I love solo travel but every now and then, an opportunity to travel together with extended family comes about and images of the perfect family vacation start dancing in my head.
Everyone wants family vacations to result in great fun, grandparent/grandchild bonding and lifelong memories. Sometimes though, the problems can be many. To help travelers avoid some of the difficulties I’ve seen on various trips over more than a decade of travel, this article outlines the top 10 family vacation mistakes to avoid so you can have a fun, relaxing, and great time with your family.
Avoiding these missteps should help everyone have a rewarding experience on your next family vacation trip! Your parents, children, sisters, nieces and nephews, and any other family members traveling together, will all thank you.
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Mistake Number 10: Not everyone is involved in the planning.
According to a recent travel survey by AAA, nearly 100 million Americans said they planned to take a family vacation in 2019. Additionally, a similar survey from 2018 showed that 44 percent of Millennials, 39 percent of Generation X, and 32 percent of Baby Boomers said they planned to participate in a family trip. The results also showed that nearly everyone surveyed indicated they favored the idea of a family bonding trip.
When you get the whole family involved in planning, you end up with an itinerary and activities that reflect things your family actually want to do, not just what one planner thinks they should do. Gather vacation input from the oldest down to the youngest travel members and your trip is sure to be more enjoyable for all.
Mistake Number 9: Age-appropriate choices aren’t a priority.
It’s not that there aren’t family friendly activities in a city filled with casinos and a hopping nightlife, because that’s certainly not true of all of them. Generally though, adults visiting these cities tend to want to enjoy the less kid-friendly charms of the location.
When choosing a family vacation, think long and hard about the destination. Involve all travelers in a brainstorming session and weigh options and consider physical demands against the ages of those in your travel group. This goes both ways — make sure to realistically consider physical limitations of family members before booking that Airbnb filled with long staircases or heading off to a mountainous area known for strenuous hiking.
Mistake Number 8: Connections are lost.
Imagine this: You’re in Greece, it’s 98 degrees, and your nephew was supposed to meet you in front of the Acropolis 45 minutes ago. He didn’t get an international plan on his phone, so there’s no way to contact him. Can you feel some irritation sneaking in? This is a good example of when it’s okay to be pushy in the planning stages and make sure everyone in the group has a way to stay in touch.
Most US cell phone carriers give you the option to buy international day passes for about $10 per day. Purchasing a pass such as this will allow you to use your normal messaging/data allowances in a whole host of countries. With this plan you’re charged only on days you use data so you can easily monitor your phone costs while traveling.
Alternatively, if everyone will be in fairly close proximity during the vacation, you could consider walkie talkies. You might look a little weird but having a way to easily stay in contact with each other will be worth any strange looks you might get.
Mistake Number 7: Not everyone takes time to relax.
If one person takes on the role of lead trip planner, they naturally have put a lot of thought and energy into trying to create the best vacation ever. It’s quite easy for that person to forget to live in the moment, and instead ends up monitoring everyone else’s happiness and fun level while constantly thinking ahead to the logistics of the next activity.
Remember that all of you are on vacation so be sure to take off your planning hat upon arrival at your destination to help allow room to enjoy the adventures you’ve spent countless hours preparing for.
Mistake Number 6: Too much time is spent as a group.
We all love our families but everyone needs some space. To make for a happier vacation overall, you may not want to spend every hour of every day with them. Everyone needs a little space, so make sure there’s down time built into every day giving each person time to refresh and relax on their own.
Remember that not all activities have to be completed by everyone in your travel group. If a few people want to hit the local breweries, and the rest are ready to climb a mountain, respecting differing styles of vacation is best. Coming back together at the end of the day and sharing stories can be part of the fun.
Mistake Number 5: Food choices are questionable.
There’s nothing fun about upset tummies, or worse, full blown food poisoning especially when away from the comforts of your own bathroom. If multiple people in your party are stricken at the same time, and you’re in a hotel room with one tiny bathroom, disaster is sure to follow.
Many travelers love trying unfamiliar foods when vacationing, but there’s nothing fun about a single bathroom battle with your favorite sister or aunt if that food doesn’t agree with you. Be mindful of risky foods to avoid when traveling, such as anything surrounded by flying insects, and any food that’s been sitting out or hasn’t been kept either icy cold or piping hot. You might even need to avoid local tap water in some locations.
Mistake Number 4: Chores are not divided by all.
Finding yourself loaded down with the same tasks or sometimes even more than those done at home can be a classic recipe for troubling resentment. Shake up the usual household chore roles you have at home and give every able-bodied family member a chance to pitch in. After all, everyone’s on vacation, right?
Sharing typical chores like laundry and meal prep will go a long way toward giving everyone an equal chance to help while still allowing plenty of time to relax too.
Mistake Number 3: Everyone’s basic needs are not met.
Vacations are not the time for missing naps if your child (or grandparent) still needs them. Nor is it the time to power through usual mealtimes because you don’t want to take the time for a break. But that works both ways too – older family members may not eat as many times a day as younger travelers so don’t try to make them eat or feel guilty about not being hungry.
While it’s best to take everyone’s needs into account to minimize meal and sleep stress, kids and adults need to get enough sleep and eat nutritious food. A truly great vacation means keeping everyone fed, hydrated and as well rested as possible.
Mistake Number 2: The wrong vehicle or lodging is rented.
If your family is traveling as a large group, don’t automatically think you need to rent one super-sized vehicle. Eight passenger mini vans can be useful, but two smaller cars often allow for different schedules and interests and provide more flexibility.
Similarly, if you’re considering a large vacation rental but family members have different sleep schedules, it might be a good idea to opt for renting two adjacent smaller units.
Mistake Number 1: The rental home is not big enough.
More living space usually means more expense, but since you’ve already invested hard-earned money in a vacation, it’s worth investing a bit more to make it more comfortable for everyone. Avoid cramming everyone into one or two bedrooms if you can, but the real key to a great stay is having a large common space that’s separate from the bedroom areas.
Real beds for everyone are a must-have when traveling, and dedicated bedrooms are also a huge plus. Having Grandma or Grandpa sleep on a blowup air mattress in the living room is not ideal for anyone. Add in any age-related health concerns, or the potential for little travelers to get into medications not stored away properly, and this scenario is a disaster waiting to happen.
To make sure everyone gets a bed, a large vacation rental is probably the best bet for extended families traveling together. Not only do they offer more space, but often come with helpful amenities like dishwashers, washers, dryers, and yard space, as well as multiple bedrooms and bathrooms.
Over many years of traveling, I’ve learned a lot about trying to meet the needs of everyone for a more comfortable vacation. Am I always successful? Sadly, no. But keeping these ten simple tips in mind should help prevent travel disasters for anyone thinking about taking an extended family adventure.
Do you have any other extended family vacation tips that should be on this list? If so, let us know in a comment below.
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