We recently took a trip to Port Aransas with our twins for a fun-filled week of beach time and general family bonding. We went with some friends. And by “some friends,” I mean 12 other adults and 15 other children for a total of 31 people. In one house.
If this sounds like the start of a bad reality show, rest assured, we all survived. No one got voted off the island. Absent some sunburns and a rather disturbing number of jellyfish stings, everyone survived unharmed.
Let’s take a soft fade back some eight months, when one of the women in my tribe suggested we should all take a group trip. We had just successfully completed a three-hour Christmas train ride in Cedar Park with little drama so, like any rational group of women, we decided a week away would be great! I am sure I was not alone in feeling a bit apprehensive. But it turns out that with some basic ground rules in place, a bit of planning, and a good group of friends, traveling with your family of friends is absolutely doable. Here are my tips:
1. Pick somewhere relatively close. We went to Port Aransas because, well, beach! But camping (or glamping) in a nearby state/national park would work, as would spots like Fredericksburg or Austin. It should be no more than a few hours away. Everyone will arrive and depart on their own schedule, and it’s better if you don’t have to wait more than a couple of hours for anyone to get there. Not to mention, your children are basically guaranteed to be bouncing off the walls with excitement on the way there and, naturally, cranky and exhausted for the trip home.
2. Choose your lodging wisely. When we got serious about this trip, I started looking for where we would lay our heads. In my past trips to Port A, I’ve had two non-negotiables, so these were already on my list: (1) Must have a pool; and (2) must be walking distance to the beach. We decided collectively that all the adults should have their own room. We had eight families, so that meant we needed AT LEAST 10 bedrooms, and that was assuming the kids could get cozy. Fortunately, our kids have played together for years now, so they are all pretty comfortable with each other. There are lots of options that may work for you, depending on how “close” you want to get. One front runner for us included four cabins, each with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, all surrounding one communal pool. If we hadn’t wanted to cook, this would have been great, as two families could each share a cabin. Another option—in a facility typically reserved for team-building events—was HUGE and would easily sleep 40 people, but the bedding consisted entirely of bunk beds in long, summer-camp type rooms. The adults in our group definitely wanted some alone time, so that one was out. We considered each renting rooms at a local hotel, but we decided we wanted to be able to get together in a communal space and hang out. Talk to your group and decide what is important to everyone. Then search accordingly.
4. Make a food plan. We decided that many children would be difficult to wrangle for three meals. So we gave up on lunch entirely. We all agreed to bring sandwich bread, peanut butter, jelly, and whatever else our kids would eat for lunch, and let that meal happen organically. Then we counted out the remaining meals and each family took one. The upside was that each family only had to cook one meal—for 31 people. It worked out well for us, with everyone pitching in to serve plates, clean up, and generally be available to help. We did learn that we should have purposely planned the last meal to be a “leftovers” meal. Few of us had cooked for that many before, and children’s appetites are hard to predict. Our last dinner ended up being a hodgepodge of some food that was cooked that night and some favorites left over from earlier in the week.
5. Discuss parenting ground rules. Do you want me to reprimand your kid? Or should I always leave that to you? What about snacks and drinks? Can any parent hand out a chocolate milk or a bag of chips? Are we all going to try to get the children to bed at the same time? In our group, my children (at almost five years old) were the youngest, with the oldest being 11, so bedtime was definitely important. What about screen time? Fortunately, our kids have been together for countless outings, birthday parties, and general play dates. The parents know and trust each other. So we did not have to have much discussion on this, as we were all familiar with each other’s parenting styles. We told the kids on day one that they would get any number of responses to “MOM!” or “DAD!” and that’s about as much as we needed in terms of preparing the kids for having 14 parents for the week. You may want to have a more detailed conversation, BEFORE the trip. Finding your child with a bag of chips before his dinner that you would never have allowed is probably not the best time to discuss this with another adult in the group.
6. It’s OK to do your own thing. We spent a lot of time together. I had planned a simple slime-making project in case of rain, and one of the moms brought a karaoke machine. We even got this awesome group picture of all the kids in one of the shark heads that are prevalent on the island. After the kids (eventually) all fell asleep, the adults played card games, swam in the pool, watched movies, and unwound. But we also spent time apart. One day, some of the group went on a dolphin watch. On another day, most of the families went to the beach, while the rest of us stayed at the condo and played in the pool. One couple even went on a morning run together and an early morning boogie board session without their kiddos. Each of the adults got to take at least one nap at some point. We didn’t specifically plan anything and, as a result, we were able to do what we, individually, wanted to do without guilt or angst. By the end of the week, we were talking about doing this again next year. We navigated some bumps and meltdowns. But overall, it was probably the most relaxing “vacation” I’ve had since having children. I read an entire book over the course of the week because I did not have to constantly keep that Mom Third Eye peeled on one of my children, given the vast quantity of adult presence. I enjoyed time with my children, played with other awesome kids, and laughed until my sides hurt with my adult friends.