Extra Hands

A loving Caucasian father stands in the shallow ocean and plays with his Eurasian one year old son w...
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The Secret To An Actual Vacation With Kids Is To Go With Another Family

You know they have extra sand toys, right?

There’s a running joke about going on vacation with your kids — you know the one. That it’s not really a vacation. It’s just a trip, it’s just parenting in a different place, it’s just the same work you do every day except now with more sand. But here’s the hack everyone seems to be missing: go on vacation with your friends and their kids.

That’s where the breathing room is.

There’s a reason why we look for mom groups, for parents to hang next to at the park, for the dads at preschool drop-off. We want to be with the people who get it. Who don't judge when they see our kid throw themselves mouth-first into the woodchips because we dared to suggest sunscreen. These are the kind of friends who don't try to fix the situation, offer advice, or give a backhanded compliment like, “Wow, he’s really spirited, huh?” They just give you a knowing look and try to hide their amusement from your toddler. So why not vacation with that same kind of energy?

Going on a vacation with friends — real friends — means extra sets of adult hands around bodies of water and people to unwind with at night. It means your kids have built-in playmates for the week, are excited to run upstairs and put on a movie at bedtime while the grown-ups play Trivial Pursuit downstairs. It means you hardly see your kids while you’re at the beach and you may be able to actually read a book because there they’ve been, for the past hour, building an epic sand castle with their besties.

There are not just extra adults but two more parents in the house — and the distinction is key. Parents who will offer to take your big kids with their kids to get ice cream because your baby’s sleeping and parents who will start breakfast for everyone because they know the value in a surplus of pancakes. They’re your friends, so you can trust them, and your kids do, too. You don’t have to worry about your kids waking up in the middle of the night and being scared because even if they walk in the wrong room, they’ll find people who love them and care about them.

Of course, the prep work for a vacation with friends is still work. Someone has to figure out a meal plan, someone has to have a list of things to do, someone has to figure out sleeping arrangements — that’s why you have to vacation with friends. With people who have seen your house messy, the kinds of friends that come over for a barbecue and take out the trash when they see it’s overflowing. The kinds of friends that always bring a dish to share and have been known to rock your babies to sleep or wipe crusty chocolate ice cream off squirming faces.

Our most recent beach vacation — with our friends who are pretty type A and love a good plan and list — included receiving a shared spreadsheet where we could each write out the groceries we were bringing and the meals we had planned. Each family handled dinner for a night and then we decided on restaurants for the other days. Our friends had plans to make pina coladas, and we brought extra beach snacks to share. We packed and dragged the cooler down; they handled the chairs and tent.

People talk about having a mom village, but sometimes a village is just people who love to be around each other. That’s the kind of feeling going on vacation with our friends gives us — everyone’s just happy. You can have lots of friends, but not everyone is a vacation friend, you know? You can have stroller-walk friends who you’d never share drinks with and you can have friends you only see at preschool pick-up, but your friend friends — the real ones that you never feel icky around and have sat on your couch by pushing a mound of laundry to the side — these are your vacation friends. There’s no “this is what our family is going to do” or “this is how your family can handle dinner,” it’s just one big hang, and even with kids around, it really does feel like a vacation.