What if I … Have Traveling Companions Who Aren’t My Immediate Family?

If you're traveling with someone who is not your immediately family, decide who's going to paddle and who's going to steer -- metaphorically and for real.
If you’re traveling with someone who is not your immediately family, decide who’s going to paddle and who’s going to steer — metaphorically and for real. (Photo credit: Matthew Clark via Unsplash.)

By Molly Jensen

After years (and years) of road trips with your immediate family, you get a great idea. What if you traveled with your cousins? Or another family? Or (gasp) your friends?

It’s a great idea, but not something to be taken lightly. Travel changes relationships — for better and worse. Go into this with a game plan.

First off, and probably most importantly, figure out if all of you would travel well together. Consider these factors for starters:

  • What are each person’s trip goals?
  • Who’s an early bird? Who’s a night owl?
  • How structured and planned-out should the traveling be?
  • Will it be go-go-go or slow and casual?
  • How much physical activity should be involved?
  • How close are the kids in age?
  • Is sharing caring, or do you not like your stuff touched?
  • How well do you really know the person(s)? Maybe you want to try a weekend together before committing to 10 days.

When you have your group figured out, pick one person to be in charge. When you’re traveling with your family, everyone knows who’s in charge — it’s Grandma, because if Grandma don’t go, no one goes. But if you’re traveling with a group of friends and there’s no clear-cut lead decision-maker, the result could be either lots of arguments or no decisions. Even if it’s just two of you, if neither of you want to make executive decisions, you’ll forever be staring at each other and saying, “I’ll go if you go. Do you wanna go?” instead of making that trip up the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

Even though you’ve designated a person-in-charge, don’t make them do everything involved with planning. Divvy up the research and itinerary planning. No one wants the pressure of making all the decisions. And try to answer these questions:

  • Does everyone have the proper paperwork to travel? Is Procrastinator Pete going to send in his passport information soon enough? Does everyone know they have to get a visa to travel to Australia? If you’re taking your kid’s BFF, it might be smart to have a consent-to-travel form or a temporary power of attorney.
  • Does anyone in the group have medical needs that have to be considered? Is Martha’s asthma going to flare up if you spend too much time in a smoke-filled pub? If Danny is stung by a bee, does everyone know his EpiPen is in the front pocket of his backpack, getting more valuable by the hour? If someone is gluten- or dairy-free, you can’t forget that every time you’re searching for a place to eat. And don’t forget the token vegetarian.
  • How will everything be paid for? Does one person have the hotel and the other the travel, and then do you trade off meals? Or is everything going to be split equally? Are you going to pay up-front or divide it all at the end of the trip?
  • Along the same lines, how expensive do you want the trip to be? Are you always going to splurge on taxis, or are you going to try to walk or use buses? Five-star hotels or hostel stays? Fancy sit-down restaurants or cheap food trucks?
  • What’s the general plan for spending your time? Are there any tours that have to be reserved ahead of time, or will everything be ad-hoc? Do you want to spend a lot of time at stops or snap a picture and go? Hint: If one of you wants to see all the houses in San Francisco one-by-one, and the other wants to see the Golden Gate Bridge and Chinatown and call it good, you’re headed for trouble.
  • How are meals going to work? If you’re staying in an Airbnb and can cook, will you? Who will pay for food? Maybe more importantly, who will cook the food? Will people trade off or will Stacy grill her famous ranchburgers every night, becoming more sullen with each ranchburger?
  • Similarly, how are you going to work snacks? If Katy starts getting hangry, is she on her own? Or is Tommy going to always have some granola bars for anyone who needs one? Nothing can bring down the mood faster than someone who’s hungry.
  • Do rules need to be established? If so, establish them right away. Maybe it’s two families agreeing on a bedtime all of the kids will follow. Maybe Charlie can’t stand it when people touch his feet or Sam doesn’t want anyone using her camera. No matter how trivial others might think it is, if there’s a rule you want everyone to follow on this trip, make sure everyone knows before you leave.

Yeah, it’s a lot to think about. But if you figure it out now, think of all of the arguments you’ll be saving yourself. It might not create the perfect vacation, but it’ll definitely go smoother. Especially if you remember to do these things while traveling:

  • Encourage everyone to communicate how they’re feeling. If you’re starting to get irritated, say so before you explode.
  • If there are rules set, follow them. Don’t be the person who touches Charlie’s feet and causes him to kick the driver. Don’t be the person who uses Sam’s camera and then drops and breaks it. Don’t cause problems.
  • Be flexible. You can’t control weather, or business hours, or that family stealing the picnic table you’ve christened Your Spot.
  • Put your devices away. All your friends back home working their 9-5 don’t have statuses more interesting than a sunset over the Grand Canyon. You chose to come on this vacation with these people, so talk to each other.
  • Yes, you and your eight BFFs decided to vacation. No, all of you do not have to spend every single second together. Break off and explore in smaller groups or by yourself. Mellow out when you need to.

And of course, get travel insurance. Get it for everyone. Testing relationships while traveling is a risk worth taking, but finding yourself in a pickle because you aren’t covered is not.

Molly Jensen is a member of the marketing team at Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection.