Traveling with Family

Traveling with Family

A few weeks ago, my sister and I flew from Boise to Sacramento, where we met up with my cousin from Utah. Our destination was our Grandma’s and Aunt’s house in Northern California. I’m very lucky in that my sister and cousin are also my good friends, but traveling with family brings its own set of dynamics that are different from when you travel with people you aren’t related to. This post includes some ideas on how to make sure you enjoy your trip (and don’t revert to childhood norms where you put gum in your sister’s hair if she annoys you).

Traveling with family to the Beautiful Mendocino Coast
Beautiful Mendocino Coast

Plan meals accordingly

Very little puts you in a bad mood faster than being hungry. It is imperative that you don’t push off feeding too long in exchange for one more store, one more hike, etc. This is a good rule to travel by anyway, but it is especially important when traveling with family because, let’s face it, we can be bi%(#es to our family members a lot easier than we can to our friends. Our families are stuck with us, so they have to be more forgiving and look past our faults.

This, unfortunately, can lead to bad behavior we wouldn’t dream of pulling with our friends. The bigger the group, the easier it is to be indecisive and push off meals. Don’t fall into this trap! If it is getting close to lunchtime, make sure you stop what you’re doing and eat some food. No one likes to be around hangry.

Eating at Noyo Harbor while traveling with family
Don’t get Hangry!

On a trip to Europe with a large group of my friend’s family, we discovered that it was best not to let Mama R get too hungry. A good way to make sure we didn’t reach the point of no return was to always have chocolate on hand. A delicious piece of chocolate in Europe was an excellent stopgap until we could quickly find a restaurant. It is a good idea to always carry along some sort of small snack to tide you over until the next meal.

Sisters eating ice cream
Sisterly bonding with ice cream

Use a cost-splitting app

In a post about handy travel apps, we talked about Split, an app that allows you to keep track of who paid for what and then show the final balance so you can square up at the end of the trip. Since we all know families get weird about money (how many people no longer talk to their siblings after a will is read?) it is best to be upfront about costs. And it is hard to argue with this app if you take the time to use it…which I didn’t on our California trip.

Thus at the airport to fly home I was inevitably pulling receipts out of my purse and trying to figure out who owed whom. Lucky for me, my sis got a degree in math, so she could do the computations. However, it would have been much easier to open the app and see the final numbers. Next month I’m going to meet up with most of the crew again in Washington D.C. and I’m going to make sure I have Split ready to go before I fly out. It is a great tool for when you are traveling with family.

A note about parents paying

This is lame that I have to write this, but it is SO easy to get resentful when you feel like your parents are footing the bill for one of your siblings and not you. This terrible emotion just creeps up out of the smallest part of us and it is important to head it off before it surfaces, otherwise your vacation with your family might be your last. Before you leave on your trip, speak with your parents or siblings and lay down the law. Sure, this is easier said than done and probably stretches way beyond just family vacations, but it is extra important to do on a trip because if you get annoyed at home you can always just remove yourself from a situation; on a vacation, though, you are stuck. BTW: B wrote a great post about traveling with her ‘rents. 

Prioritize and compromise

There is consistently that one person in a family who always seems to get their way…and it drives the rest of the group bonkers. To make sure bossy pants doesn’t monopolize your hard-earned vacation, you should discuss important things that you want to see or do on your trip. Everyone going should list their most important items and these should be incorporated into the overall travel plan.

Spoiler alert: you’re not going to be able to do everything you want to do. This is where the compromise part comes in. You can console yourself by knowing that while the trip itself is part of this family vacation, so is ‘family.’

You came on a trip with your family to spend time with the people you love. It is more important to spend time with your Grandma than to go on a five mile solo hike. When you are planning out what you guys want to do, it is a good idea to keep in mind that not everyone can do everything, so be a team player and you’ll enjoy the the time you spend with your peeps.

Shopping bags and purchases
A family who shops together…

Do your own thing

In direct opposition to the advice above…sometimes you need to get away. If you are going to lose your cool if you spend one more minute with these people…you should definitely take a time out. There’s no shame in breaking up the group for a few hours.

Hiking at Noyo Harbor
Younger generation hiking

Likewise, if a few of you want to explore a city and a few of you want to chill by the pool for the afternoon, do it! The trick here is to try to make sure that no one feels left out. Don’t get a buddy and spend all your time with that person, just the two of you. You came as a group, so do group things most of the time. This is important when traveling with family.

Get enough sleep

Like the advice about making sure to eat so you don’t get mean, some people get real cranky if they don’t get enough quality sleep. I know that as I’ve gotten older, sleeping is one of my very favorite things to do (is that sad? My fave thing happens when I’m unconscious? Hmm…). If I want to be at my best on this trip and enjoy to the maximum I need to get enough sleep.

One member of my family LOVES being around family. The more, the better, and couldn’t fathom why everyone wouldn’t all just pile into one giant room and sleep on the floor, beds, couches, etc. I am NOT like that. I prefer my own space when I sleep and I am too old to sleep on the floor. If you are like me, then for heaven sakes, don’t feel bad getting an extra room at the hotel. If lack of sleep impedes your ability to enjoy yourself during the day, it will be worth the extra cost. Traveling with small children gives you a good excuse for this, but really, you don’t need an excuse. Just get another room if you want a bed to yourself.

Go with the flow

No matter how much a vacation has been planned, things always happen that change your original plan. We got rained out of our camel ride in the Sahara, it was too windy to take a boat to see the Northern Lights in Reykjavik, the sun was covered with clouds on our sunrise hike in Indonesia. Guess, what, it happens. Roll with it. This is especially helpful when traveling with family.

On our trip to California, we wanted to go to the coast one day. Unfortunately, Grandma wanted to have a big dinner on the day with the best weather. Instead of throwing a fit, Gammy changed the dinner to the next night and came to the coast with us. It was a beautiful day and I know we all enjoyed the sun and each other’s company. Being flexible will make sure you enjoy spending time with your family.

traveling with family, three generations driving in a car
3 Generations of R


I don’t see my family, especially those who live far away, as much as I do my friends. Going on a vacation and traveling with family can be a great way to reconnect and catch up. It is a different experience than when B and I hit the road, but different can definitely be good.

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