Travelling with friends can be tons of fun. The kids have playmates and the parents get a shopping or golfing buddy. When traveling with more than your immediate family there’s a lot to be taken into consideration to ensure the trip goes is stress free and enjoyable for everyone. It’s also important to ensure you’re still friends at the end of the trip! Here’s my suggestions for planning travel with friends.
Picking a family travel partner
Being best friends doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be best travel buddies. Travel buddies need to respond to stress in a similar way and be okay letting things roll off their backs. You never know when you might end up delayed in Toronto for 24hrs en route to Paris, finally getting to the hotel at 11pm just to find out there’s no restaurant, and then having the cleaning staff wake everyone up at 8am resulting in three tired, hungry, grouchy toddlers for your trans-atlantic flight. Travel is always unpredictable. If you’re not sure how the other family would handle a sticky situation, they may not be the right family to travel with.
Setting a trip budget is the first step to ensure everyone’s working within their comfort zone. The budget will determine where you can go, where you can stay, and the number of activities you’ll be able to enjoy on your trip. You also need to decide if everyone will stick to the same budget, or if it’s okay for one family to do more if they want to spend more. Always give yourself at least a 10% buffer to account for any unexpected situations that may arise.
The other crucial conversation to have before leaving is about how the expenses will be split during the trip. Is everything going to be split between families, by the number of people in the family, or some other way? Do you have the kind of relationship where you have a mutual understanding that “everything will come out in the wash”, or do you ensure every dollar is paid back each and every time. There’s no right or wrong way to do this, but very clear expectations need to be set before you even start planning to ensure no hard feelings.
Where are you going?
There’s a lot to consider when choosing a destination. A great place to start is time of year and everyone’s bucket list. Beyond that you need to consider the length and pace of the trip to determine the number of places you’ll visit. Budget is a large consideration, as well as the kids’ ages. Everyone’s comfort level and travel experience is also a factor. The easiest way is for each family to make a list of 5 or 10 destinations and use any duplicates as a shortlist. Then look at the logistics of each shortlisted destination; costs, available accommodations, age-specific activities and ease of travel to/from/within. Pick the destination everyone is the most comfortable with. If it’s a toss up, leave it up to the kids!
How are you getting there?
If everyone’s traveling together arrangements can be made right from home. There are lots of options to get to the airport. Have a car service pick everyone up to arrive at the airport together, have someone drive each family separately, drive yourself and park. We often drive ourselves, park and give a friend our spare key and have them pick up our vehicle within 24 hours. They then drop it off again the day we arrive home and text us the stall number. This way we don’t have to worry about having car seats, winter jackets, etc. The car is there when we arrive home and we only pay for two days of parking.
If everyone’s arriving separately you’ll need to come up with a meeting point along the way. This can be a landmark or gate in an airport, or the accommodation at the destination. Ensure everyone has the accommodation information just in case one family is delayed in transit.
There’s no place like home…even if it’s a temporary home.
There’s really no situation in which I wouldn’t choose a vacation rental. A house or apartment is perfect for multiple families. Each family can have their own room, or the parents can each have their own rooms and the kids can share a room. There’s a living room where the adults can visit after the kids go to bed, and a kitchen to get everyone fed as soon as they wake up in the morning. Everyone has the best opportunity for sleep, keeping everyone refreshed and eliminating little skirmishes because someone’s tired.
If a vacation rental isn’t available then a bed & breakfast, guesthouse, or family friendly hostel is the next best thing. There’s still a common area for evening visits, a kitchen available (typically), and it’s cozier than a hotel. This way everyone feels a bit more at home.
How will you get around?
Are you renting a van that fits everyone? Is each family renting a car? Are you going to only use public transport? Designate someone to be the transportation coordinator. It’s their job to know how to get from every point A to B. If you’re going to multiple cities, each city can have a different coordinator to share the load. This person’s responsible for learning how the public transit system works, where parking will be available if needed, if you’ll need money for toll roads, and whether you should buy a transit pass or pay per ride. If one person’s in charge everyone else can just follow along, look after the kids, and there’s no arguing over different ways to get somewhere.
What are you going to do when you’re there?
Choosing activities can be one of the most challenging things to do when you’re planning travel with friends. There’s a lot that needs to be taken into consideration; kids’ ages, family budgets, everyone’s interests and abilities. You need to decide if everyone’s going to do everything together or if it’s okay to plan some separate activities. Are you only going to do things that everyone wants to do? Are you going to let each person choose one activity that everyone does regardless of whether they want to or not? Any of these options work, just ensure you know what the plan is before you go. One more thing to think about is the ability to swap babysitting! Before you go set out plans for a night each week when one family takes all the kids and the other couple gets to go on a date. It’s then reciprocated another evening. You can also plan for any two parents to take the kids one afternoon while the other two go do something kid-free (shop, golf, go for coffee). This provides some friend time during the vacation too.
Where will you eat?
Meal planning is something you can decide to do for every meal, not do at all, or anything in between, just make sure there’s a consensus as to how everyone wants to approach meals. If anyone has a food allergy it needs to be the first thing taken into consideration. A few other things to consider:
- Does everyone like eating the same thing?
- Are you going to stick to local food or just find whatever the kids will eat?
- Will you eat every meal in a restaurant?
- Will you bring recipes and supplies for cooking in an apartment?
- If you’re going to cook in your apartment, who’s responsible for buying groceries?
- Are you packing food to bring with you? If so, who’s taking what?
- Do you need to make reservations at any restaurants before you go?
- Who gets to pick the restaurants?
- If you’re out and about and the kids need to eat, is everyone okay with stopping somewhere on the fly?
Make sure you pack snacks! Kids tend to get grouchy quickly when they’re hungry, and finding food can sometimes take a little time. Buy yourself some time with a happy kid by having snacks in the day pack. You don’t want to be forced into eating somewhere just because you have a whiny toddler who needs food NOW!
Who’s the master schemer…er, I mean planner?
For me, planning is the fun part. It helps build anticipation and gets everyone excited about the trip. If the kids are a bit older make sure you get them involved. The logistics can be left up to the parents, but the kids should help plan where you go and what you do. This help them personally invest in the trip so you don’t have kids complaining they’re stuck doing something they don’t want to do (especially with teenagers!). There’s a lot of different ways to plan travel with friends:
- One family can do all the planning and the other can just come along.
- One member from each family can plan together while getting input from everyone else.
- You can split up the days amongst the kids and have them each plan an activity for their day.
- Each family can be assigned a few days that they’re responsible for planning (everything from where they’ll eat, transportation coordinator for the day, what they’re going to do, purchase tickets ahead of time if needed, etc).
- Maybe you’re not going to plan anything and just show up and figure it out as you go. If this is the case, make sure someone is at least responsible for doing a bit of research about the destination before hand.
Each family combo, and each trip will be different! Make sure you’re aware there are infinite ways to do things and settle on a way that works for everyone.
Travel with friends can be tons of fun. Open and honest conversations before you go helps make the trip a success without any major disagreements or hurt feelings. Follow my advice above and you should have it covered!
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What’s your favourite memory traveling with friends?
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