the whole family with an olmec head

Traveling with family is immensely rewarding, but being open and communicative is important for reducing stress and keeping everyone on the same page. Last week, I wrote about the one thing you should talk about with your family before traveling together: money. Here are the two other topics I always cover before we go:

1. Decide in advance who is calling the shots

When I was a kid, we never really had to discuss in advance who was planning the trip and calling the shots. It was obvious: my parents. One thing that’s different about traveling with adult family is that often times it’s necessary to determine in advance how trip-related responsibilities will be divided. This changes for me from trip to trip depending on where I am going and who I am traveling with.

Rachel and I met up with my mother-in-law, aunt, cousin, and other sister-in-law for two days in Rome.

Some of the major responsibilities to consider include: accommodations, activities, transit, and navigation. It also helps to decide in advance how much autonomy a person has over their responsibility. For example, if my sister is in charge of finding accommodations and she finds an awesome place within the specified budget, does she have free reign to book it? Or does she need to bring it back to the group to vote? Either way works great so long as everyone is on the same page beforehand.

Another way to divide up responsibilities is to make different people in charge of specific destinations — this works especially well for longer trips covering multiple places.


For instance, on mine and Jim’s recent trip to Turkey, I was in charge of Istanbul while Jim took care of Ephesus/Selçuk. My parents didn’t necessarily have any specific responsibilities for planning, but were consulted on and voted for various options before we made a final decision.

Jim and I travelled with my parents in Turkey this winter.
Jim and I travelled with my parents in Turkey this winter.

On the other hand, when we went to Calakmul Mexico a few years ago, we gave my sister and her husband — who had lived in Mexico — the go ahead to plan whatever they thought best within our specified budget. It was another awesome trip.

Exploring ancient Maya ruins in Calakmul Mexico with Jim, my sister, and her husband.
Exploring ancient Maya ruins in Calakmul Mexico with Jim, my sister, and her husband.

2. Decide in advance how much time is spent together

I’ve done trips with my family where we’ve only met up for a few hours a day as well as trips where we’ve spent practically 24/7 together.

Either way, it’s important to talk beforehand about how much time you’re spending together. This is especially true in larger group situations, but also makes sense for couples traveling together. Don’t make assumptions. In the past I’ve made the mistake of making assumptions, and discovered that some people in my group assumed we would spend 100% of the time together, while others assumed we’d split off.

Talking about it beforehand allows people to go into the trip with the same expectations, and allows everyone to have a great time regardless of how much, or how little, time is spent together.

For instance when Jim and I met up with my brother Will and his wife Liel in Paris last spring, we stayed in different hotels on opposite sides of the city. They were traveling for more than a week, and Jim and I only had a long weekend. We went into it with the idea we’d spend one day together, which we did. And it was awesome. The rest of the trip we enjoyed separately.

One the Paris Metro with my brother and his wife.
Exploring the abandoned La Petit Cienture on our own.

Conversely, when my sister-in-law Rachel and I traveled through Germany and Italy together this summer we planned on spending 24/7 together. We also had a blast.

— Laura Rowley


Written by Laura Rowley

I am an artist, flight attendant, and travel blogger.

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