Now that you are familiar with our Spanish itinerary from my post Spain Together you may appreciate some post-trip planning wisdom from that journey.
First, the “GOOD-ies”:
6 Advantages of Traveling with a Small Family Group.
1. You get to hire private tour guides- for the same money. When you have 4+adults, you could hire your own private tour guides for the same money you would have spent on 4 separate tour tickets to join a larger group. And there is nothing quite like your own private tour guide for your family! Aside from the obvious logistical convenience of moving with a smaller group of people, you get to choose your meeting time, place and itinerary! In Spain I found our private guides’ contact information in Rich Steve’s books and on TripAdvisor.
2. You can save on accommodations by sharing an apartment together (this works especially well if you stay longer than 2-3 days in a destination).
3. You can usually find someone in your group to join you for an activity- whether it is a midnight trip to Madrid’s Plaza Mayor for some churros con chocolates or a Bullfight in Seville. In a worst case, you can exercise your parental influence and have your teenager join you on an evening stroll in Seville. (This home “team” advantage can backfire though, when some other family members, feeling too “comfortable”, ultimatum their way out of going on that evening walk!)
4. You have your own “interested parties” sounding boards to discuss important planning details. It could actually be a lot of fun to plan the travel adventures together, but I find that it is crucial to sound out important logistical matters, like “Does it make sense to stop over in Cordoba for a couple of hours while on Madrid-Seville train?”, “Should we go back to Madrid to catch a non-stop flight back to Boston or take a two-stop flight from Malaga?” (the group answer was yes to both questions, by the way).
5. Parents with kids could actually enjoy some built-in babysitters and leave the kids with their travelling companions, at least on some evenings (for our own romantic night in Seville, we went to the candle-lit Arabic baths followed by the night walk in Bario Santa Cruz)
6. You have so much fun sharing the memories and discussing the details of the day during dinner and laughing well into the night – as only the members of the group on the same journey together can. Think about it- who can be more interested in what you saw in that Spanish trip than people who actually went there with you? Believe ME, after spending four months on a photo album and a week of writing these Spanish blogs, I know what I am talking about!
Just a few “BADs”:
1. Difference of Opinions. If you have more than one person going you obviously have to deal with potentially different wants and needs – on everything from vacation timing and accommodation preferences to cities and sites to visit. In my family (whether we travel as a group of 6+, 4 or 2) I pretty much do all of the planning work. Although I like to complain about it, I mostly don’t mind because I can make my own itineraries without having to compromise (on paper that is, it may be a different story once we actually get there- but there are “tricks” to that too! ). If your family has more planning “voices” than one – try to work through the differences together, but if it is just you- don’t complain and enjoy the sweet advantage of making your own travel choices, no matter how “lonely” it may feel at the planning stage.
2. Difference in physical abilities and schedules. OK, you will have to accommodate the differences in sleep schedules and physical abilities; however don’t be so quick to judge who in your group will need the accommodation- the 3-yeard old Vi or ……. (sorry, you have to finish this sentence yourself. I am hoping to be back in Europe this summer)
3. Logistics. Even though you may save on an apartment, it is actually quite challenging (and pricy!) to find family rooms to accommodate 3+ people in hotel rooms in Europe. Renting minivans is even a bigger challenge as you may need 6+months of advance booking to guarantee a minivan in Spain. We started 4 months ahead and found that South of Spain was simply out of minivans!
And, now, how to beat the “Uglies”, or 5 MUSTS of family travel:
1. GET EVERYONE IN THE MOOD, using age and personal style appropriate tools. For some adults and a teenager in our group, I brought home all Feihtvanger that I could find in our library network (in Russian and English!) and although not everyone managed to read everything on the list, we all got somewhere in our readings. For my techie husband, it was a map and street finder application Route 66 for an Android (that we ended up using everywhere we walked or drove to in Spain). I personally like to take at least a basic adult learning language course (granted, my travels have so far been limited to the countries with Latin and Cyrillic-based alphabets I am already familiar with), enhanced with a Pimsleur audio course on a basic conversation. And for the toddler in the group, watching a couple of episodes of Dora was plenty.
2. PLAN AHEAD. You may not love the planning stage as much as I do, but with a family group, you absolutely MUST plan ahead. My Spanish planning started about 4 months ahead of the trip (and we were still late for the minivan bookings!) with air tickets, and once we finalized our major destinations, closely followed by hotels, train tickets and tour guides bookings. Once we squared out the big ticket items, I started the detailed daily itineraries and side trips. For the side trips, I do the web searches and usually end up on one of the major travel forums under discussion names along the lines of “day trips from Malaga”. For the daily itineraries, I rely on the good old travel books (Frommer/Fodor/DK are all good- but I usually also supplement them with Rick Steve’s guides for the specifics like phone numbers for private tour guides). I use both broad covering whole country books and specific city books in smaller format which I then take with me to have during the trip against my husband’s better judgment -he prefers to download to the “mini” devices he carries around.
3. LEAVE ROOM FOR LAST MINUTE OPTIONS. My itineraries have morning, afternoon and evening columns filled in, but it does not mean that I don’t leave room for last minute choices or free time. I do! I just plan it into the itinerary. I try to even leave a couple of days purposefully unplanned – but with well researched options!!!
4. LET BIG KIDS CHOOSE. Remember, we are talking a multi-age, multi-interest group. So on at least one of the “free” days, I let my teenager make a decision whether to go to Gibraltar or to one of the white Andalusian villages (based, of course, on a mandatory reading of the circled paragraphs in the book). He chose Gibraltar and there we went for a lasting impression.
5. MIX and MATCH more relaxing days with more intense ones. Plan a super relaxing last day (ideally near water) with nothing but Take it Easy on the agenda.
And finally, accept that not everything on the list will be accomplished, despite the best attempts and enjoy the idea of leaving something for next time!