that other people won’t have a say, but you must have one person keeping track of everything that has been booked and to keep the ball rolling so nothing gets forgotten. Pick that person first, and then start talking about money.
Money is a hard discussion, but it is the first one you need to have when traveling with friends. How will you split costs? Who will be the main person in charge of paying and then figuring out how much they are owed? Will you always have separate bills (hard to do in foreign countries) or will you settle up at the end?
When it comes to your kids you know them best and how you parent them, but when you have a friend along they might have a different style, especially if you have kids of different ages. Talk ahead of time about how you want to deal with tantrums, talking back, rude behavior, etc.
Reiterate that you are the parent and will handle anything that comes up when you are together, but talk about what you expect if you take a night off to walk around town while your friend watches the kids. What can he or she do in terms of discipline? Do they have permission to take a toy away if they are hurting the other kids or themselves? Can your friend put your kids in time out, etc.? It’s a tough talk, but one you need to have early on when traveling with friends so there is no confusion or hurt feelings at the end of your trip.
It may seem silly to have to talk about food, but food can cause more arguments and hard feelings than you would expect, especially if you are obsessed with the culinary arts. When eating in, my general rule of thumb is you pay for the stuff that you know your family would like and your kids need (specific cereal, yogurts, etc.) but you split the cost of staples and communal foods like fruit, snacks, milk, coffee and juice.
When eating out, put one person in charge of scouting out the restaurant for the group. If everyone has a say and opinion you will never find a spot. Decide as a group what you want (let’s say you want pizza), and have one person check out the restaurant in a 1-2 block radius and report back on which one they think is the best. If it is a dud it is not their fault. At the end of the day you just need to eat. Put the foodie in charge of deciding so they are happy and can only be mad at themselves if it wasn’t as great as you all had hoped.
Skip the hotel when traveling with friends and their kids, unless you want to be truly separated. Book a rental apartment or house whenever possible so you can share communal spaces, but have your own room to hide in when you just need a break. This way you can switch off babysitting when needed, or run to the market while the kids nap. Oh, and book a place with more than one bathroom whenever possible!
Sharing kid-free time
Sometimes you just need a break. You need a break from your friends and your kids. Trade off alone time with when traveling with a friend so everyone gets the rest they need. If you see your friend getting frustrated or fussy, kick her out of the house. Tell her you will watch the kids while she takes a walk, grab a glass of wine at the bar or just goes for a swim in the hotel pool.
Case of the Wednesdays
Whenever I travel I get a case of the Wednesdays. I just can’t stand to be near anyone on that day. This is usually halfway through a trip and I’ve hit my limit of smiling, taking care of my kids and being nice to friends and family. I know this about myself, so I warn people traveling with me so they do not get offended. It’s nothing personal, and I give them full permission to tell me I’m being obnoxious and to go take a walk or watch some TV by myself in my room. This is what traveling with friends is all about– being honest and open about what you need so your friendship stays in tack.
If you and your friend are both avid travelers, and even if you aren’t, you are bound to have different travel styles. You like to take it slow and stop in every church, while she is happy to march onto the major sights and not dally around the side streets. Or maybe you want to head to the beach to chill out, but she still has a two-page list of attractions she needs to complete by the end of the week.
When traveling with friends, always talk about your expectations ahead of time. Meet up to go over your lists of “must-sees” before you even leave. Have a column of realistic “musts” and a column of “would love to” sights and activities. This way if you can see more than the “musts” you won’t be fumbling for what to do, but everyone also knows that you just might not get to that second column. You are traveling with kids after all. Something will always delay your best-laid plans.