My parents-in-law have always been deliberate when it comes to spending quality time with their five sons, three daughters-in-law, and three grandchildren. One of their favorite ways of creating fun family experiences is traveling. In recent years, it has become our family tradition to spend the Christmas or New Year holidays out of town or abroad. Before you cringe at the thought of spending so much time with your in-laws, let me assure you that it’s doable—and enjoyable. With experience and practice, we’ve gotten a system of organizing our trips down pat.
This year’s vacation to Tokyo, in particular, seemed more challenging than our previous ones. There was the language barrier, a complicated train system, and bitingly cold winter to deal with. We also had a toddler entering her terrible two’s in tow, and I was four-months pregnant at that time. But with careful planning, lots of patience, effective communication, and a dose of sense of humor, our five-day trip turned out to be an awesome one!
If you’re planning a summer getaway with your extended family, read on. You don’t have to let the anxiety of traveling with a big group ruin your vacation. Just like many experiences shared with family, you can choose to stay positive and build lasting memories. Here’s how.
1 Plan ahead… It’s tough to be spontaneous with a large group, especially one with a variety of opinions, interests, and age ranges. The solution? Come up with a daily trip itinerary even before you leave for your vacation. Ask a point person per family to compile a list of sites and activities they want to include in the trip, then compromise and decide as one group which ones are your top priorities. Don’t forget to include backup plans and free time in your schedule, too. Talk about potential challenges that it may pose so you can address them ahead of time.
2 ...but be flexible With a large group of people, not everyone will want to do the same thing at the same time all the time—especially if there are children involved. Don’t be surprised or upset if something on the itinerary gets bumped off. Instead, be open to enjoying some experiences solo (or just with your husband and kids) and be willing to try what other family members want to see, too. Sometimes, a totally unscheduled—and unrushed—day turns out to be the most enjoyable!
3 Check in online Do yourself—and other passengers—a favor: Take advantage of the web check-in services that most airlines offer. The ease and convenience it brings will save you time in the airport (no staying in line for an extended time) and spare you of unnecessary stress (no bickering as you try to wrangle every family member to the check-in counter). Plus, you can get seats that are close (or far from, depending on your preference) to each other.
4 Prep your kids for plane and hotel arrangements Talking to your kids ahead of time eliminates fusses and fights. Agree on who gets the window seat or who’s assigned to share a bed with a sibling. While you’re at it, don’t forget to pack a small toy or book, some snacks, and light sweaters in your carry-on luggage to keep the kids from getting restless and uncomfortable on long flights.
5 Set a price limit Agree on a budget, either on the trip as a whole or on each category like accommodation, activities, and food. Similarly, you can set up a communal or pooled fund that every family contributes to. The money can be used for shared expenses like cab fares, tour guide tips, and family-style lunches.
6 Get more rooms, not better rooms You’ll spend such little time in the hotel that a bathtub isn’t worth the splurge. Instead, put a premium on your comfort and privacy—after a long day of walking and site seeing, the last thing you’d want to worry about is your sister-in-law sharing your bathroom or your nephews crashing on that couch in your room. Going for more affordable accommodations means no one has to give up his or her personal space.
7 Agree on the logistics Don’t expect the entire group to move together as one the entire time. Instead, put a plan in place that doesn’t leave anyone feeling like they’re rushed or pressured. Some tricks to try: Set a realistic wakeup or assembly time in the morning. Be considerate to members of the extended family who have toddlers or senior citizens to take care of. Agree on a meeting place and time in case someone gets lost or misses a train. Rent pocket wi-fi devices and connect everyone to a family thread on free messaging apps like Viber or WhatsApp so you can keep in constant communication.
8 Take turns babysitting Don’t deprive yourself and your hubby of a fancy dinner, a must-see play, or a shopping spree at the night market. Coordinate a babysitting schedule so every couple has a chance to sneak in quality time with their spouse. Knowing they will have this time to look forward to already will put everyone in a good mood (read: less cranky travel mates).
9 Communicate and be patient Proper and effective communication is essential when vacationing with a big family. It ensures that you’re on the same page for the small details (like where to have that midday snack) and the big decisions (how many vans to rent for your city tour). If something is bothering you, speak up, but in a respectful manner. If you hold your concerns and feelings in, you’ll likely end up missing out on the fun for the rest of the trip.
10 Don’t sweat the small stuff. Does it really matter where you have lunch today? Does this stall really sell the better pasalubong over the other? When an argument arises (and it will happen), think before speaking up: Will joining or winning the discussion make or break your vacation? If not, let it go and mind your own business. At the same time, accept the fact that there will always be family members who aren’t easy to get along with. Learn to compromise and handle differences with grace and wisdom.
11 Choose joy. Vacations are supposed to be fun! You can choose to enjoy yourself or you can decide to be stressed and unhappy. It is a choice—and you have control over your emotions and your choice. It’s that simple.