Disney 2010 088Are you thinking about going on a family vacation? Does the thought of traveling with a group of people whom you’re related to sound like fun, but at the same time to give you anxiety when thinking about all the different personalities involved (picture Kevin’s crazy family in the movie “Home Alone”)?  No worries!  I’ve spent most of my vacations since childhood traveling or going on camping trips with groups of up to 25 people, ages 2 months to 85-years-old. Along the way, I’ve learned what works (and what doesn’t work) to accomplish smooth journeys and make the best memories.

Whether you’re traveling with your immediate family or a large group of extended family and friends, use the following pointers to have a fun vacation without hiccups:

  • Have one or more family meetings to plan traveling details and agendas.  Give everyone a chance to provide input for activities and partake in the planning. Spread responsibilities of doing research, booking reservations, and planning other logistics among the group. This lightens the load and encourages everyone to be invested in a wonderful outcome.
  • Ask every person what they want to get out of the trip. Some folks may want to simply relax, sleep in, lounge by the pool, and go to the spa. Others may want to do as many activities as possible (hike, go to museums, sight see, etc.).  The foodies in the family may desire dining at 5-star restaurants, while families with young children will be adverse to the thought of a formal sit-down dinner.  Knowing what each person wants to get out of the vacation, ensures that everyone will be happy at the vacation’s end.  Additionally, take note of individuals’ special needs or sensitivities.  My late grandfather was a diabetic, so it was critical that he ate regular meals and snacks. We planned for this on our trips so that we weren’t rushing around or busy during meal times.
  • Schedule times when the family does activities as a group, as well as free time when everyone can go off on their separate ways. Down time provides the chance for folks to pursue their personal interests freely.  My family recently took a trip to Seattle with 19 individuals spanning four generations. One rule we made for the trip was that we would all come together for dinner each night. We ended up sharing many meals, in addition to dinners, together. However, it was a reassuring to know that we could venture off in separate directions and come together at the end of the day to eat, reconnect, laugh and enjoy each others company.
  • Create a written itinerary.  The itinerary should include a daily schedule, confirmation codes for reservations, as well as addresses, phone numbers, website addresses, business hours, and costs for all accommodations and activities.  List the phone numbers for all parties on the trip (in case you lose your phone, you will have Uncle Joe’s phone number handy in another place).  You may also want to include the phone numbers of your credit card companies in the event that you misplace your wallet.  Circulate written itineraries to all travelers at least one week prior to the vacation so that everyone has a chance to review the details, upload addresses to their phones and GPS systems, and speak up if they want to propose a change.
  • Know before you go.  Gather as much information about your transportation modes and destination ahead of time to eliminate confusion. My family has even been known to print out maps of airports so that we can all become familiar with the layout as well as the restaurants and stores on hand.  With the heightened transportation security now days, it’s important for travelers to know what processes and documentation are required.  Procedures differ among airlines and destinations, so research these in advance.  Note that standards for traveling with children vary by age, with distinct rules for infants, so what applied to your children two years ago may not be the same today.  Look up the information online or call a customer service representative.  The most frustrating experiences happen when you are caught off-guard and have to remedy an oversight in the moment (having kids in tow makes the ordeal substantially worse).  I’ve had these experiences (unpacking an overweight bag at the airline ticket counter, missing a chance to get on a flight when my original flight was canceled, etc.), and they can overshadow the best occasions.  Sure, some mishaps are unavoidable, but gathering information ahead of time prevents many of these situations.
  • Respect each other’s preferences. You may not understand why grandma needs to visit every dollar store you happen upon, but she may not understand why your baby needs to take a nap everyday at a certain time, regardless of where you are or what you’re doing.  Be flexible.  All you have to remember is that these preferences make each person happy, help them to function at ease, and most notable, that you don’t have to understand them to allow your loved one the space to carry them out.

Take the time to consider and put into action the above tips so that your family vacations can result in “When are we doing this again?” versus “I’m never doing this again.”  Once you have your plans in place, you’ll want to do these 6 things before going on vacation.

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