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Group Vacations with Friends
By Alison Gaynor
For us, it started with seeing John Sayles' brilliant "Return of the Secaucus 7" – sort of "The Big Chill" for the younger, poorer set. A bunch of old friends spend the weekend together, talking about old memories and making new ones.
My husband had moved to the Midwest from the East Coast, where most of his friends remained, so we decided to get together for Labor Day weekend on the Connecticut shore. More than 20 years later, four families still get together for a week or so every August in a variety of places from the Carolinas to Seattle. We have a total of 11 children ranging in age from 13 to 24, and those children now talk about how much fun they will have when they can ditch us and go off for their own reunions. (We, of course, dream about Cabo San Lucas in February – without the kids.)
Group vacations with your friends take some organizational effort, but the rewards are well worth it. If you'd like to give it a shot, here are some tips from experience:
- Start slow. This type of vacation only works if everyone gets along, so give the group dynamics a chance to gel. We started with a weekend, and after a couple of years we expanded to a week. We have gone as long as two weeks, but we found that to be a little too long for everyone.
- Choose carefully. Again, group dynamics are key. People with radically different lifestyles – or people who flat out just don't like each other – are not good candidates for this plan.
- Find the right location. The vacation destination you choose should be within everyone's budget and time constraints. Make sure there is a good variety of activities and amusements. Everyone doesn't have to do everything, but everyone should want to do at least something. We find the beach to be an excellent choice, especially since the kids are older. A house near the beach allows them to get up when they want and wander down to fall asleep again in the sand. Avoid having to do too much driving around to get to the things you want to do -- getting everyone up and moving can leave you frustrated and exhausted.
- Find the right house. Make sure there are enough beds for everyone, and privacy for the adults. It is a good idea to have a separate space for older kids, where they can hang out together and stay up as late as they want. Many rental houses have a lower level with a game room and some bedrooms, as well as a refrigerator and a bathroom. You can check online for houses – search for "vacation rentals." That will give you an idea of what is out there. You probably also want to talk to the person you are renting from before you finalize the deal. Have a list of what you want in the house. We have decided, for example, that we can’t live without a dishwasher, Internet access and ESPN.
- Be realistic in your expectations. If your vacation becomes an ongoing tradition, know that not everyone will be able to go every year; personal or family issues may intervene. Know also that people are not going to change their personalities because they are living together. If someone is a slob – or a neatnik – just learn to live with it. After all, that is one of the big lessons of communal living.
- Be open to the new and cherish the routine. Seeing new places is a great thing. Our kids believe that their summer travels have made them much more adventurous than they would have been otherwise, and they probably are right. But we also all benefit from the experience of being together in reliable ways, enjoying familiar experiences with people we love. Some things will become part of the vacation, wherever you go. We always have a karaoke night, for example. And, since two of our members are Episcopal priests, we have a Sunday service. Doing those things gives a continuity to our experience, even as the years go by.
- Keep your sense of humor. This is really the key. Be able to laugh at each other and at yourself – if not immediately, then soon. Remember that the important thing is being together. And take lots of pictures and videos. That way you'll have lots of embarrassing shots when the kids start to get married.
Alison Gaynor lives in Skokie, Ill., with her husband and their three children. For one week every summer, she lives somewhere else, with 21 other people. It is one of the best weeks of her year.