Multi-family adventures can be an incredible way to experience a new place or perhaps enhance a re-visit destination. However, there are also some major differences in the way you plan and do this type of vacation. After all, compounding the number of people involved is sure to add a layer of logistics. I have come up with a few tips on how to plan a multi-family adventure so that everyone walks away with lasting memories and continued relationships in tact.
The first hurdle in planning a multi-family adventure is choosing a location. Often times this step happens organically, coming out of an excited and shared desire amongst family or friends. In our case, longtime friends asked me to help them plan a trip to Yellowstone National Park and jokingly said she just wanted to take us along so we could show them everything ourselves. Crazy thing is that we had already marked summer of 2018 to take our kids back to celebrate. Twenty years before, John and I met while working in Yellowstone National Park and wanted to introduce our kids to our magical place. Other friends overheard our conversation and wanted to join in. What started as a casual conversation quickly became the beginning of a plan. If you are starting from scratch and already have in mind who you want to travel with, I recommend starting the conversation with a few destination ideas and see how they are received.
Tip 1: Choose a destination that everyone is (mostly) equally excited about.
You cannot start off with a compromise right from the beginning so make sure all family units WANT this. Consider the variety of activities that are offered and if there is enough for everyone to be satisfied. Think about the group and the things you have in common and will enjoy doing together.
Tip 2: Begin your planning 3 months earlier than you typically would.
Planning amongst multiple families takes extra time because many parties need to weigh in on many decisions. Now that we have all become accustomed to using video conferencing platforms, that would be a great way to get everyone together to discuss the planning. Start off with a list of MUST DO activities and make sure everyone has time to process their decisions.
Tip 3: Delegate the areas of planning based on who has specific gifts and/or interests.
Our good friend Matt is a wizard at finding the best flights and airline deals and knows the best way to use airline miles/points. I immediately put him in charge of that aspect of the planning. John and I know Yellowstone really well and so we planned our route and where we should stay on which nights. If you have a foodie in your group, that person needs to research restaurants and reservations for large groups. Work with your strengths and more will get done in a shorter amount of time with less frustration.
Tip 4: Create a shareable document to add new information and keep everyone organized.
Sharing information and keeping everyone updated is crucial. This also allows for edits and changes that everyone can see with their own eyes. In a few instances we had to split up on accommodations-it could not be avoided, but at least we had that document to keep track of where everyone was on which night. This also helps to make sure all bases are covered and that there are no holes in the agenda. If we booked an activity we included confirmation numbers and details about who was doing that activity. Breaking things up by each day keeps it well organized.
Tip 5: Poll your people about what they want out of the adventure.
We found that taking a quick survey of our own individual families would have been a good thing to do ahead of time. We did not do this and wish we had. Getting an idea of what is desired from the vacation (lounging on a beach for a week OR hiking 15 miles a day through rough terrain) before you leave can help in the plans. Asking each family member one thing that was on their bucket list for the trip would have helped to divide up into groups better (6 go horseback riding while 5 go hiking and 4 go fishing) in advance. Instead we were left winging it on the fly and it was tough and at times we may have hurt feelings or not heard the quieter in the group. Polling ahead would ensure that no one’s number one desire gets left out. *Sidenote: sometimes this can’t be helped. We had planned an entire afternoon for the older boys to fish, but the weather was awful with very cool temps, whipping wind and spitting rain. You can’t always plan around the weather. Sadly this was a big desire for the boys, but we just couldn’t make it happen.
Tip 6: Leave room/space for down time
Not every family travels at the same pace. Some families like to milk every moment out of their vacation because they only take one trip every two years. Other families like to travel at a slower pace and enjoy each activity and not feel rushed on to the next one. You must allow for each family to have some time just to themselves. You don’t want to make the others tired of you and vice versa. It’s important to leave some space from each other in order to preserve the relationship for the long term. It’s also important to acknowledge that not everyone’s need for downtime will happen at the same time. Be flexible with this and try to come up with a schedule that meets most of the needs.
Tip 7: Prepare your people that there will be compromises
There is no perfect travel world even on the best days, but when you are dealing with a large group and multiple families with lots of dynamics you need to know that you will make more compromises than usual. It’s best to prepare everyone for this before you even leave on your trip. Keep it positive by showing them that their number one activity is on the agenda and that while they may not love everything the group does, they will get their adventure during the trip.
Tip 8: Be sensitive to budgets
It goes without saying that not every family is in the same financial situation, but beyond that each family values things differently. Perhaps one family prefers to eat all meals self-cooked so they can put that money toward experiences while another family looks forward to a vacation without any cooking at all. Either way, everyone can still have a good time together while being respectful of each other. Having those discussions up front is best and communicating what’s important in the budget will only help keep things light.
These are the best tips to get you planning a memorable multi-family adventure. In the end, you want an adventure that brings joy to everyone and keeps the relationships in tact for the future. A little extra logistical push can help preserve all of that. Looking back through these photos makes me ready to plan the next time we can get together with lifelong friends and create memories.