So, you think you’ve got this traveling thing down. You know the value of packing light, figured out how to seamlessly get through airport security, can navigate renting a car on foreign soil and how to maximize your frequent flier miles. Heck, you’ve even got a currency guy that somehow beats the banks every time. (Just don’t ask how.)
But now you’re upping the ante: You want to travel overseas…with your in-laws.
What are you thinking?
That’s the question I asked myself during a roughly two-week jaunt through Italy last July. When I look back on this adventure, my wife, her parents, her brother and I had an amazing time. But not without its hiccups. And I sure learned a few things along the way.
1 Make a plan. And stick to it
My wife and I enjoy freewheeling it a little when traveling. After all, being spontaneous can be a lot of fun. But traveling with your in-laws may call for you to take a more measured approach. Try planning activities for each day ahead of time. Creating an itinerary before departing home and sharing it with your fellow travelers can be a big help. This way, you, your partner and your in-laws know what they’re getting into. This will put minds at ease and minimize the “what should we do tomorrow?” conversation. “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” “I don’t know, what do you think?” I bet you can see where that goes… nowhere. And fast.
2 Sometimes you have to act like a boss
Don’t be afraid to step up and take charge. There’s going to be at least one moment when it feels like the whole trip is about to completely go off the rails. It may be at an airport, a train station or even on a wine tour after a little too much. This will be your cue to lead the family forward. As the son/daughter in-law, taking charge may feel a little awkward, but in many cases, it will be just what everyone needs.
3 Time is precious and you’re going to need more of it
Traveling in a group may be fun, but it can also slow you down. You and your partner may be able to saunter into a station, grab a ticket and be on the high-speed train in two minutes. But as you increase the size of your group – especially if they’re a generation older – you increase the breaks: coffee breaks, bathroom breaks and even the occasional beer break (I mean, you are traveling with your in-laws). This all adds up. If something usually takes 15 minutes, budget 25, and you’ll be more likely to catch that bus, train, ferry or plane or donkey-trek. If not, that’s what beer breaks are for.
4 Have a date night
You may not believe this, but your in-laws probably want to spend time alone as much as you do. Set aside at least one night during the trip when everyone goes their separate ways. If you’re having a little trouble bringing up the subject, take your in-law aside before you leave and say, “I was really hoping to have a romantic night with your daughter/son, would that be okay with you?” You will get a big YES. If not, you should probably cancel the trip now.
5a Know your role
While at some point you may have to take charge, don’t forget you’re still the odd one out on this voyage so don’t try too hard. You don’t need to be the center of attention. You and your partner may have a great relationship, but your in-laws have been around much longer. They changed diapers, packed lunches and raised a pretty awesome person, that eventually married you. Let them have their fun together. You can just sit back and enjoy the scenery.
5b Know your fellow travelers
Just because you spend every other Thanksgiving with your in-laws, doesn’t mean you know everything about them, and it’s the unknown you have to account for. Like that time your father-in-law threw out his back cleaning the garage. Or how his sciatica is now kicking in every so often. Believe me, you don’t want to learn about this on your hike through the beautiful countryside of any foreign land. Or how about your mother-in-law’s mild intolerance to lactose. That could make the pizza-making class a lot less fun. So be sure to communicate with your travelers during the planning process so everyone’s (in)abilities can be taken into account. If not, be prepared for the occasional bump in the road and take it in stride.
6 Take some me time
Whether you’re traveling with just your in-laws and or a larger group, go out and grab some time by yourself. It can be as simple as going for a walk and grabbing a coffee or visiting a museum only you’re interested in. A little breather can make all the difference in your sanity.
7 It’s always 5 o’clock somewhere, so take it easy
When it comes to potent potables, some families imbibe a little, some a lot, and some don’t touch the stuff. Whatever category your family stumbles into, just be cautious. Emotions tend to run a little higher after a few drinks and things may get uncorked that can’t be put back into the bottle. You don’t want a fight between your partner and your in-laws to break out because you won’t be on the winning side.
8 Do your own research
Someone is doing a lot of planning for this trip. (Thank you wife, mother-in-law.) But, it’s a good idea to take a few minutes to check things out on your own. You may find some hidden treasures. I always look for a local farmers market. You can also check to see if the town is having any special events, like a fair or concert series. This can help you put a personal touch on the trip.
9 Be the restaurant guru
Eating abroad is my favorite part of the trip. But foreign restaurants can throw you a curveball. So like tip No. 8, do your research. You can really impress everyone by making a reservation at a couple of highly-rated restaurants. A couple minutes on the hotel Wi-Fi and you’ll be all set. It will be so much better than randomly picking one as you aimlessly walk around the town square. And if it’s a hit, you may even get a pat on the back from your father-in-law. That will be nice.