Stay Sane While Traveling With Friends

Keep these tips in mind when vacationing with friends in order to ensure the friendship stays intact long after the holiday is over.

I don’t have many close friends.

I know that probably comes as a shock to you (not), but I tend to be careful about getting too close to people who I’m not related to by blood or marriage.

It isn’t that I don’t want to have close friends—I envy people who have those kinds of relationships. But moving from a small western New York suburb to London at the tender age of 15 messes with a girl’s psyche.

The private school I attended in England had an interesting cross section of students. Many were military kids, and the rest were the children of diplomats and business executives.

When the girl next to me in 10th-grade history class whipped her American Express Gold Card out of her Louis Vuitton wallet, I knew I was out of my depth. I was overwhelmed by the sophistication of my peers, making it very hard for me to cultivate friendships.

Combine that out-of-whack experience with my natural reclusive tendencies (see: writer at work), and it’s easy to see why my best friends are my husband, my kids, my sister and my mom.

Yeah, I’m totally lame, I know. Don’t I sound like a barrel of laughs?

That said, here on the prairie I’ve made friends with some great women, though our tenure in the Midwest is limited to my husband’s time in graduate school. Mercifully, he is almost done, and we’ll be moving on at the end of this academic year.

I’m going to really miss my new pals, and even went so far as to suggest that we all gather at my family’s summer home on Cape Cod one of these years.

Traveling With Friends and Their Kids

After I realized what I’d done, I called on some experts to give me some pointers on vacationing with pals.

Courtney Vareschi, a North Andover, Mass., therapist and mother of three, rented a cottage at the beach with some college friends several years ago. The group decided to stay together, she says, to save money, and with the hopes that their kids would have “built-in playmates” while the adults socialized.

The group had a great time, she says, but it was inevitable that there was some friction. In this case, the issue at hand was parenting styles.

“Overall, we had a wonderful time, but I think that staying with another family can be difficult,” Vareschi says. “The issues that typically arose were around different parenting styles and expectations of behavior for the children.”

The kids shared a room and wanted to stay up late and play, she explains, and she was inclined to let them do so, despite their young ages. However, the other parents set limits and threatened to separate the kids if they didn’t go to sleep.

“It created a kind of tension in the house, because there was inconsistency among the adults,” she adds. The group never talked about the tension openly, and Vareschi says that while traveling together was fun, in the future she’d prefer to have her own space to return to in the evenings.

Set Childcare Expectations

Joan Berzoff, professor of social work at Smith College, says that traveling with children can make group dynamics particularly tricky. She advises preparing for these conflicts in advance, by setting clear expectations with your vacation companions.

“People’s child-rearing styles emerge as very different,” she says. “Talk about what you expect in terms of supervision, trading off childcare, how to deal with conflicts between the kids and between yourselves.”

That includes such mundane details such as bedtimes (remember Vareschi’s story?), Berzoff adds, and who will get up with the children in the mornings.

In general, Berzoff says, vacationing with friends can indeed be dicey, especially when you share living quarters. Being as up-front as possible about what roles everyone will play—before you travel—will go a long way toward avoiding potential conflicts.

“It is very important to negotiate certain things,” she warns. “Who will bring the food, who will bring the bedding, who wants to shop, cook, clean up. Sometimes these things happen organically, but it is better to talk about it first.”

Take Time for Yourself

Berzoff also advises making room for alone time. “Be up-front that you need time alone, and then make sure you get that time on a daily basis,” she says. And above all, remember that you wanted to go on vacation with these people because you like them.

“Most of all, remember why you are friends,” she says. “You like each other. You share values, histories, humor, experiences. Keep that in mind when something annoying comes up, and try to let the little things go.”

Don’t Nitpick

Let the little things go? Dude, I am all about the little things. Just ask my poor husband, who gets a tongue-lashing every time he leaves his balled-up socks on the kitchen counter.

But I think Berzoff is right. Any relationship has give-and-take, and at this late date I don’t have a lot of time to make new friends. I need to keep the ones I’ve got, and geography means I may get to see them only if we travel together.

Just as long as they don’t leave their balled-up socks on the kitchen counter, we’ll be fine.

Themes: Family Travel