Traveling with extended family? Get prepared.
If you’re planning a destination family reunion, or just bringing grandma for (cross your fingers) babysitting, it helps to think of your trip as one long Thanksgiving meal: There are going to be good times and bad, and a bottle of wine is more of a requirement than a suggestion. Below, some pre-trip planning advice.
The day my mother (we call her La G) met Josh, Thomas and me in London—wired, jetlagged, and pissed about the $90 black cab—she plopped down on our Airbnb couch and said, “Well, I’m so excited to be here! Of course...all of my friends say I was just invited to be the nanny.”
She wasn’t exactly wrong. I’d harbored secret hopes that she would happily scoop up Thomas for day trips to the London Zoo—or at least the neighborhood playground—while I nibbled scones with lemon curd, strolled through the Tate, and saw a Shakespeare play or two.
The thing was, La G also wanted to see a play. And go to the Tate. And she loves lemon curd. She has a “bad relationship with technology” and couldn’t figure out how to get to the London Zoo, and she has a 30-minute tolerance for the playground. Furthermore, at 18 months, T wasn’t interested in being more than four feet—that’s 1.21 meters—from my person.
While our “multi-generational” (that’s a favorite travel industry phrase these days) trip to London was an overall success, a pre-trip conversation, clearly outlining vacation expectations, would have done us a lot of good.
If you’re traveling with family or even visiting loved ones, here are a few topics to address before you bunk up:
If your parents and siblings aren’t exactly the babysitting type at home (and many aren’t) don't count on a vacation epiphany. So if you have—dare I say expectations—of free family babysitting on your trip, talk through it with Gigi and Baba before you take off. Consider making an actual care schedule, and if you’re not having much luck talking anyone into daytime hours, see if you get a volunteer to stay back after bedtime so you can have what will probably be an exhausting date night. A teen niece or nephew might even be interested in making a few bucks—if they can tear themselves from their iPhones.
Be realistic about how much space your group is going to need, and keep in mind the things—6 AM wake-up calls, pre-nap tears, baby-proofing gear—to which the rest of your crew may be blissfully unaccustomed. If you can swing it, rent your own hotel room or a house with a wing that you and the kiddos can call your own (in other words, if it’s a total wreck, others aren’t allowed to judge) and hole away to during tantrums and quiet time.
Rent Two Cars
If your destination if vehicle dependent, rent two cars, especially if you have children under five. This cuts down on major stress points such as activity timing (if your kiddo needs a nap or takes forever to put on her shoes, you won’t be holding up the whole group) and unexpected pit stops. In other words, it buys you the ability to make your own schedule.
Talk About Your Kids…
Yes, even more than you do now. You are living and breathing the weekly stages your kids are going through, but family members are probably not up to date on what time your kiddos get up, where they are on potty training, their latest food aversions, and whether their favorite word is currently “no” or “poo poo.” Updating your extended family on the latest kid accomplishments and trials might earn you a few eye rolls, but it’s ultimately helpful in getting on the same page.
…And Talk to Your Kids
While your adult family members might love building sandcastles or doing the one-off cannon ball into the pool, they’re also going to want some alone time on the beach, ideally with a fresh-lime margarita in hand (I know, I know, you want one too). Try to get a basic idea of the adults’ vacation expectations—aka how much time they want to spend with your offspring—and start managing kids’ expectations before you jet off.
Bring Up Dollars (or Pounds or Rupees)
When I travel with family, we all throw a set amount of money into a pot and draw from it to pay for collective meals—even if I order the arugula salad Uncle Andrew orders the Wagyu strip. Discuss if your kids will cost you extra: Depending on their age, they may or may not run up the bill.
Not to bring down the mood, but family gatherings like the 4th of July are famous for injuries as it’s easy to lose track of who’s watching the kiddos. Extended family vacations are equally joyful events, but parents should always be mindful of kids’ whereabouts or have another guardian clearly defined—ideally not the aunt who counts the olives in her martini as a daily vegetable serving.
Hi kids! If you're traveling with extended family members like your grandpa or an auntie, grab a pencil and paper and ask them about their favorite childhood memories. Here are some questions to get your imagination flowing. What other questions can you come up with?
1. Where and when were you born?
2. What is your earliest childhood memory?
3. Did you have any pets growing up?
4. Who was your best friend growing up?
5. What sports did you like to play?
6. Who was your favorite teacher and why?
7. What is one vacation you remember taking with your family?
8. What were some of your favorite games growing up?
9. What did you want to be when you a kid?
10. What advice do you have for me as I grow up?