When we were kids, my parents occasionally let my brother and me take friends on vacations. I suspect the reasoning was twofold: more fun for us and less hassle for them. My brother and I were different. He'd want to go fishing; I'd want to read. He'd want to go hiking; I'd want to read. He'd want to go to the arcade; I'd want to read. Bringing along friends got me off the couch and into the world and provided my brother with like-minded company. It was a win-win situation.
But now I'm the parent, and, recently, while planning a weeklong trip, my 8-year-old daughter asked to bring along a companion. This stunned me. Weren't my husband and I enough company for her? We're fun, right?
Well, yes and no. We get along, but three is an odd number. Someone always sits alone on one side of the restaurant booth. And it's not like she's ignored, but as adults, we don't always want to play pretend or tell gross-out jokes (OK, my husband does favor the latter, so I'm the odd one out.) So, for the first time, we considered taking a companion. Our decision making process included pros and cons, the selection procedure, financial issues, and behavioral management. From this experience, I'll share two rules and many recommendations -- not all may apply to your family and your vacation, but they may help you think through any concerns you have.
To Invite Your Kids' Friends or Not
Years ago, my parents figured out the advantages to including friends. There's company for the child, so adults can still have fun with the kids without having to be playmates. This is especially important if you have an only child or siblings with differences in age, developmental levels, or interests. In our case, we thought, "Someone else to play Twenty Questions might not be a bad idea."
There are more complicated considerations, however:
- With busy schedules, some families don't connect much outside of vacations. Do you want to share this time?
- Can you afford the potential additional expense?
- Is there physical space for another person (in the car or at the hotel, for instance)?
- How will another guest affect personal privacy?
- Do you want daily responsibility for someone else's child?
- How will an extra individual affect family dynamics?
In our case, since we do have a lot of family time, accepting another party member was simple. The challenge was overcoming the other reservations. The solution? Inviting the right friend.
The Selection Process: Who and How?
Bottom line: your invitation should be extended to a child both you and your child know well. You don't want any surprises. Both families should be aware and comfortable with each other's parenting styles, family dynamics, expectations and procedures. If you have more than one child, you must consider how the friends would interact with each other and with the siblings.
We decided to ask my 13-year-old niece to accompany us. It was long trip, far from home. My husband and I felt uncomfortable taking any of my daughter's friends into that situation. At age 8, there's still the prospect of homesickness. Inviting my niece alleviated comfort and familiarity concerns.
How do you make your choice a reality? Here's the first of my two rules: You must (repeat, must) discuss the idea with the parents first. It would be unintentionally cruel to invite the child and raise hopes, only to find that she's unavailable (or that his or her parents think you're too nutty to care for their child). I broached the subject with my brother first, and, soon after, I received hugs and squeals from my niece.
My brother was happy, too, because he was off the hook: our conversation had already included finances. Read about money issues on the next page.
Friends, Vacation and Money Matters
Be frank about money matters with the parents; make sure it's clear who pays what before the friend is involved. If you need financial assistance from the other family, make that evident in the first discussion: ("We can pay for transportation and hotel, but if you could chip in for food and souvenirs, that'd be great.") If they offer to help and you accept, determine amount, designated purpose and timeframe. Is it for tickets or mementos? Is it a pre-trip payment or a reimbursement? Is it a fixed amount or within a stated range?
My husband and I believed that, since my niece's company would enhance everyone's trip, we'd cover transportation, food and lodging. She'd need to provide souvenir money, and she was mature enough to handle her own cash. If you take a friend who has spending money, clarify with the parents who's going to hold onto it and how it's going to be doled out.
Selection, permission, expenses -- those are the essentials, but what else do you need to consider before hitting the road?
Making It Work: Rules for Kids' Friends on Vacation
Here's the second rule, and it could make or break your vacation: Present your behavioral expectations and consequences to all children and parents before the trip. Make sure that everyone knows and agrees upon any rules. You're already familiar with each other, but vacations generate novel conditions. You can't anticipate every situation, but consider common matters of safety and respect. For example:
- Free time, away from parents
- Strict oversight or tolerance of exploration
- Behavioral expectations (chores, manners, kindness)
- Procedures ensuring privacy
- Consequences for breaking rules
- Inherent risks (Will there be white-water rafting?)
Let your knowledge of the friend's behavior be a guide during your discussion. For instance, my niece is, obviously, wonderful, but she seems physically attached to her cell phone and texts nonstop. Since this was a family vacation, I set a rule: Text at the hotel. Period. When we were out and about, the phone was decommissioned (except for important calls from her parents). While this cold turkey approach must have been painful, my niece was a real trooper and respected the rules.
This type of discussion should not be one-way. It's the kids' vacation, too. Make sure kids have input on selecting activities, changing activities and getting some alone time.
General Tips for Inviting Kids' Friends on Vacation
Now, you have a framework for the trip, but there are still some details that need attention. Information that should be shared before you leave includes:
- Luggage guidelines. What should the friend pack, and how should he or she do it? My niece reluctantly but successfully limited herself to carry-on baggage, which was essential to four people surviving in one hotel room.
- Heath facts. You need insurance information for the friend. Also, are there any preexisting medical conditions? It may be appropriate to have a letter from the parents allowing you to make medical decisions, and it wouldn't hurt for that note to contain permission for the child to be traveling with you (location and dates included).
- Your itinerary and contact information for the friend's parents
- Emergency contact information other than the parents'
If you plan ahead, taking a friend on a vacation can be more than helpful. Honestly, it was a pleasure for all of us to have my niece on our trip. After this experience, I won't be so shocked if my daughter wants company on future outings, and I'll remember how fun it was for me to have someone to sit beside on the roller coaster.
- 10 Tips for Traveling with Infants
- 10 Must-haves for a Family-friendly Resort
- 5 Tried and True Family Travel Games
- Disciplining Kids on Vacation
- Should we bring our nanny on vacation?
- Should my teenager go on spring break?
- Should you invite your friends on vacation?
- Is it safe for parents to travel without their kids?
- When is the best time of day to schedule my road trip?
- Berkeley Parents Network. "Inviting Kids' Friends on Outings & Trips." Nov. 13, 2008. (June 24, 2010)http://parents.berkeley.edu/advice/schoolaged/trips.html
- Wilson, Laurie. "Taking Your Child's Friend on Vacation with Your Family." Travelmuse. Jan. 24, 2008. (June 24, 2010)http://www.travelmuse.com/articles/friends-on-family-vacation
- Sehlinger, Bob. "Mom! Can Eddie Go to Walt Disney World with Us?" AllEars.net. (June 24, 2010)http://allears.net/btp/authors_sehl2.htm