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Taking the Kids

On the Road With Other Families

August 07, 1994|EILEEN OGINTZ

It's "The Big Chill" . . . '90s style. Between jobs and kids, the three boyhood friends--now in their 40s and scattered across the country--barely have time to exchange a phone call. But come summer, they make time to vacation together in Florida with their families along.

The kids swim. The men fish. The women relax. Everyone has a terrific week. "You just pick up where you left off and catch up on each other's lives," said Anne Reams, who lives in suburban Chicago and is getting ready for this year's trip. "It's the beach, so everyone is very laid back," she said, even with eight kids ranging in age from 5 to 11.

Before the kids arrived, Reams said, the three couples shared a glorious sailing trip around the Virgin Islands. Now a couple of condos on the beach suits them just fine.

Maybe it's a desire to maintain connections with old friends or forge new bonds. Maybe it's not wanting to spend an entire vacation entertaining kids bored for lack of playmates. For single parents, maybe it's to make sure there's adult company available. Whatever the reason, many families are finding that sharing a trip with friends and their kids adds up t o a successful vacation.

They're renting cabins in the mountains, villas in Tuscany, houses on Cape Cod and pitching tents side by side in the national parks. In the winter, they share condos in ski resorts and Caribbean islands, splitting costs and baby-sitting duties and sharing cooking chores along with adventures.

"It's so much more relaxing than going with family," suggests child psychologist Marion Lindblad-Goldberg, of the Philadelphia Child Guidance Clinic.

Lindblad-Goldberg recalls a memorable vacation sharing her family's tiny Nova Scotia cabin with her best friend's family. It never stopped raining.

"We still had a wonderful time," she said. She suggests making sure the children have some sort of relationship ahead of time. It also helps if they're close in age. And if you're opting for an exotic or remote locale, make sure the families truly are good friends. "If you don't know each other that well, pick a place where there are other things to do besides just sitting around having intimate conversation," Lindblad-Goldberg said.

"You have to respect each other's parenting styles," said Gunnbjorg Lavoll, a child psychiatrist who is on the faculty of Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago. "Put it all out on the table before you go," she said.

That includes discussing finances as well as activities, before hitting the road. Some groups keep a running tab and divvy up expenses at the end; others throw money into a "kitty" and just add more when it gets low. The idea is to find a simple system that's comfortable for the group. "You don't want to worry about who's eating all of the Oreos or drinking more beer," Reams said.

You also don't want to get someplace only to discover that the other family's idea of fun is lolling around the beach while your crew prefers 10-mile hikes.

But when the kinks are all worked out, parents and kids alike say these shared vacations are some of the best they've ever had--and the most economical too.

"As a single parent it's great," said Chicago attorney Lynn Heistand, who shares a North Carolina beach house with a close friend every year and also has vacationed at Club Med with two other families. "The kids have each other and I have companionship too."

"In the evenings, the children are off playing. It's as if we're out by ourselves," adds California travel writer Laura Sutherland, who skis every winter with the same friends.

Sutherland, co-author of "The Best Bargain Family Vacations in the U.S.A." (St. Martin's Press, $13.95), knows first-hand that such trips can create lasting memories. She still thinks about the wonderful summers she had as a kid when her family shared a Lake Tahoe house with friends. "The kids all shared a bedroom, and I remember playing cards during the thunderstorms."

An added plus to these shared trips, Sutherland said, is that parents can split the chores and spend more time with the kids. One dad may take them fishing while another mom teaches them to water ski and another dad leads morning hikes.

Still, she warns, "Everyone has got to keep their sense of humor."

It helps to plan separate time during the day. Just because the families are vacationing together doesn't mean they have to spend every minute of the day together . . . if they don't want to.

Some couples take turns baby-sitting so each gets at least one evening of "alone time." Other families bring a sitter, splitting the cost, so that they can go out as often as they like.

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