Traveling With Another Family – Win, Win?

Two families converge on John Day National Monument in Oregon.

As a child, few vacations held such appeal for fun than those embarked upon with another family. Ready-made playmates besides my brother and sister, campfires, canoe excursions, and the absolute sparkling gem; riding in someone else’s car for a few hours while caravaning across the Pacific Northwest. We woke up each morning to toast and bacon over the fire, ate marshmallows until our stomachs hurt, and jumped off docks into chilly lakes full of rainbow trout and water bugs. Sheer heaven, I tell you.

Here in Alaska, we’ve gone camping near home with friends, but not for long, and not far away. This summer, in an effort to reconnect with both relatives and relocated pals, AK Dad, Kid and I flew to Oregon for two weeks of other-family-ness, and it was awesome. However, to pull this off, a bit of homework was required, and below represents months of learning and discerning with my siblings, and our friends, who now live in Texas. Was it worth the work? Absolutely.

1. Begin discussions well in advance. Everything, from accomodations to transportation arrangements, should be aired and discussed prior to reserving that campsite or condo. For our family, activities were key. We like to hike, canoe, drink coffee, and visit museums. Fortunately, so did our friends and family, and our weeks of co-habitation meshed well, together. Remember that common interests (or genes) brought you all together, so thoughtfully make plans around the things you already love to do as a group.

Splurging on a guided canoe trip with Wanderlust Tours. Good move.

2. Be clear about budgets. Have a limit, and stick to it. If you can afford to go camping, but friends are cabin-dwellers, try to find a resort with both, and talk up each with your kids. The same principle applies for eating out. Pick one or two nights at a restaurant, then eat in for the remainder. Or, consider eating out for breakfast or lunch instead of dinner; menu options are similar, but much, much cheaper.

3. Ask questions before booking accommodations. Space was the number one consideration for our trip to Bend. We finally settled on a home managed by Alpenglow Vacation Rentals in a snuggly little bungalow remodeled to include a separate apartment over the garage, complete with two doors to provide boundaries. It worked wonderfully, and gave each family the privacy needed to stick to personal routines.

We all agreed a daily quiet time was necessary....

4. Speaking of routines, follow yours, with a dash of flexibility. One of the most difficult aspects of multi-family travel is trying to make all individuals conform to one cat-herding spectacle of scheduling. Our hint? Try a bit of both, sticking to bedtimes as best you can manage, and giving everyone a bit of grace in the morning to get moving (i.e. refrain from scheduling 8 a.m. hikes if the other family never rises before 9:30). If your kid eats only bagels and cream cheese for breakfast, suggest that perhaps each family purchase their own groceries for morning meals, and collaborate on other dining options. See item #1.

AK Dad and Kid explore a museum in John Day National Monument.

5. It’s okay to split up. Really, it is. Nobody said you have to be glued to each other for a week. In fact, it is healthy to go your own direction for a few hours now and then. Head out for doughnuts and coffee, or go for a hike then to the ice cream parlor. Wise traveling families know that people, even the closest of friends, can become sick of each other after 24/7 contact. You’ll still love each other after a daylong break. I promise.

Creating a journal entry.

6. Bring group games. Uno, Sorry, Story Cubes, or Pictionary Jr. are great ways to connect after a busy day of sightseeing. Open the wine and juice boxes, sit on the back porch or around the campfire, and have some old-fashioned, family fun. At our cabin near Mount Hood, I created a family scavenger hunt with prizes, and passed out REI’s Family Adventure Journals to all the cousins. We bonded over fern leaves and sketches, and the kids, aged 4 to 8, had fun getting to know each other.

Remember, moms and dads, these moments don’t last forever, even if the vacation turns into an annual event. Kids grow up and change, schedules become more demanding, and golden days of summer trips wax and wane as the years march ahead. Breathe them in now, while you can.

I think they might be taller, next summer.

~EK

 

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