This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Shell. The opinions and text are all mine.
I feel like vacationing together is the Amazing Race of friendship tests. It COULD go well. You might double your fun-having capabilities and emerge champion in epic memory-making! On the other hand, it might implode into a bicker-fest. Your besties might decide to claim the master bedroom for the duration of the vacation rental, leave their hot curling iron on the bathroom floor and scream about you owing them $1.63 for your family's excessive ketchup use on barbecue night.
You've been warned.
I know how it goes, though. The holidays make everyone feel all sentimental and cozy. Someone decides it would be cool to cut vacation costs and roll the dice on a longstanding relationship. Once you figure out how to share armrests in a movie theater, it seems the next logical friendship step is to merge families for a week and see who lasts the longest. It's like some sort of reverse-escape room rite of passage, and it's actually a real blast if you do it with the right people.
Just don't go in unprepared.
8 Tips for Vacationing with Friends
Bring lots of toys
We try to pack lightweight stuff like matchbox cars, crayons, activity books, blow-up balls, chiffon scarves (they entertain the kids for hours acting as pretend capes and fort components) as well as some disposable things like modeling clay, sticky hands, foam rockets and Wikki Stix. We also bring some dominos and cards along to entertain us adults after the kids go to bed.
Book a place with a kitchen, if you can.
Dining out with kids can be a weird experience. Dining out with kids and friends and their kids is the hamburger version of Russian roulette. Seating is challenging with that many people, splitting the bill is awkward, someone's order is bound to get messed up. Minimize the hassle by arranging for as many meals as possible to be had in the rental, and divvy up meal duty ahead of time. Check about allergies, and keep in mind that it's common courtesy for you to clean when the other couple cooks. For EXTRA bonus points, bring hot sauce packets and any favorite seasonings to share!
Have backup sleeping stuff
Extra pillows, blankets, sleeping bags and travel cribs can maximize space and provide a fun sleepover environment for the kids. The hotel might provide some of that, but it's a good idea to call ahead to check and plan accordingly. We've found ourselves stuck on more than one occasion at a hotel that ran out of cribs, so now we always keep a small playpen in our trunk, just in case.
Clean up after yourself
I'm sure this goes without saying, but it's important to remind the whole family to be diligent about putting their clothes and their trash where it belongs. At our house, the kids have their own playroom where they can kind of let loose and stash their stuff in a big, messy pile without Nate or myself saying anything for a couple days. On vacation you don't have that sort of luxury, so it's important to designate spots for their stuff before they take over the whole dang place.
Communicate about nap time
I've learned that there's always a scheduler that emerges when families travel together. It's great that there's one or two people who are gung-ho about activity-planning! Just make sure they know well in advance if your kids have a regular set downtime, so you don't wind up with a meltdown on your hands.
Think through the vehicle situation
If you're flying somewhere, it may be best to rent a couple vehicles or split the cost of a large van. If you're road-tripping, think about the destination and your needs on the trip so that you bring whatever car best serves the group. We have a set of friends we travel with and swap “babysitting nights” where we take their kids while they go on a date and the next night they'll take ours so we can go out. We always know to bring our van on those trips to maximize seating and tote all the youngsters around.
On adventurous trips where we know we'll be exploring a lot of beach or desert, we take our big offroading truck so that everyone has a comfortable space to unload. We can also offer to haul a trailer if needed or bring along large items such as a cooler or surf boards. Having a pop-up tent on top is a great way for us to provide an extra shady hang-out spot at a moments' notice, too.
Whatever vehicle we bring, we always get it washed before we arrive at the hotel or vacation rental. There will inevitably be lots of moments spent gathered in a parking lot and loading/unloading together, and it's super-awkward to pull up and have to sort through a messy car in front of friends. When we stop to fill up and get a car wash at Shell on the way, we take the chance to clean out all the nooks and crannies where junk tends to accumulate.
Maximize that last-minute pit stop
Since travel planning inevitably means that mom and dad haven't slept much, we also hit up the food mart at Shell to stock up on some little mood-booster indulgences. I tend to reach for the same few items every time: bottled iced black coffee, a CLIF bar, chewing gum for the road and some wine and nuts for a casual cocktail hour at the hotel.
We've registered our credit card with the Fuel Rewards® app (sign up here!) so we earn savings on gas as our purchases add up. When you sign up you will receive Instant Gold Status, saving you 5 cents off per gallon, up to 20 gallons per fill for at least six months. You can even send your referral link out to invite friends to join, and earn an additional 25¢/gal (up to 20 gal) when they use the program after registering with your link.
Remind yourself to go with the flow
For me, this is the most important part of a vacation with friends, since it can be stressful to juggle all the planning and prep work. Once I've taken all the steps to get everything packed and the schedule ironed out, I try to carve out a few minutes to get in the right mindset so I can actually enjoy myself. There's no point in a vacation if you're stressing the whole time! Take a few deep breaths, set your intentions for your time together and take it easy. Know that your kid may be the one eating sand or having a potty accident in the middle of the living room, but every parent has been there. Your friends will understand, and you'll come away with positive memories and an even stronger bond than before.
Have you ever gone on a vacation with friends?
*Restrictions apply. To qualify for the Gold/Silver Status offers, you must be a Fuel Rewards® member and swipe your Fuel Rewards® card or enter your Alt ID when you fuel at a participating Shell station. With Gold Status, you will receive 5¢/gal in Fuel Rewards® savings on every fill-up. The 5¢/gal reward for Gold Status will be combined with other rewards in your Fuel Rewards® account. If you are an existing Fuel Rewards® member, you will receive Gold Status from 6/5/2017 through 12/31/17, the “Existing Member Introductory Period”. If you are a new Fuel Rewards® member, you will receive Gold Status for the initial month you join through the last day of the month, 6 full calendar months later, the “New Member Introductory Period”. The last 3 months of the Existing Member Introductory Period or the New Member Introductory Period (collectively the “Introductory Period”) is the “Qualification Period”. You will retain your Gold Status during the Qualification Period, but you must make 6 qualifying fuel purchases to qualify for Gold Status for the next 3 months, the “Benefit Period”. During the Benefit Period, you must continue to make 6 qualifying fuel purchases to maintain your Gold Status for the next 3-month Benefit Period. A qualifying fuel purchase is any fuel purchase at a participating Shell station in which you swipe your Fuel Rewards® card or enter your Alt ID and fill up with at least 5-gallons of any grade of fuel. For example, if you are a new Fuel Rewards® member and register on 6/15/2017, you will receive Gold Status through the New Member Introductory Period (i.e., 12/31/2017). You will need to fill up with at least 5 gallons of fuel at least 6 times during the Qualification Period (i.e., 10/1/2017 and 12/31/2017) to maintain Gold Status during the Benefit Period (i.e., from 1/1/2018 to 3/31/2018). Thereafter, if you continue to fill up with at least 5 gallons of fuel at least 6 times during the successive 3 consecutive month Benefit Periods, you will retain your Gold Status. If you do not maintain your Gold Status, you will receive Silver Status. With Silver Status, you will receive 3¢/gal in Fuel Rewards® savings. The 3¢/gal reward for Silver Status will be combined with other rewards in your Fuel Rewards® account. Redeem Fuel Rewards® savings with your Fuel Rewards® card or Alt ID at participating Shell stations. Fuel Rewards® savings are limited to 20 gallons of fuel per purchase, per vehicle, or fraud limits placed by Shell and/or limits placed on your financial card by your financial institution, each of which may be lower. Fuel Rewards® savings must be redeemed in a single transaction. Once you begin to dispense fuel using your Fuel Rewards® savings, you must dispense to the 20-gallon limit or you forfeit any remaining discounted gallons of fuel. For example, if you only pump fifteen (15) gallons of fuel, you would abandon the remaining five (5) gallons of discounted fuel. If you have a rewards balance greater than the current per-gallon price of fuel, the price will roll down to the maximum capability of the fuel equipment, and your remaining rewards will be saved for a future fuel purchase. Dispenser may require a price of up to 10.9¢/gal. It may not be possible to combine multiple discounts and/or rewards in a single transaction. For purchases of $75 or more, please go inside to pay. Unbranded diesel and alternative fuels may not be eligible. The Fuel Rewards® program is owned and operated by Excentus Corporation. Offer may be modified or discontinued at any time without notice. Not valid where prohibited by law. Please see fuelrewards.com for complete Fuel Rewards® program details and Terms and Conditions. Other restrictions may apply. All trademarks are the property of their respective owners. To learn more, visit fuelrewards.com/gold or call (888) 603-0473