Hops and Skips

5 Things I Learned on Our First Multi-Family Vacation

This is a post about our trip to Asheville, North Carolina, but this is not a post about Asheville, NC.

We had been planning this trip for months – a culmination of well-timed conversations and ingenious collaborative planning. Three families with five kids under three seeking a weekend retreat in or near Asheville for some hiking, beer-drinking, and well-managed chaos. The house was booked; our arrivals timed; a rough list of destinations researched and shared.

Then a whirlwind 40 hours passed, and we were packing up to leave. Catastrophes had been avoided; chaos moderately managed; and hardly any spots checked off the must-see list. 

We’ve traveled extensively with our own kids (at least, with one of them), but this was our first vacation planned with friends who also have kids under circumstances where the decision-making is communal, and there are many more different needs. I figured we’d make a short bucket list of Asheville must-sees and then spend a lot of time relaxing at a spacious home base where the kids could run around independently, entertained by the presence of others, allowing the grown-ups to have extended, uninterrupted conversation.

I wasn’t wrong, per se, with my expectations, but (as we all said, with exhaustion, before parting ways on Sunday)… it was a learning experience. The standard parenting “expect-the-unexpected” rules apply, but here are some additional things I know now:

1.) Your accommodations are key. We had three families, five kids under three, and no idea how and where our kids would sleep with all the excitement. We were hopeful that the older kids would share a room, launching a fun, new vacation norm, but who knew how that would realistically play out? We made sure to have enough space and then some, reserving a house with five bedrooms and a couple extra beds, just in case. It was also essential to have enough communal space, and ours had a large living room, two outdoor porches, and a big yard for the kids to roam. There were a lot of things the little ones could grab in the house, so we had to be watchful; but it’s hard to find a totally baby-proofed rental house, and we managed. If you want your stay to be even slightly relaxing, it’s essential to find a space that works for your group.

2.) Your accommodations’ proximity to the place you’re visiting is also key. Despite Asheville being the destination of this trip, I can’t with any confidence say I’ve seen Asheville. Our rental house was about 30 minutes outside of downtown in a more rural, remote location because I simply couldn’t find anything big enough to comfortably house our party closer. This made a trip to city center more of a destination, rather than being immersed in it from the get-go. In fact, we only spent one afternoon in Asheville-proper. Had we been staying in the city itself, quick outings would’ve been easier and more frequent. If the destination is a priority, make the location of where you’re staying a priority as well. 

3.) A long weekend is the bare minimum, two full days at least. When you’re coordinating so many different schedules, things go slower than planned. You arrive at different times; kids are on different schedules; a trip to the grocery store for supplies takes the place of a trip to a brewery. Wake-ups are spread out, and it takes a while to get out of the house. Your days end up being a bare-bones version of what you’d actually planned. After settling in on Friday, then venturing out on Saturday before returning home road-weary and exhausted, it was sad to already have to pack up and leave the following morning. It takes time to find your vacation rhythm, especially with so many people. An extra day would’ve given us more time to explore our location and enjoy each other’s company. 

4.) If you have any must-dos, do them first thing. The two things I wanted to do on this trip were 1) a sunrise hike on the balds, and 2) get donuts. After the bedtime chaos of Friday, when kids were so amped they didn’t drop until midnight, we were all too tired to get up on Saturday. By Sunday, I had already decided to push it to a morning instead of sunrise hike, but then our infant decided to inexplicably vomit a few times, so all plans flew out the window. The trip ended with me doing neither of my two must-dos. I’ve traveled enough with kids to know that your expectations have to change, but man, this big of a change is a pill I’m still struggling to swallow. Prioritize your experiences, because something will inevitably happen and you’ll run out of time. 

5.) It’s okay to be a hard-ass. Everyone wants to have fun on vacation. You want it to be a new, exciting, and memorable experience for your kids, but sometimes, you have to parent the hard way. Define expectations and follow through with consequences; lay down the law and temporarily kill the fun if you have to. Vacations still need structure; your sanity will thank you.

After this weekend, I can understand how some families say, “Forget it, that’s more trouble than it’s worth!” It was hard and exhausting and, in some ways, disappointing. But would I rather have stayed at home? No! I got to see friends I haven’t seen in over a year. My kids got to meet and build connections with my friends and their kids. Our eldest managed bedtime in a new place with new people, expanding her experiences and capabilities. We’ve got new memories and new stories to tell. 

Yes, it was a learning experience – just one more step on our path.

Share the Post: