Family Vacation: Travel with Extended Family

Family trips aren't always just about your partner and kids. Sometimes grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and all types of in-laws might tag along on a trip. An extended family vacation could be a chance to make magical memories to last a lifetime and create strong bonds. Or, it could be a recipe for disaster leading to hurt feelings all around.  

We polled some moms who have been there and done that to get their advice on how to navigate the tricky prospect of an extended family vacation. We are not going to sugar-coat things:  a couple of moms said, “Don't do it!” However, many more moms had great, practical advice for ensuring everyone has a great family vacation.  

Image via Pexels/ Marc Richards

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Think about the destination

  • Some flexibility will be required when planning an extended family vacation, but don't compromise too much or you are likely to spend the vacation miserable and resentful.  
  • Be firm that any destination has to work for your family and have activities appropriate for your kids' ages, ability, and interests.  

Set ground rules ahead of time:

  • Have a talk with your partner before you leave about how conflicts will be handled.  If you are going on vacation with your partner's family let him know that you expect your wishes to be taken seriously.  
  • You may want to get a commitment from your partner that he will handle any issues that arise with his family members.  
  • If staying with extended family, you may want to set ground rules about the living space, such as choosing rooms in advance, “quiet hours” when the little ones are sleeping, etc.
  • If you have any other expectations, share them in advance. Don't assume everyone knows that you need to go back to the hotel for naptime every day at 2:00, the toddler doesn't do well in crowds, or that everyone can expect to be woken up by the baby at 5:30 in the morning.    
  • Be clear about what you won't budge on. For example, you may be a stickler about bedtime but can be flexible about skipping naps. Let everyone know if there is some wiggle room and where – and where there is no room for negotiation.  
  • Prepare kids ahead of time for any differences in parenting styles among families. For example, you may want to let your kids know that Aunt Susie's kids stay up late but they can't or that Uncle Tom doesn't let his kids have candy so they shouldn't eat theirs in front of their cousins.  

Think about space

  • Make sure you have your own space to retreat to when necessary.
  • If possible, it can help if your family has a room and bathroom to yourselves.
  • Many families enjoy renting a house with extended family so that after the younger kids go to sleep the adults and older kids can still spend time together.  

Plan activities and downtime fun

  • Try and plan some activities just for your immediate family.
  • Make your schedule as flexible as possible so everyone has similar expectations about what will happen on the trip. That way, when frustrations are high, there are no disappointments or surprises.
  • Do not plan every activity together, but plan for plenty of meet-ups. One mom gave an example of an extended Disney family vacation where her family met up to go on some of the more popular rides together and also met up for most meals, but each family unit spent a good deal of the day on their own going on rides appropriate for their kids' ages, letting the baby nap, and not requiring grandparents to walk long distances.   
  • Let go of the fear of missing out. With an extended family vacation a lot will be going on and it's impossible to do it all.
  • Make sure to plan some activities you want to do and that work for your family.  Feel free to invite others along, but don't be offended if they don't come and don't feel pressure to change your plans. 
  • Have some group and individual activities that travel well planned for downtim.  For travel-friendly options good for individual play, look for options that allow for open-ended building. PlusPlus building toys are great for and planes or downtime in the hotel.  For kids who like brain-twisters check out Kanoodle and Kanoodle Gravity, both of which have endless possibilities for solutions making them perfect travel games for kids in elementary school on up. For easy-to-pack games everyone can play together check out Kids on Stage which is a game of charades with a twist.  It can be completed in 30 minutes so it's a great option for kids (or grandparents) with a short attention span.  Another fun option is the I Spy Eagle Eye game where kids race their grown-ups (or other kids) to match items on the card with items of the game board.  No reading is required! Or, for a hands-on activity try a Craft City slime kit that can be used to create different slime combinations – and memories of sliming family. Legos are also always a great bet. Many families love building sets together over the course of a long weekend or week together. Sets that allow for lots of play (and lots of pieces for free building) are the Ninjago Monastery of Spinjuitzu set or the Watchpoint: Gibraltar set.   
  • Another fun activity is gazing up at the night sky together after a long day out. Check out National Geographic's Backyard Guide to the Night Sky, which uses a great system allowing families to identify the easiest constellations first then look for harder-to-spot ones nearby, has tips for urban stargazing, and shares interesting information like why stars twinkle.  

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Choose the right gear for your needs

  • Think about ways to make things easier for everyone. For example, a super-easy travel system like the Britax B-Lively stroller with the Endeavours car seat in SafeWash is a great combination that is simple enough for even Grandma to use so she can help or take over kid-duty.  A system like this makes travel so much easier since the seat can easily pop in and out of the stroller. The infant seat is also really to use with or without a base so it's easy to install in a family member's car or a rental. This system is so easy even a child-free aunt or clueless grandpa can use it.
  • Be organized. Packing right is key. Don't bring too much. Unless you are going to the middle of the rainforest, you will probably be able to buy anything you need. It can be helpful for kids to have their own suitcase. If you need a new one, get one that can grow with your child. Thule suitcases come highly recommended for their durability and unique features. The Crossover Carry-on is a great option for traveling with kids since it's actually two separate suitcases that zip together to create one and can also be carried as a backpack. This is a great option for staying places where you might not have room to unpack also, since everyone can keep their things in their own suitcase without taking up a ton of space. The Subterra is another great option for kids since it's durable and waterproof, while also allowing you to pack a ton with its internal compression panel and divided compartments that allow you to separate clean from dirty (or toys from clothes).  
  • Check ahead of time to make sure that where you are staying has everything you need. It's no fun starting a vacation realizing your rental house does not have a high chair or crib.  If you need to, bring a clip-on highchair or pack n' play. There is also the option to rent baby gear in many cities from companies like this one.
  • You can also bring along a bed designed for travel, like the Nuna SENA Aire Travel Crib. It is great for years worth of trips with a mattress can be placed in a higher bassinet position that’s easy to reach when a baby is tiny, then moved to a lower position when your little one starts pulling up and getting more mobile lasting through age three and beyond. There is also a mini-version for those who will be staying in smaller spaces.  
  • If you are staying somewhere with trees, consider something fun like a light-weight Kammok Double Roo Hammock that packs up not much bigger than a pair of socks can hold up to 500 pounds, making it the perfect portable extended family hangout spot for two.  
  • A wagon is a staple for many family vacations and may be invaluable during travel with extended family where your typical stroller may not hold enough children or enough baby or child gear needed for a day out and about. Keenz Stroller Wagons are the wagons of choice for many families because they are durable enough to last multiple children through years of heavy use, are stylish, and come with lots of thoughtful features like a canopy and five-point-harness.  

Make the most of meals

  • Don't have every meal together. Plan meals that are just for your immediate family.
  • If you have a budget, let everyone know this ahead of time so that you can plan on eating only at restaurants that work for your family.  
  • Some families agree ahead of time that meal times will be planned around the youngest member of the family. If Grandma is used to eating dinner at 9:00 but your toddler goes to sleep at 7:00, it makes sense for many families to eat earlier to ensure they can eat together.  

Get some alone time

  • Try to get some alone time with your partner while your extended family watches the kids. This is one of the best benefits of traveling with extended family for many parents!
  • You can also try to work in some self-care time for yourself when you sneak away to get a pedicure or just grab a cup of coffee on your own.  

What other tips have you found that help make your extended family vacation go smoothly?


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Family Vacation: Travel with Extended Family

Jamie is a Beltway Insider who loves channeling her pre-motherhood love of traveling into spending time exploring all D.C. has to offer with her brood of two girls and two boys ages 9, 7,5, and a baby. She is a reformed lawyer turned full-time kid wrangler who enjoys photographing her everyday chaos and anything salted caramel. Since life is never dull, she loves writing about the issues and events going on in her life at any given time, including caring for a daughter with special needs and th ... More

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