Really Big Beach Week

    Planning the Multi-Family Vacation

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    It’s never too early to start planning your next family vacation. In my family, the annual friends’ beach trip is the highlight of the year. And each year, around this time, we thoughtfully review the decision: Should we continue this 15-plus year tradition, or forgo it for a trip with just our family of four?

    If you’re looking for a vacation to bond with your kids, then the big multi-family trip might not be the vacation for you. With so many friends to hang out with, there’s never a lack of entertainment for the kids. But a big upside of having less one-on-one time with your children is having your own time to bond with adults.

    You also have to consider your travel friends wisely. Ask yourself a few questions before committing to a vacation together: Do you have similar interests? Do your kids get along? Are your parenting styles similar? Is everyone able to compromise? Are your housekeeping styles similar?

    If you answered yes to most of these questions, you might be ready to take the plunge and embark on a multi-family beach trip. But believe me, there are still a few important things to consider.

    Which beach? 

    There are many beach locations within seven hours of Richmond. We have traveled as far south as Hilton Head, South Carolina. If you’re more interested in boating, skiing, and lake activities, then destinations such as Lake Gaston, North Carolina, and Lake Anna, Virginia, might be worth a look.

    When should you go? 

    If traveling in the summer, early June or late August have the best rates (in some cases, the last week of August drops by half). We have found that the second to last week of August has worked well for our group since it leaves a week before school starts to get back-to-school preparations out of the way. August can bring a big complication, however. If you’re booking your trip for late summer through October, there’s always a chance of hurricanes. You might find yourself asking, insurance or no insurance? We have done both and it’s a risk either way. A group vote might be a good way to decide this issue because it will affect each family’s contribution.

    Of course, if you’re traveling with preschoolers, the off-season offers great opportunities, including big savings and fewer crowds.

    What kind of accommodations? 

    Our beach gang has never stayed in the same house twice. There’s something exciting about exploring a new home every year. The larger beach houses go fast, so ideally, you should start your search six months in advance. VRBO.com (Vacation Rentals by Owner) is a great starting point to search any location in the world. There’s also something comforting about working directly with the owners.

    It takes time and patience to find the perfect vacation home. You might suggest having everyone do a search and come back on a specific date with options to consider. Begin your search with a list of criteria everyone in your party agrees upon. Our recent search criteria included price ceiling per family, seven to eight bedrooms, pool, hot tub, two refrigerators, close walk to beach, four king or queen bedrooms, a private bathroom for each adult couple, and appropriate sleeping arrangements for the kids. If traveling with young kids, consider requirements such as pack-and-plays, high chairs, gated pools, alarms, and location of kids’ rooms.

    Finally, designate one family to be responsible for making payments and collecting funds when needed. Our standing rule is that this family gets first pick of bedrooms.

    And we’re (almost) here!  

    A few weeks before your trip, send out a spreadsheet to each family to sign up for items to stock the kitchen and contribute to the home: trash bags, dishwashing detergent, storage bags, hand soap, sponges, foil, ketchup, mayo, butter, and other frequently used foods. You might be surprised how quickly these items disappear when so many families are sharing them over a week.

    Many larger homes include linens and this is good thing. Trying to find sheets to fit all the beds can be a nightmare. This does not always mean towels are included, but those are much easier to pack.

    During the week, we have each family cook one dinner. Our dinner styles range from gourmet to burgers and hotdogs, and meals are enjoyed by all. We typically eat out one or two nights or order pizza. We bring our own breakfast, lunch, and snack foods (which is why the second refrigerator comes in handy).

    Depending on the age of the kids, it may help to set ground rules. For example, last year we decided on an electronics-free week and the kids never really missed their mobile devices. It was great to see them using their brains in different ways. You might also set up rules for leaving the house, playing in elevators, watching TV, and so on. My older son still dislikes elevators from a past beach house incident. And don’t forget to plan ahead for group pictures. Some of my favorite pictures are the kids jumping in a line on the beach with their matching white and khaki.

    I am confident that you can experience for yourself the joys of traveling with friends or extended family if you go into it with patience and acceptance of others’ differences. Our trips, which started as a bunch of single friends vacationing together, have morphed into an unforgettable annual family event. Each year, as our week at the beach comes to a close, I feel a touch of sadness that we won’t be waking up to a house full of giggles, enjoying dinners together, walking on the beach, and laughing with friends playing Apples to Apples late into the night. I can’t say that our priorities won’t change for all of us as our kids get older, but for now, we’re enjoying these memories of beach trips that will last a lifetime.