Travelling with other couples…
You’re getting to know a new group of friends. You realize your kids are all the same age, and they appear to all be getting along. And you seem to be hitting it off with all the other adults. Then someone says it: “we should all go somewhere together”.
If you’re anything like us, travelling with kids is like rolling the dice. It’s a lot. You have to keep them busy or they get irritable. Keep them too busy and they can get overtired, and irritable. It’s easy to jump on the bandwagon right away, but give it some sober second thought and travelling with other people can be an overwhelming concept and challenge to navigate.
Usually, this plays out as follows: Nod in agreement, plan some hypotheticals, go home, never speak of it again.
Somehow, four years ago a group of us went for it and now we and seven other couples look forward to this annual trip. There are still lessons learned each year, but we’ve got a few decent things figured out when planning a trip with a group of friends…
When to Go
If it’s an annual trip, make it an annual date. We picked the last weekend of July. We decided as a group that it gets tricky trying to find a weekend that works for everyone, every year. Inevitably some people may have to miss the trip because of a conflict but being able to block certain weekends off ahead of time should help to mitigate this. If this is your first trip don’t be shy sharing dates that work for you. You might get lucky and find out it’s what works for everyone else, too.
Where to Go
This recent trip was our fourth year, but third destination. In the first couple of years of going away, we were a smaller group of four families. This made it easier to find affordable accommodations throughout our region. Last year, as a now group of eight families and 32 people, we ended up in what we consider a 'tourist hot spot' for the Maritimes: Cavendish PEI. Each family rents their own cottage and there is a pool, play sets, and a spot for a campfire.
A place with options is key. When we chose to leave the cottages, there are lots of touristy things to do and after chatting as a group we agreed that it was the type of place where you could go multiple times, but each year do something new. For us, this means a 20 minute drive to a ferry, a 75min ferry crossing, and another 75 minutes driving which is very manageable with children. At this stage in our lives it’s far enough away for the kids that it feels like a major trip, but it’s not so far for the adults that we can’t go home on Sunday and dread going back to work on Monday. Cavendish also offers fun options for things to do no matter the weather, which is important.
When to Book
Book nine months to a year in advance. In year one, we thought February / March was the time to book and quickly found out that if you want to find multiple vacancies during peak season, this is actually late. Now that we’ve nailed down our weekend, and location we start to book next year’s trip when we get back from the current year. Depending on the size of your group and whether or not you’re travelling in a peak season with limited availability you should consider 9-12mos if you want to travel on your own terms.
What to Bring
Bring as little as possible! Most places have laundry facilities and depending on how long you’re going for, the extra space / comfort in your vehicle will be well worth a roll of quarters. Admittedly, on our first year going as a group we brought literally everything we could think of. In fairness, our youngest was 6mos at the time and babies seem to require a lot more hardware.. but I do recall also taking our coffee perk which was completely unnecessary. The only thing we ended up with was more stuff than we needed, and it all had to be repacked into our vehicle when we were heading home. We took a couple small coolers for staple foods and beverages from our fridge but this year we were smart enough to realize that we don’t live in the only town with a grocery store. If you can buy it there at no extra cost, there’s no point in cramming it all in your vehicle and transporting it.
Plan with others. Predetermine and coordinate with what others in your group are planning on bringing to avoid taking duplicates of shared things like games, gear, etc.
This year we were fortunate enough to work with Ford Canada who asked if we’d try out one of their vehicles. We of course asked for an Explorer. We currently drive a minivan and it is very practical for our family. We were excited for the opportunity but then we found out the only vehicle available was an EcoSport. I think one of us may have actually laughed out loud. Alas, Janine is a Certified KonMari Consultant and is often associated with minimalism. I accepted the offer as a challenge. We used our MiFold car seats for the boys, and Mairi used her regular high-back booster seat. I was surprised at how much room we all had.
From the outside, the EcoSport reminded me of a tall Fiesta. The abundance of legroom in the compact SUV, didn’t come from nowhere. While we managed to pack light with the aforementioned strategy / philosophy, I should acknowledge that trunk space is limited. As Janine pointed out, we aren’t exactly a tall family. Her father is 6’4” and we both agreed he likely wouldn’t share in our experience. So – all in all, we wouldn’t recommend this as a primary family vehicle if you do a lot of driving, but if you’re considering a second vehicle and want to know you can fit everyone in should something come up – definitely consider this compact SUV. It’s perfect for city driving and you can get away for short road trips, comfortably when you want to. Check out the video below from our trip if you don’t believe me!
What to Eat
Keep it simple and share in the work. Over the years we’ve tried everything from “take care of your own”, to all going out to a restaurant. Our current rule is this: You’re on your own on the first night. Some families order pizza together, others BBQ. Basically just get yourselves there, get unpacked & feed your kids.
We generally have the same rule for breakfast and lunch. Since we were able to divide the number couples by the number of nights remaining, we gave it a shot and it worked really well. Four couples took care of supper & dessert for 32 people on the first night, and on the second night the other four couples reciprocated. It’s nice to have one night off of cooking and doing dishes.
For our meal we had a Mexican theme. Two of the couples prepared fajitas and the other two worked on tacos. I’m not entirely sure how we broke the rest down but we all contributed pretty evenly. There were lots toppings, salads, Coronas and a Piñata! I’m not sure how Mexican ice cream is, but we finished it all off with some, and it was delicious.
What to Do
Find balance. Since we put such a big focus on supper, we seem to have an unwritten rule that supper and onward are dedicated to spending together as a group. Everything else seems to be what works for your own family. That’s one thing I actually really enjoy about travelling with this group of friends – we’re all on the same page insofar as you have to do what works for you. There are sixteen children ranging in ages from 12mos to 10 years, so it stands to reason that we all have different needs. Trying to coordinate eight families and activities for a full weekend just sounds exhausting, and we’ve never even attempted it for that reason. We generally discuss what the options are that are available and if it sounds like someone else is keen to do the same thing, it’s not unusual for those families to pair off, but we’ve also simply said “maybe we’ll see you there” and that was completely OK too.
That said – it helps to know what the options are. YouTube is a valuable resource when looking for things to do since you can usually get an unbiased sneak peek for free, and judge whether or not it will work for your family. Once you can make a wish list, go to the websites and price out the cost for your family.
If your group is as easy going as ours is, you’re going to be pleased with yourself. You may not knock it out of the park on the first year; but if you had an OK time it will likely only get better. It helps to have confidence in your friends. If you suspect you will regret going, trust your gut and treat your kids to a night at the arcade.