The Art of Vehicle Maintenance (or…Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff)

I think the others will likely agree, that I have always been the most high-maintenance of the group.  I tend to want everything to go perfectly, and everything to be just exactly the way I think it “should” be.  The only great vacation is the one where everything goes according to plan, right?  Well…not exactly.  In every vacation some rain must fall, and it’s in those things that some of our best memories have been created.  

Any time you have four families driving hundreds of miles to a vacation destination, a mechanical vehicle failure is a possibility.  Do it often enough, and it’s a certainty.  We encountered this certainty on our most recent trip.  And “replacing a U-joint” was definitely not on our vacation to-do list.  But things happen, and cars that are not in working order need to be restored to that in order to proceed with the aforementioned vacation.  

A broken car is certainly a curveball.  But is it a vacation-wrecker?  Sure, it could be.  The hassle of all those phone calls and time spent waiting….ugh!  It’s enough to raise stress levels just thinking about it.  But the answer to whether it will wreck your vacation or not lies in how your group handles it.  

Our group is fortunate to have some mechanically-inclined folks in it.  And our rental house had a garage that we were able to use.  And so…voila! Instant auto repair shop.  We also have some teenagers and future drivers in our group, so instant auto shop became instant auto classroom.  

A good chunk of an afternoon was spent on what might be considered a bad thing, and we could certainly have allowed it to ruin our vacation, or part of it.   But instead it became a fun activity for the dads in the group and varying numbers of kids (the little ones weren’t in it for the long haul :).  Two teenage girls crawled under the car and helped out with the repair.  A valuable life lesson for two girls who will themselves be car owners someday, and something they still talk about.  It raised their confidence in their ability to fix things, and gave them a chance to further develop their relationship with some great dads in their lives who didn’t happen to be their own.  The moms got some downtime with a glass of wine and some great conversation.  In all, a pretty great afternoon.  

Every vacation will have a curveball or two.  Perhaps your own car will break down, or that of someone else in your group.  Or it may be something else…a mouse in your rental house or an arrival prior to the opening of most tourist attractions at your destination.  Whatever it is, I encourage you to be careful of how you think about it.  If you allow it to wreck your trip, I assure you it will.  But if you employ some humor and creativity, it might just become one of your best memories.  

What vacation curveballs have you dealt with?  Were you able to make some fun memories?  I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.  

When do 12 children count as 9.5 people?

Among the most important topics when it comes to group travel is finances. Clear communication is essential around shared expenses. This may seem obvious to some, but to others, like me, this may strike horror! In fact, I dislike talking about money so much that I usually ask my husband to balance the checkbook when I am not home. Even if–make that, ESPECIALLY if–you have this level of aversion to discussing money, put it at the top of your priorities in trip planning. Not only will this get it out of the way to move onto more fun aspects of trip planning, it will also reduce the chance of misunderstandings down the road!

 

Think about types of expenses that you will incur and decide how you will handle them up front. There are many ways to split up expenses. We do not claim our way is best, but it works for us. I will touch briefly on how our group has agreed to share the major categories to help you consider options.

Lodging: Our lodging choice is typically renting a large home. In this scenario, it will likely be necessary for one person to pay the rental costs, including taxes and fees. The others should reimburse this person as promptly as practical. Our group has always split lodging costs evenly among the families. If this does not work you, consider lodging types that would allow each person to pay for their own accommodations. Examples of this may be hotel rooms or individual condo units in a resort community.

 

Groceries: Unlike lodging, we do not split food expenses by family, but by person. This is actually an area where we have tried different things. In our early years, we would split up meals and each couple would provide the menu and supplies needed for that meal. While this approach worked well initially, a different approach was more practical as our group size grew. Years ago, we agreed that we would meal plan for our entire stay and prorate the grocery bill based on family size.

We decided that kids over 10 and all adults, counted as “full” people, but adjusted the cost of younger kids based on their age. For instance, like good family restaurants, kids under three eat free; kids age 5 to 10 count as 50% of an adult. This year, our formula has the 12 kids counting for 9.5 people!

Because we cook the vast majority of our meals, we purchase many groceries. And because even good planning is rarely perfect, we often have several (many!) receipts for this. Everyone holds their receipts and then shares them with the group when we are figuring costs.

 

Activities: Where a group rate needs to be paid in full or if we are reserving over the phone/online as a group, one person typically pays for the group and saves their receipt. If we are doing a group activity and paying as we go (visiting a museum, going to a movie, etc.), each family typically pays for their own.

 

Typically on the last night we are together, we settle up for our shared expenses. Everyone throws in the receipts for shared expenses they have incurred. Then, we calculate what each family has paid and what each family owes in shared expenses. Over the years, we have built a simple spreadsheet that makes this process easier.

If you take only one thing away from this post, please let it be the importance of clarity around how expenses will be shared!