You're the best of friends. Together you celebrate birthdays, promotions, the start of summer, the end of winter, getting through the week. … You share sorrows, frustrations and heartache, too.
And then you take a vacation together. You spend a week living under the same roof, in a faraway place, sharing the expense, the washing machine, the sweeping up and dish duties.
It could be holiday hell. Or, if you plan carefully and follow a few guidelines, it can be the vacation of your dreams, the one your kids seek to recreate when they have children of their own.
I speak from experience. For a handful of years, our family and a few others rented giant houses and drove south to the inviting beaches of North Carolina. It wasn't always paradise. We had hits and misses that had everything to do with us, and nothing to do with the homes we rented. Here, then, are the most basic issues to come to terms with before you holiday together:
Some people let their children run like wild animals, others are just too strict. We have friends in both camps, but we wouldn't holiday with either. We tend to relax the rules on vacation, and pick our friends accordingly. But what if you discover, thousands of kilometres from home, that your loosey-goosey friend is really a closet disciplinarian? Have a quiet conversation with your kids so they aren't caught off guard, and mix your friend a strong drink before lunch in hopes he loosens up.
BEDTIMES FOR KIDS
You want your kids in bed at a decent hour? Define decent. Just because your friends let their kids stay up late on party nights at your house doesn't mean they'll do the same night after night on a beach holiday. And believe me, no one wants to be that kid who has to go to bed hours before the others. You'll feel compelled to send your kids to bed early so the other little ones don't feel left out. (And really, enforcing bedtime sucks at home. Who wants to fight that fight on vacation?)
It can't feel good on the other side of the bedtime fence, either. If your child needs more sleep to function happily the next day, have this discussion before you leave, with your child and with your friends. And try to get a separate bedroom that gives your child the peace he or she needs, even if it means you get a crappier room yourself.
BEDTIMES FOR GROWNUPS
If you are a night owl and you agree to vacation with an early riser, put a few rules in place before you hit the highway. For example: No doing laundry, no yelling for your kids, no doing anything that creates noise or boisterous movement before 10 a.m. If you are adamant about falling asleep early, do not, under any circumstance, travel with rabble rousers who like nothing more than to raise the volume in nightly high-stakes games of euchre. Holiday legends are made at the euchre table. Don't mess with it.
We think there's nothing wrong with self-serve cereal for breakfast and popsicles for lunch (preferably the kind with real fruit juice!). Then when one of the dads makes waffles for whoever happens to be up, it's a genuine treat. Since the real point of a holiday is a break from work, we think that should apply to housework, too. Don't assume your friends feel the same way. You might have a crazy mom who wants to make eggs Benny for a crowd, and actually wants everyone to sit down together.
There's no point teaming up with A-Types if you are a Family Slacker. That said, it works if you have both doers and sitters. In fact, it can take the pressure off your marriage. Your husband wants to laze about and you want to hang-glide with the kids? Your best friend wants to read by the pool, but her husband wants to fish off the pier? Perfect. You team up according to your respective desires and everyone has the holiday they've been dreaming of.
The key to success: Know thyself. Sometimes we think we're ready to tackle every adventure, but we really need to recuperate. Be honest about who you are and what you need. Marriage is on the rocks? Stay home. Too overwhelmed by work to unwind? Stay home. Don't hope your vacation will solve your problems; you'll probably just end up ruining someone else's. (I know, I couldn't put my laptop away one year, irritating an overworked anesthesiologist friend who really wanted to relax.)
Who gets the giant room with the walkout terrace, king-size bed, Jacuzzi and shower built for two? Who gets the room off the kitchen with the headboard backing against the constantly banging cutlery drawers? Instead of varying the rate, you might find it
easier to draw straws to see who picks first. The next year, that family has to pick last. Simple as that, and no switching on arrival.
Decide, too, how to organize the purchase of groceries and alcohol. Just because you may all have the same tastes doesn't mean one family isn't privately facing a financial crunch. You may want to pool for breakfast and lunch foods, but not dinners and drinks. Each family fends for itself on the alcohol front; each family takes responsibility (that means deciding the menu and purchasing the ingredients) for the same number of dinners. If, on your dinner night, you want to serve expensive wines with each course, we love you. If your dinner night is hot dogs and salad on the beach, but BYOB, we love you, too.
THE FINAL WORD
No matter the hiccups we faced on our North Carolina getaways, no matter that not all our marriages survived and we no longer all holiday together, the good memories still outweigh the minor irritations, we learned not only about each other but ourselves, and our kids – more like siblings than friends – all wish we'd never stopped going.
If you have a chance, seize it. I wouldn't trade those holidays for the world.