If you’ve ever tried planning a vacation with multiple members of your extended family, you know it can be quite a challenge. There are costs to manage, logistics to coordinate and the need to nail down your timing far enough in advance that you can get exactly what your large crew needs. Not to mention, finding a location you can all agree on can prove particularly difficult.
Fortunately, not all is lost.
While helping plan my extended family’s summer vacation, I learned some important decision-making lessons and strategies. Although my situation may differ from yours, these insights can go a long way in helping you plan trips for next summer.
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When to start planning your summer 2023 family vacation
A family planning a trip over a map. JACOBS STOCK PHOTOGRAPHY/GETTY IMAGES
I have a lot of eager planners in my extended family. It’s not uncommon for someone to book a flight six months in advance or begin pushing for commitments for detailed Thanksgiving and Christmas plans in early spring.
So, it comes as no surprise that our group normally starts planning our extended family gathering more than a year in advance. With as many as 17 family members participating, it can be quite a process to come to a consensus on what we want before we begin booking. The one detail we know we can always agree on is the need for an eight-bedroom home by a body of water.
Given how common it is for large single-family homes to book up as soon as reservations become available, my family started panicking about our summer 2023 trip when September rolled around and we were still without a vacation rental. Due to our size and location constraints, we’ve found availability to be extremely limited, with potential options disappearing from the rental pool day by day.
To avoid our situation, aim to be as flexible as possible. The less rigid you are when it comes to destination, lodging, dates and cost, the more flexibility you’ll have as far as when to book.
However, if you have specific vacation needs, be sure to factor those into your process. The more nonnegotiables you have, the earlier you should lock in your plans. So, start looking now for next summer if you haven’t already locked in key details like flights and accommodations.
How to find the right family destination
A family enjoying the view from inside a waterfront home. DIMENSIONS/GETTY IMAGES
Getting a group of 17 people to agree on anything — let alone something as expensive as lodging — can feel like a chore. With family members spread across the country from Pennsylvania to California, finding a location that we’re all willing to drop thousands of dollars on is nearly impossible.
After all, Hawaii may be affordable to reach from the West Coast but costly to visit from locations farther east. Similarly, Caribbean vacations are much simpler and cheaper to arrange from the East Coast.
To cut down on family squabbles about where to go, we rotate destinations we visit. So, if we decide to visit somewhere close to the West Coast one year, we’ll choose a place by the East Coast the following year. While the method isn’t failproof — as the Midwesterners in our clan are rarely within an hour or two of a destination we visit — we aim to keep every part of the process as balanced as possible.
Start by agreeing on common goals for the trip and a process for how to choose destinations. If you can alternate locations to keep the travel costs and logistics as close to fair for all involved as possible, you’ll find that everyone is more willing to consistently participate. Aim for options close to major airports that everyone can reach without connecting flights (if driving isn’t an option) to minimize the travel headaches you’ll encounter along the way.
How to manage costs
Desk with piggy bank and calculator for trip planning. INSPIRATION GP/GETTY IMAGES
Financial planning can always be a challenge for families, especially when it comes to vacations with multiple groups involved. Factors such as specific budgets, personal interests and family structures likely vary from one group to the next, so deciding how to split costs can prove challenging.
For example, you may find yourself wondering if a large family should have the same total costs as a smaller one and whether the age of each child should be factored into calculations. Additionally, you may find it hard to agree on equally splitting the cost of lodging if one family is driving the decision to splurge for a luxury property.
While my family hasn’t found a magical way to get everyone to agree on our vacation spending, we have found it helpful to prioritize the financial component early in our trip-planning process. By deciding our vacation budget and how we’ll split costs early as a group, we’ve found it easier to stay on top of how much we’re spending throughout the process.
To further manage costs, consider designating one person to serve as a bookkeeper for the trip. That way, there’s always someone keeping tabs on what’s been booked and how much money is left in the budget. Don’t forget to also factor in food and transportation, as these expenses can quickly add up for larger groups.
How to use points for a family vacation
Multiple relatives in my extended family are enthusiastic Marriott Bonvoy members who pride themselves on accumulating and redeeming points. We have several Marriott Vacation Club timeshare property owners among us, so leveraging ownership weeks is always in the mix for our vacation planning.
Although finding a multibedroom option with enough space to accommodate 17 people is incredibly difficult, reserving a property with a hotel-affiliated program, such as Homes & Villas by Marriott International, could be a way to go. The Marriott program manages a curated collection of vacation properties around the world, including several larger options. Best of all, they’re bookable with points.
Before committing to the idea of cashing in points for your trip, make sure you agree on the value of your points before splitting costs. TPG’s points valuation guide is a great resource to help you figure out what your points are worth.
Also weigh which is more important to you: having a preferred location or using points. Booking during a busy season like summer often severely restricts what points options are available for larger families. However, if you’re willing to stay a little more off the beaten path, you may find that there are more properties to choose from.
Planning a summer vacation with an extended family can be a challenge, as there are many factors to consider. However, I’ve found that planning as far in advance as possible, being open to compromise and having a shared set of goals are most important. Keeping these key factors in mind has allowed my large family to organize memorable vacations.
While you may not all agree on what to do or where exactly to stay, by communicating openly with one another and being as balanced and flexible as possible when it comes to finalizing plans, you’ll have no problem deciding on a trip that works for your crew.
Featured photo by Vgajic/Getty Images.