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Traveling With Family Can Be Tough. But These Tips Make It Easier

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During a trip to Portugal and Spain in August 2021, my family quickly discovered why we didn’t take trips more often. Family trips are like midnight Taco Bell runs; they seem like a good idea at the time, but you feel terrible afterward. As three adults ranging in age and generation, all with distinct interests and travel styles, trying to have a group travel experience is a recipe for a miserable experience.

The trip was supposed to be a belated college graduation celebration, as my graduation ceremony was canceled in 2020 due to COVID concerns. At the time, it seemed a blessing in disguise. Instead of an exhausting four-hour ceremony on campus, I got to travel to Portugal and Spain instead. But after coming back from the trip, I swore I’d never travel with my family again.

As a kid without a say in family decisions, I usually would go without complaint to whatever destination your parents chose and whatever restaurant your parents picked out for dinner, even if it was a local McDonald’s. But as an adult, fishing out thousands of dollars for a trip, I want to help shape the journey to my liking.

Maybe that means eating authentic Spanish cuisine with a private Barcelona tour guide instead. But if your family is in tow, that might mean your mother asking you why you can’t choose a more cost-effective option, your older sister wondering if you can go to a more Instagrammable brunch spot, and you questioning why you came on this trip in the first place.

In hindsight, I realized we did many things wrong on our family vacation. The core of our issues was not communicating, but I discovered some tips and takeaways that could make the next experience go much more smoothly.

Highlight Your Priorities and Communicate Them Early

Group travel means everyone has different personalities, interests, and priorities. It’s helpful to determine which interests are a priority for each person. For example, as a history major, I wanted to hit museums and city tours. As the typical tourist, my mother wanted to take pictures of every famous building, while my older sister wanted scenic photographs at the most cultural spots.

In Barcelona, we accomplished all three by booking a private food tour for all of us. The tour guide led us to Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, stopping at famous ancient buildings to explain historical significance while leading us to local, authentic Spanish tapas spots. While my mother took photos and my sister devoured the food, I asked the tour guide questions about the city’s history. Win-win-win.

Of course, not every situation during our trip hit all of our interests simultaneously. But that’s why it’s important to understand what kind of traveler you are, what you care most about achieving on the trip, and what you would regret not experiencing. Knowing this early means you can plan a little bit of everything during your travel and see what you’re willing to sacrifice. For example, I would happily go on a tour bus for an hour to appease my mom if it meant I could go to the Picasso Museum afterward.

Everyone Gets One Dream Ask

A dream ask has to be fulfilled, regardless of whether others want to participate. It’s something that if you could do nothing else, at least you experienced that one thing. For example, on this trip, I wanted to spend the day seeing the Alhambra in Granada––even though it meant making the trek up in 105-degree heat. My older sister wanted to visit Livraria Lello, the Harry Potter-inspired bookstore in Porto with a 2-hour wait time. My mom wanted to sightsee in a trolley around Lisbon, which the rest of us found boring. Regardless, we all engaged because we knew we’d get our dream asks too. We all found something to love in each of those experiences, even if we would never have planned to do it on our own.

Separate out Activities

Spending every waking second with your family in your hometown can be frustrating enough, but in a foreign country, where you’re sharing bathrooms and hotel rooms, eating at the same restaurants, going to the same spots—it can be overwhelming. There is no harm in taking some time out of the day for a solo adventure. Maybe you can take a walk around town while your parents stop for a snack. Or perhaps visit a local bookstore while your sister takes pictures of the Douro River. Whatever it is, mini-breaks during your trip will make everyone happier and offer a much-needed mental break.

What Will Happen Will Happen…so Just Enjoy It!

If things go awry, which is bound to happen at some point (i.e., our train to Porto was delayed significantly), remember that it’s part of the travel experience. Take comfort in each other’s company as well as the places you’re traveling to. No trip plays out as perfectly as imagined, but it does make it sweeter (and less stressful) when you’re not the only one navigating the bumps.

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