I hate to overuse the “Big Fat Wedding” pun, and call my story “My Big Fat Family Vacation,” but it’s the only words I can use to describe my extended family trip to Greece this past summer. To top it all off, we’re all Greek, so everything was extremely loud, and there were lots of strong willed, Spartan tempers flying around. We almost didn’t make it on the plane, but we managed to pull off making some great memories that will last us a lifetime.
I do have some advice, however, on how to survive and enjoy an extended family vacation!
1. Stay Organized
When traveling with a large group, it is extremely important to stay organized. Book your plane tickets early so seating is available, reserve your hotel room with enough notice to receive all your family’s hotel rooms near each other, and make sure the rental cars are secured and provide enough luggage space for all.
Oh, and make sure the child who kicks does not sit behind a grumpy uncle on the airplane! This could be make for a very long airplane and uncomfortable airplane ride!
2. Expect Differences
No matter how much you plan, there will be days that no one can decide on the same thing to do. Some will decide they prefer beach days, while others will want to brave the intense heat to see some ancient ruins. Although it’s a “family trip,”expect there to be changes made to original plans as the days flow by. What worked well for us was all meeting at the breakfast buffet each morning to plan our days, and then meeting again at night for a family dinner. Leaving the days open for personal preferences.
3. Help Each Other
You’re family. Let Grandma take the younger kids when it’s time to visit the ancient ruins, so the older kids and family members can enjoy it in peace. The younger kids probably would enjoy the pool or beach better than an ancient museum, and Grandma will love the quality time with them.
Chances are Grandma has seen the ruins a thousand times, and would choose lounging over walking in the hot sun any day! Or maybe the mom with the baby would like an hour break to take a refreshing swim. They say it takes a community to raise a child, well, it takes a community to make an extended family vacation work as well. Use your resources!
In an attempt to consolidate the amount of vehicles we rented, we assumed we could share the cars. WRONG. This turned out to be a pretty bad idea. As it turned out, some people like to stay at a designated location longer than others, or some people drive really fast along unknown, steep, small, mountain roads, while others prefer a slower approach. If you split the day into shifts, and the first shift runs late, which happens with kids, guess what?
The second shift is left ready and waiting, a horrible and wasteful feeling when on vacation. You can actually find cheaper rental cars in little cities, rather than at the airports. So, if you carpool into town, pick up another car once you’re settled. Speaking from experience, we are talking less than half the price. If you don’t feel comfortable driving, get your extended family acquainted with a taxi service so that no one is left without transportation or waiting.
This is a tough one! Most likely everyone has a different cell phone service, with different international calling plans and options. Usually, text and data abroad are free or inexpensive these days. However, even if you DO have access to texts and data, I have some news for you: service abroad is very choppy and inconsistent! The only thing that worked undoubtedly and proved efficient was the good old fashion phone system, and that usually costs an arm and a leg even with the best plan. The cell phone companies know what they are doing! Know this in advance, that communication via phone will be difficult. Preplan your day the good old fashioned way, by the clock. Set times to meet up and times for meals in advance. It will give you security in case your phones cut out, and give your family a bit of a schedule to try to adhere to.
Family is a difficult structure, as the older generation has words they believe to be of wisdom, the teens think they already know everything, the young kids just want their way, and the parents are trying to juggle all this while mediating their way through this amazing thing called life.