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!

Ten Things We Wish Vacation Rental Owners Knew!

Going Dutch has a few things we wish all our vacation rental owners knew!  

1 – Please provide enough dishes to match the dining seating!  If we are renting a big house, we brought a lot of people, and they all like to eat.    

2 – We love to hear from people who know the area…leave us lists of local things to do and places of interest.

3 – PLEASE provide a garbage can or dumpster that is adequate for the size of the rental – overflowing garbage is gross!  

4 – If you have wildlife in the area of your rental, make the trash cans wildlife resistant.  Picking up trash strewn all over the yard of the rental after a raccoon chewed through the plastic lid is not what we had in mind for our vacation!  

5 – A well-stocked kitchen is a MUST…a blender, crockpot, corkscrew, and coffee maker are all necessities.  

6 – Set it up like YOU would like to vacation there!  Little things go a long way to making it nice.  

7 – Please provide toilet paper!  Add a few bucks to the rental price if you have to…but kids need to go after a long car ride.

8 – Don’t forget the hand soap near all faucets…all of your renters will need this!

9 – We’re on vacation… make it easy for us!  If you’re a great rental owner, we’ll happily provide you with a great review when we leave.  

10 – Thank you for sharing your great home with us!  We love having great places available for our vacations together!  

What do you wish vacation rental owners knew?  Add yours in the comments!  Are you a vacation rental owner?  Tell us what you wish renters knew in the comments as well!  

Are You in the Zone?

 If you’re like me, you already have an idea in your head what the perfect vacation looks like.  For me, the picture in my head usually involves some reading time, a bit of water or beach time, a museum or tourist trap or two, and some shopping. Check the boxes and vacation is a success, right?  Well.  Maybe.

One of the best (and also sometimes challenging) things about traveling with friends is that everyone’s mental picture is a little different.  When it comes time to planning how to spend those precious vacation minutes, there are lots of ideas for how to do it.

Our group spent our most recent get-together in the Wisconsin Dells.  If you’ve been there, you know there are LOTS of choices for how to spend your time.  I woke up on Day 1 thinking ok, water park, outlet mall, maybe a boat ride….fun is about to get started!!  However, during a breakfast pow-wow on our activity choices, a distinctly NOT in my mental picture option rose to the top of the list…a ropes course!  Bigfoot Ropes Course, to be exact.

My enthusiasm definitely took a bit of a hit there, I’ll admit.  A ropes course did NOT fit into my personal vacay success checklist.  Especially since my trips to the gym have been less frequent than I’d like lately.  But…key to successful traveling with a group is compromise, right?  These are my people, and I care about what they want to do, too.  Plus, we have dragged non-swimmer Ann on a boat ride too many times to count, and fair’s fair.  I put on my “good sport” hat and off we went….WAY out of my comfort zone.

I endured the orientation and donned the gear, which included a harness that is not flattering to anybody.  And I learned how to use the silly safety clips that apparently would save me from falling to my death.  Or abject humiliation, I wasn’t sure which.  Off we went onto the course.  I was sure the staff and the other patrons were laughing at me (they weren’t) and that I would never get the hang of it (I did).  And then…before I knew it…fun!  I fought through my discomfort (possibly less gracefully than I could have) and we had a ball.

More significant than my own experience, though, was this….my 15-year-old daughter, who is terrified of heights, and her partner in crime, Liz, climbed the entire 4 stories.  All the way to the top and into the helicopter.  It was amazing. They spent the whole afternoon climbing each obstacle on their way to the top, considering and discarding the idea of giving in and climbing back down repeatedly over the course of the day.  Each time, building their confidence in their ability to overcome their fears and rely on themselves to reach a goal.

Psychology experts tell us that there are a lot of benefits from stepping out of your personal comfort zone.  It can help you succeed in business, stay sharp as you age, and make you more likely to take on challenges.  We learn to deal with fear, anxiety, and change.  Maybe failure.  We learn what we’re capable of…something neither I nor my kiddos were going to figure out while plowing through novels on the beach.  And maybe just have some fun while we’re at it.  So next time you vacation with your group, maybe you’ll get out of your zone as well.

What have you done (or are you planning to do) on your vacation that was out of your comfort zone?  Please tell us about it in the comments below!

Where Should We Go, Now?

OK, so you have a group and you know how you’re going to split expenses.  You know how to find a vacation rental or other type of lodging.  So where should you go??  

The options, as I am sure you have already discovered, are endless!  In 18 trips we’ve only repeated a destination a few times.  The right location choice for each group is really a decision unique to that particular group.  The makeup of your group and the goal of your trip, as well as the age of your travelers and your budget all play a part in your decision.  It’s more of an art than a science.  We choose based on interests and availability of activities for the age and size of our group.  We also have to factor in the availability of housing for a group of 20.  If you have a smaller group, that definitely gives you more flexibility for housing in most locations, but you might not get the group discounts that we can score in most places.  

Our group has a lot of conversations about location options, and we do quite a bit of research.  Honestly, it’s a bit of entertainment to most of us, I think.  I would say we average 10 conversations (at least) before we decide and book.  Which, as it turns out, might not be such a bad thing.  According to a NYT article, a study, published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, showed that the largest boost in happiness that we get from vacation, actually comes from the act of planning the trip, rather than the actual travel.

How do you start your list of options?  Ask the group.  Have everyone throw out ideas.  If you need more ideas, reach out to co-workers or check your social media feed.  Trip Advisor or the Chamber of Commerce for a location you are considering can also be great resources for information, ideas and reviews.  

Determine any guidelines for destinations ahead of time.  Our group originally tried to choose destinations that were close to at least one family in order to rotate a bit of a break on travel expenses or required vacation time.   We were spread across four states at the time, which essentially limited us to one of those four or their neighbors.  You may decide that certain destinations are out of your budget.  Rather than looking at these guidelines as limitations, try to view them as assistance in narrowing down your options.

Once you have a list, you can vote, or choose one group member to select and plan.  If you do assign a group member, though….no complaining!  It will be your turn one day, so just relax and enjoy a location that you may not have experienced if you were choosing.  We’ve had many great trips at locations that I would not have chosen on my own.  Arrive with an open mind and a variety of clothing options.  🙂  

Here at Going Dutch, we’ll try to help you choose your destination with some posts reviewing locations that we have traveled.  We’ve also created a new page that we’ll fill with our favorite online resources to help with your planning.  What are your favorite locations to travel?  Share them with us in the comments below!  

Finding Your Vacation Rental

You’ve picked your group. You’ve found the perfect destination. Now you just need to find an amazing vacation house to complete your get-away with the gang!

These days finding a vacation rental is pretty much as simple as finding a hotel room. But how do you know that house you Googled is a good deal, or even the real deal?

This summer we will head out on our 18th trip and we’ve had a vacation house for all but the first two years. These days, there are tons of websites listing houses all over the world, but finding our first house wasn’t so easy. There weren’t a lot of options for finding a vacation house to rent.

It seems that every travel site is starting to offer a vacation rental search option. Trip Advisor, Travelocity, and Expedia all have tabs to click for vacation rentals. Recently I searched for the same destination and dates on all three sites and Trip Advisor seemed to work the best for me (goingdutchtravel is not sponsored by any of the sites listed in this post so I’m just giving my opinion—you may have better luck with a different site). Sometimes lots of hotel rooms pop up. Since I generally know if I want a hotel room or a vacation rental, it was annoying to scroll past lots of hotels when I know that’s not what I’m looking for.

Airbnb is another option that I haven’t personally used, but I’ve spent some time searching. It includes some pretty interesting vacation rentals and experiences you can try (like a bike and tasting tour through Paris). You can even rent a bedroom in someone’s home instead of renting the whole house—usually less expensive but also less private.

Over the years, our group has consistently used vacation rental by owner (vrbo.com) and more recently, homeaway.com. Both sites are remarkably similar. In fact, I’m not sure why there are still two sites since vrbo is apparently part of homeway. If you find a house on one site, you can find the same listing on the other by entering the rental number. I personally like homeaway’s mobile app for searching and saving rentals.

Whatever site you use, the best advice we can give you is to use the filters. If you have definite dates, be sure and enter them. Why fall in love with a mountain cabin that is booked for the next 6 months if your vacation is in 3?

Most importantly, filter by number of bedrooms or by the number of people. Depending on your location, your search can return a long list of houses from one-bedroom studios to ten-bedroom mansions. Limiting your choices to those that you might actually be interested in renting will make the process shorter and much less frustrating.

Finally, read those reviews! While you can always expect to have some great ones and some terrible ones, look for rentals that have lots of feedback. It doesn’t guarantee a good rental, but the more people who have posted, the less likely that you are only seeing reviews from the owner’s best buddies who got to stay for free if they gave a good report on-line.

There are also other options for locating rental properties without using the sites listed above. Sometimes visitor’s bureaus will list vacation rentals on their sites. Destinations with large numbers of vacation rentals will often have realty companies that own lots of houses. You can contact them directly to ask about properties they have available. This is a great option if you know you want to rent two or three houses close together for large, multi-family groups. You can also ask family and friends for recommendations.

If you have a site you like for finding that best spot, send us a comment!

Best of luck sorting through all those condos, bungalows and cabins! With a little practice and a lot of savvy searching, you too can soon be relaxing with your favorite friends and family.

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!

Think Pink!

One of the big challenges of a group vacation is managing everyone’s expectations for a vacation home.  To add to the fun, you really don’t know what you are going to get until you plop your suitcase down on the front step.  Vacation rental listings generally have lots of photos but a tiny digital image doesn’t always tell the whole story.

Individual people have different ideas of what they want their vacation to look like.  Included in that package is usually a nice place to stay.  But my Taj Mahal may look like a trailer park to my fellow traveler.  

This became apparent to me about a month ago.  It has become a tradition for my husband’s parents to organize a family vacation to celebrate their milestone anniversaries.  This includes the families of Greg and his two brothers.  This year we are marking my in-law’s 50th Anniversary.  

At Christmas, the adults gathered and tossed around proposed locations for a couple hours.  Dates were discussed but no decisions were really made at that time. Several weeks and quite a few emails later, the choice was narrowed to a beach house on the coast between Washington, D.C. and Florida.  

Two things I then learned:  there are a TON of vacation rentals along the Atlantic coast and if you want one, do not dally.  More than once we settled on a house only to find that it had already been booked by the time everyone had a chance to weigh in on the decision.

My father-in-law eventually found the perfect house and immediately put a two-day hold on it so we could confer.  It has the exact number of bedrooms we need.  They are configured so that the two families with kids have a kid room with the exact number of beds set up as a suite with the adult rooms.  There are four bathrooms, one for each family.  It has a pool.  And a hot tub.  And a boardwalk out to our own stretch of ocean-lapped sand.  The only way this house could get more perfect for us is if they renamed it with our family name.

Ah, but there was a problem: it’s pink.

When my father-in-law called to tell me he had found this house, he said he thought it could work, but it was kind of ugly.  When I asked for details, he told me the color.  I thought it must be some garish fushia.  As I scrolled through the photos, I saw the bedrooms, the bathrooms, the amenities and a pastel shade of coastal pink.  

I called Greg and had him look at the pictures to see if he thought the color was too much.  He is a man who is not a fan of pink, but he didn’t mind the house looking like an Easter egg.  He said, “We’re not buying the house.  Tell Dad to book it.”

So I did.

The next afternoon, Greg called to tell me that his mom had called and she was concerned about the vacation rental.  She didn’t know if he would mind spending a week in a pink house.

So I called my mother-in-law to find out what she was thinking.  She had spent all morning searching through dozens more homes without finding one that seemed to fit our group as well as the rose-colored beauty.  

In, probably not the most diplomatic tone, I reminded her that we were not purchasing this home.  It is a rental and after we have rented it, we can come home to our regular color houses.  Why was it such a big deal that the house was pink?

Her response to me that day was that we had such a nice house on our last trip five years ago.  She just wanted this house to be as nice.

Long story short, we booked the house.  I think it helped that my daughters Anna and Kay were super excited about the hue and the fact that the house is named after one of their favorite mythical sea creatures.  

Recently I called my mother-in-law back and chatted with her about why they had been so concerned about the color.  She mentioned something that we have often discussed over the many years I have been in the family.  She is concerned with form over function while I am the total opposite.  Where I saw perfection in the number of beds, she saw imperfection in the aesthetics.  

She mentioned how our last rental had an amazing backyard with a 15-foot waterfall.  It was a pretty cool 1920s California bungalow.  But it also had that weird cork wall and had been added on to a time or two, resulting in a broken layout.  There was a fabulous bedroom reached by a spiral staircase, but the nearest bathroom was a floor below and down the hall.

No vacation rental is going to be perfect for all people.  There will always be something broken or perplexing.  The furnishings or appliances will not be to everyone’s taste.  But try to remember (and remind your fellow travelers) that you are renting this house.  No thirty- year mortgages will be signed.  This isn’t a love affair for the ages.  It’s a casual fling.    

Now that the house is booked, we are planning to spend our vacation looking for rentals uglier than ours (with the exception of Kay and Anna who will be looking for prettier houses).  And if we don’t find one, at least we will always remember the vacation where we stayed in that pink house.

Laura

Getting Started: Choosing Your Group

The first thing you need to travel with a group is, well, a group!  Who are the folks you want to spend time with?  These could be people you see all the time or perhaps people you don’t get to see frequently at all.  If you want to spend time with them, they’re candidates for your travel group.  Our trips rose out of a desire to spend some time with people we weren’t getting to see  often enough.  And a desire to vacation! 

Some things you will want to consider when forming your travel group:

What is the purpose of your group and your trip?  Our group has always been very clear…the purpose of our trips is to have fun and spend time together.  We will compromise on just about everything else.  We adjust our budget, timing, or location in order to make sure our full group can join us.  In our early years, we camped because it was budget friendly, and we tried to give one couple a break on travel expenses each year by vacationing near where they lived.  Although this once led us to camping in the insane Kansas heat in July, we’ve always had fun everywhere we’ve been.  Our shared purpose helps ensure that. 

If you are very committed to seeing the Grand Canyon or hiking every national park in the US, you’ll want to choose a group that shares that goal with you so that you can all have the best experience.  Otherwise, the folks who want to relax with a book and a chair at the nearby beach will be sorely unhappy with your destination activities.  So getting clear on where you can and cannot compromise is important. 

Once your purpose is clear, everything else can and should be negotiable and flexible.  There are some things to consider and potentially plan for when forming your group, but with a shared goal and a cooperative spirit, most of the other things can be adjusted or overcome.  Differing budgets?  Find a destination with costs that make everyone comfortable.  Some travelers have kids, some don’t?  That can work; just ensure those traveling enjoy kids and some activities that are kid-friendly.  And build in some adults-only time in your schedule, whether it’s with a babysitter or a partial group outing.  

Your group may also have multiple generations, or some couples and singles…those groups can also be accommodated with some planning and flexibility.  Although it’s impossible to cover anything your group might run across in one blog post, the key is to remember that you care about these people and it IS possible to travel together successfully.  Talk these things through beforehand if they are big concerns for one or more group members.  

Staying focused on your goal and staying flexible will ensure maximum enjoyment and memory-making. 

Who’s in your travel group?  How did you choose the group you travel with and what is your shared purpose?  Where have you had to compromise to ensure a successful travel experience?  If you don’t have a group, what’s holding you back?  We want to hear from you in the comments below!