I don’t know how many families would be as crazy as mine, to travel to the other side of the world as a group of twenty to visit a tiny island for a festival. I’m not just talking about me and Thom, my sister and parents either. I’m talking the EXTENDED family. You know, cousins, grandparents, aunties and uncles, the works. That’s pretty rare, right?! Well in my opinion, the impressive part isn’t that we all made the trip over to Malta, it’s that we had a fantastic week together and actually came back as a closer and stronger family (is that even possible?!). It might not be for every family, but if you’re thinking of travelling with your extended family, here’s my survival guide.
Communication is key
When you’re travelling with so many people it could be easy for someone to feel excluded or left out of the plans. From our experience, the easiest way to get around this is to come up with a central way to communicate with everyone at the same time. Our family put together a massive group Instagram message, that way if someone posted what they were doing or where they were going, everyone could see it immediately, rather than multiple texts having to go around. This worked the best for us because it was the only form of social media the whole family had decided to be on, most of us didn’t have international mobile plans so our regular numbers didn’t work and because we were generally all at home with our wifi at the same time in between activities. It was a great way to keep in touch and up to date with everyone else’s plans.
Slow down the pace
If you travel at breakneck speed like me and Thom usually do, you have to be aware that it’s absolutely impossible to travel at that speed with the whole family. Try getting twenty people to go anywhere quickly – it’s not happening. Take this time to slow down, relax and chill out. As a family we generally organized one activity in the morning, a beach to hit up in the afternoon and then we would meet up again for the festival activities in the evening. Trying to coordinate so many people, including kids and grandparents is never going to be speedy. If you go into the trip expecting a slower pace and knowing you’re not going to be able to cram seven activities into a day, you are much less likely to be disappointed.
Avoid all staying in the same place
I can’t stress enough how much you will all need your own space and time to unwind at some point. Your immediate family will understand how you live – when you need a nap, time to yourself or even just to be with the wifi for a little bit (happens often internationally when you don’t have 4G everywhere). But if you’re staying in the same place as the extended family you might be robbing yourself of this alone time. Kid cousins don’t care if you want to Snapchat or catch up on Instagram/Facebook/Twitter when you get a good connection – they just want to play with you all the time, and often get in that dog filtered Snapchat picture themselves. My family stayed in the same village within walking distance to each other – so still close enough for easy access but not on top of each other.
And make sure to take some time to yourself to unwind
It’s so important to make sure you take some of your own unwind time, either with your direct travel partner (for me that was Thom) or with your immediate family (Thom, Mum, Dad and Laura). Even though this is your family and you’re having a great time, you would rarely spend 24/7 together back at home so you shouldn’t expect to be able to do it overseas. Take some time out to have breakfast or lunch by yourselves, a nap or a swim in the afternoon alone can make a massive difference. It’s not offensive at all to say that you need a timeout, and if you’re in a warm or tropical place you can always blame it on the heat!
It might seem like an obvious point, but it can be critical. If someone in the family is saying “I don’t care what we do, you can decide”, they don’t mean it. Or if they do, they will find an issue with your choice once you get there. Even if some family members are more well-travelled than others, or maybe just louder and more assertive, make sure you include everyone in the planning process. People will feel more included and like they are valued if you give everyone the chance to voice their opinion and contribute to the trip. If there are two strong options on the same day take a family vote, or split into two groups for an afternoon so no-one gets to miss out on what they want to see.
And keep everyone in mind when planning activities
Grandparents and little legs probably can’t go on that five kilometre hike up a mountain. Teenagers might not be interested in history museums and parents might not want to be partying every night. Across a multi-generational extended family there are obviously going to be people of all different ages, fitness levels, physical health, energy levels and flexibility as well as having different interests, ideas and goals for the trip. Make sure to offer some activities that everyone can get involved in – like beach days – so that no one feels like they are being excluded. This is especially important when travelling with grandparents or families with young kids in my opinion, as they may feel like they’re holding the family back or being a burden if they can’t participate.
Let people go their own way if they want to
There’s often that one person in the family that might go a little MIA or seem to flake out on half of the family activities. Let them. Maybe they do want to move at a bit of a faster pace than the family allows, or they want to see attractions that they think other people won’t be interested in, but either way it’s important to them. Trying to get them to participate in all family activities will either result in them begrudgingly attending activities and being annoyed at everyone because they feel like they’re missing out on what they want to see (which then often results in everyone else being annoyed at them) or an argument. Even in a family everyone has different interests, travels differently and prioritizes different things. Let them do their own thing and then catch up with you when they’re ready. It will save tension. Never assume everyone wants to do the same thing as everyone else everyday.
And go with the flow if other people turn up. If you’re second cousins that you’ve never met from England and you’re great-uncle turns up include them in the trip. The more the merrier!
You don’t need to be together for a month, traipsing between different cities or countries with a whole heap of flights, transfers or long drives inbetween. Especially if this isn’t a regular occurrence. A week or even two is definitely plenty for a multi-generational trip, before family dynamics start to get tense or unravel. One of the best parts about our trip was the fact that Malta was only one stop on a multi-country itinerary for all of us. So different people in the family were leaving Australia at all different times and going to all different places. For some of us Malta was a last stop where we could share our stories, for others it was a first stop and the excitement of their impending trip was huge. Our Instagram message also came in perfectly for keeping up with everyone no matter where we were. It was so exciting to log on, everyday across a three month span from the first of us leaving to the last of us coming home and see what was going on with the rest of our family across the globe.
Make sure you commemorate the trip by taking heaps of selfies and photos!
Depending on what type of trip you’re taking – this probably isn’t necessary if you’re going on a one week trip and everyone has the exact same itinerary – leaving and coming home on the same day. For our family and everyone travelling independently, there would be a three month space of time in between the first of us leaving at the beginning of June (which was actually me and Thom) and the last of us coming home at the end of August. We were lucky enough to have birthdays either side of this time frame where we would all be together anyway – my Nannu’s 80th birthday at the end of May and my cousin Joel’s 18th birthday at the beginning of September, so this wasn’t actually something we planned out. But it worked out perfectly as a way to say goodbye and then welcome home to each other.
If all else fails always remember: do what makes you happy, laugh at yourselves and each other and ice-cream will cheer everyone up in a tense moment.
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