“I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.”Mark Twain

What seemed like a good idea at the time: going up to San Francisco from our home in L.A. to spend a weekend with my husband’s high-school friend and his new girlfriend, turned into a mortifying nightmare in practice. Part of the appeal of this trip was that the girlfriend in question worked for the Ritz Carlton and had gotten us a room (notice the singular article) for a fraction of the normal price. For struggling students, this seemed like a fantastic plan. 

As it turned out, the girlfriend’s main hobby was to sit at restaurants and coffee shops while loudly mimicking the accents of the people seated at surrounding tables as we stared in shock. She also astounded an entire street of Chinatown tourists and locals when she donned a straw hat, pulled her eyes taut, and spun in circles on a crowded sidewalk with an improvised “Chinese” song. The charm continued later that night in “our” room when she spent half an hour on the phone with the Ritz pastry chef describing what she wanted him to “create” for her as a late-night snack. We hightailed it out of there and vowed to think twice before we traveled with other people again.

After years of therapy, I’m happy to say that we eventually were able to resume traveling with others. And then we had kids and found that travel compatibility matters even more when you’re traveling with another family.

Luckily for us, we have had great experiences traveling with other families.  We have spent several summers vacationing in the Outer Banks with good friends and their two boys. This summer, we are traveling to Costa Rica with the same family we traveled to France with last summer.

We have found that asking yourself some thoughtful questions before the trip will help determine if you make good travel partners.

  1. Do you have similar discipline styles? When we travel, we assume responsibility over all the children. This means, occasionally, that we will discipline the other family’s kids, and we expect the same from their parents. This approach may make some people uncomfortable but we find it necessary, especially when the kids outnumber the adults.
  2. Do you have similar expectations from the trip? Do you expect to sit around the pool all day, spend days seeing the sights, go for long hikes, or a little of both? It helps to set out your expectations with the other family before you get there.
  3. Do you all want to be the chief planners? We’ve found it best to split up planning tasks from the get-go or on a day-by-day basis. For example, in the Outer Banks, couples took turns with planning menus, grocery shopping, and cooking. 
  4. Do you expect to spend every minute together?  Some people need more down time than others. Personally, I’m not very pleasant if I don’t get at least half an hour all to myself every day. It’s nice to know what to expect from your traveling companions so no one feels suffocated or shut out. 
  5. Have you spent time with each other’s families doing an unfamiliar activity? Try going hiking or visiting a museum a couple of times with the family before you go.  If these short outings don’t go well, it may not bode well for your trip.

Traveling with other families isn’t for everybody and, as we learned, a trip’s success depends entirely on how compatible you are with your travel partners.