Gen Next

Our group just claimed another first as the oldest child in the group graduated from high school! Those that read this blog for advice, be warned–this post is long on nostalgia and limited to a single piece of advice. Here we go!

You have likely surmised that we have built many traditions in our years of traveling together. One of our earliest, and completely unintended, traditions involved who would announce a pregnancy on the trip. On our very first trip, the lone couple with a child made a detour to drop their newborn with grandparents. As we sat around the campfire, someone asked, “how far apart in age do you want your kids?” The response of “about 19 months” had the rest of us doing quick math and realizing the impact of it! With another reveal the following year, the tradition grew! 

We now have 12 children between the four families. Not all pregnancies were announced on the trip, but with the exception of that first child, I think all our kids participated in their first trip in utero. And now we start a new season of traditions! With the oldest child having just graduated and the youngest finishing up kindergarten, we all have graduation commitments in most of the next dozen years. In fact, we have already done the math; besides the set of twins, only two other kids will share a graduation year

As we celebrated Libby*, the graduate, with a reception in her honor, my eyes returned over and over to the slideshow of memories looping on a monitor. There were enough pictures from our trips for it to be obvious that she had literally grown up as part of this extended family! Seeing the pictures from various trips pop up on her graduation slideshow convinces me, not only that I cannot imagine the group without her, but that that our graduate would agree the trips have added moments to the highlight reel of her life to date.

As the oldest, she established herself as the responsible reliable big sister of the group. The younger kids adore her, especially the little girls. From helping wrangle the other kids to teaching impromptu cheer lessons, Libby has been an example in countless ways! In fact, we probably don’t give her enough credit for how well the entire group of kids get along! 

The slideshow, too, gave the effect of watching her grow in real time. I know everyone says it, but it honestly seems to have gone impossibly fast! So, on to the clichéd, but critical advice, don’t wait for the right time to start vacationing with others; make right now the right time! If you put off planning a trip until the kids are older or you have more expendable income or work is less busy or whatever, the domino effect of time will do its thing and you will be looking back saying “I wish I would have…”!

Libby will be off to college in the fall. One of the twins summed up her perception of college as “it’s where you go to meet the people you will vacation with”! So, best of luck to her and all the graduates of 2018! May your next adventure lead you to your forever friends! Oh, and I can’t close without mentioning that Libby plans to attend our alma mater–next gen indeed!

*We use pseudonyms for all the kids throughout the blog to protect their privacy.

His, Hers, and Ours

One of our longest standing annual trip traditions, and one of my favorites, is “Guys Day” and “Girls Day”! One day each trip, the four dads plan a day out together; another day, it is the moms’ turn! I’m not sure of the exact origination, but we can likely credit the years where we had five kids under five.

Our trips are very family focused, but these days allow the adults to pick something that interests them! Some examples of activities we have done on these days are: shopping, wine tasting, brewery tours, scenic boat tour, white water rafting, and a NASCAR racetrack tour! These days are not always about a big activity though. One year the guys snuck (okay not really) back to the vacation rental, shot pool, and just hung out! Regardless of the activity, the day away is great for friends connecting and stepping out of parenting roles for a few hours.

While the gals are out, the guys take the kids for an activity and vice versa for the guys days! I think half the fun when the kids were little was rearranging various car seats appropriately to get everyone in; I know my kids got a huge thrill from the treat of riding in someone else’s car. It is always the simplest things, right?! The kids are always excited to tell the returning parents what they missed out on! They may try to up the ante for the next outing by bragging up what they did with the dads!

The past few years, we have added one more twist to this tradition. We have planned an adult dinner out one evening. The kids enjoy being in charge while the adults enjoy food in a restaurant that doesn’t serve happy meals. Win, win!

As you plan your group travel, think of smaller variations your group could break into for a short period of time. If you are taking an extended family trip, consider having grandparents watch the kids for a few hours so the parents can do an activity. Traveling with friends but wanting some couple time? See if you can take turns watching all the children so each couple gets some time away. Group travel presents unique chances to balance a time together and focused time away!

WTF?….Not what you are thinking!

We are closing in on the point where half of the children in our group will be teenagers, and with that some questions take on more importance. One of those questions is : WTF? You know, short for “Where’s the Food?” Food is always important and maybe more so when considering group travel! There are many things to consider regarding food for your group travel. Our top tip is: preparation goes a long way! Aside from picking a destination and accommodations, we probably spend the most time discussing food prior to each trip.

Pick an approach first. It may be tempting to say that you don’t want to mess with cooking and you will just eat out on your vacation or just wing it once you are there. These may be great options for your group, but even this requires some level of planning.

Questions to think about if considering eating out or figuring out food on the fly
  • What will the cost be and how does it fit into my overall travel budget?
  • Does my destination area have sufficient restaurant/fast food options that fit the tastes and/or dietary restrictions of my group?
  • Will the size of my group or the time of year I am traveling restrict my ability to find seating in restaurants?
  • How close is the nearest supermarket? Are there other options (farmer’s markets, co-ops, etc.) to enjoy local flavor?
  • How much time should I plan for eating out and/or food shopping each day?

While we typically eat out a time or two on our trips, we have found that preparing our own food works best for our group.

Considerations for planning and preparing your own food
  • What appliances can I count on in at my accommodations? Meal prep in a hotel room is much different than in a vacation rental!
  • What are the dietary restrictions and/or limitations in my group?
  • How much time do I need to count on for preparing food each day?
  • Will everyone plan a meal(s) or will this be done as a group?
  • Will everyone bring groceries or will this be done as a group?
  • How will extra food be used or disposed of at the end of the trip?

Over the years, we have found that planning a menu before the trip and doing a large grocery shop upon arrival works best for us. We understand that this “big shop” is going to come with a price tag that may invoke gasps, but actually works out to be very economical per person per day.

We will devote an upcoming post (or posts!) to menu planning and preparation. As you contemplate what is right for your group, please remember that food will be an important part of your trip! Your planning will go a very long way in making sure the dining experience is part of your positive memories!

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!

Our First (and Most Important) Advice!

Our aim with this blog is to provide encouragement and advice on planning your group travel. Here is our first and most important advice: get planning…now!

 

Right after the question of “you are going on vacation with HOW many people?”, the question that I am asked most frequently when discussing our trips starts with “did you ever imagine…?” The ending has several variations:

  • Did you ever imagine you would do this for so many years?
  • Did you ever imagine the group would get so big?
  • Did you ever imagine all the places you would go?

If I am really being honest, the answer to each of those “did you evers” is no! As you know, us four women were close friends in college. Speaking for myself, I left college just expecting to keep in touch with my friends, but I didn’t have a real concept of making that happen.

I didn’t know that the other three women would be there for me through the daily joys and quirks, a myriad of parenting situations, and everything else that has come with the years and decades of my adult life! My mom (who remains happily married to my dad) often tells me, “I am not sure I knew what love was when I got married.” To paraphrase her, I am not sure that I knew what friendship was when I left college. I did not have enough life experiences to know how friendships that lasted a lifetime could carry you through hard times and make good times sweeter! 

When we agreed to that first trip, it was a chance to see friends and get away from the real world. It would be revisionist history to say that I had any idea the impact that trip would have! Have we grown our friendships because of these trips? Or have we continued the trips because we have deepened our friendship? Honestly, I am not sure which caused the other…or if they both came into play. I do know my life would be very different without these friends and without the memories of our trips.

 

The advice to start planning a group trip is not necessarily a commitment to changing your life, to deepening existing relationships with friends or family members, or to starting a tradition, but our group is proof that all of those (and many other rewards) are possible if you do embark on a trip. There is always an excuse not to plan or not to plan now–time, money, and effort are three of the most common. As we continue this blog, we will touch on each of these. For now, take it on faith that none of these excuses are insurmountable if you are committed and creative!

 

Please become a part of the conversation! I would appreciate your thoughts and comments:

  • As you plan a group trip, what are your hopes?
  • What holds you back from starting planning?

To help you get to know us better, we will start signing our posts when we write as individuals!

–Ann