If you haven’t already, at some point you will be asked if your son and/or daughter can bring a frien
d along on your vacation. Some families may already be used to vacationing with friends or extended family, but others are not -- and regardless bringing a friend along on a vacation is a big decision that needs to be thought through and carefully considered.
What is the Reason for Your Trip? I think the first thing that your family needs to consider is the purpose of your vacation and how bringing a friend along may impact that purpose. In other words, why would you bring a teens’s friend along? This may sound odd. But there is a difference between a vacation that is meant to be family bonding time before a child leaves for college and a business trip that is being extended into a vacation. For the former, bringing a friend along could detract from that family bonding while for the latter, having a friend present to keep your teen company while you are working can be a great comfort. Ultimately, if you are inviting someone along to YOUR vacation, you need to keep your family’s interests and needs the primary consideration. On our most recent vacation, we allowed each child to invite a friend along to celebrate their 16th birthday (for our son) and high school graduation (for our daughter).
What Type of Vacation are You Planning? If you’ve made it this far, and think bringing a friend along is a possibility, what next? Consider the type of vacation you are planning and how/if bringing along a friend will impact travel arrangements and cost. Will it make logistics too difficult or expensive? (I talk more later about who pays for what.) Here’s what I mean: If you are renting a large vacation house at a beach and will be driving/renting a large vehicle to get there, you may have plenty of room to bring friends along without adding to your costs or logistics. If, however, you are going to Disney and staying at a hotel, bringing a friend can impact the number of rooms needed and the size or type of vehicle you rent (if you fly down). At some point, the logistics can become complicated or expensive enough to be prohibitive.
Who Do You Invite? If you decide that bringing a friend along would be a welcome addition to your vacation, the next consideration is WHO to invite. This may seem pretty straightforward, but think about the issues discussed above -- the purpose of the vacation, the type of vacation -- and consider whether the friend your teen has in mind is a good fit for the vacation. The friend you invite on a beach vacation may not be the same one you invite for traveling through Europe or taking on Disney. In this consideration, also think about your family’s “style” for the vacation you are planning -- will it jive with the friend? Again, this may sound odd but here’s what I mean. Suppose you are planning a Disney trip and you are a Disney-crazy family that arrives at the park before the gates open, runs around all day and stays through the fireworks display at night. This isn’t for everyone. If your child’s friend enjoys more relaxed vacations, or if they don’t like Disney, then this friend may not be the best fit. On the other hand, this same friend may be a great fit for the relaxing beach vacation you have in mind which will be more about rest and relaxation and less about running around all day. (And we are one of those Disney-crazed families, so no disparagement was intended!) A test run is always a good idea if you have any doubts. Spend a day or a weekend bringing the friend along to something that is similar in nature to the vacation you have planned. You may not live close to Disney, but there’s a good chance you have an amusement park within a couple hours or can spend a day at a beach or lake area.
Ok, so you’re still with me -- you’ve decided to invite your teen’s friend along and have a vacation and friend in mind. Your next considerations before extending the invitation are costs -- who is covering what -- and any ground rules that you may want to set in advance.
Costs. In short, what (if anything) are you expecting the friend and his/her family to cover financially? Again, this may vary depending on the type of vacation. If you own or rent a property that is large enough to accommodate everyone without additional expense and will be driving there, the friend may only need to cover some meals out and souvenirs. The larger and farther the vacation, however, the more you may need the friend to fund. When we took our teens’ friends to Disney with us, we asked them to cover their Disney ticket and flight. We covered lodging, most meals and ground transportation. For the latest trip, our decision to cover the additional hotel room needed for the additional guests was our kids’ graduation/birthday present.
Ground Rules. Before you and/or your teen extend the invitation for a friend to join your trip, you should have a frank discussion with your teen about ground rules and expectations. One item that should be discussed is whether you expect them to be with you most of the time or will there be a certain amount of freedom where they will be on their own? You want to make sure you are on the same page so that there are no misunderstandings or misconceptions. You also want to have this discussion before the trip so that your teen is not telling the friend that they will be running around Disney all on their own, when your intent is for the family and friends to stay together most of the day. You also want to ensure that your teen is onboard with your rules and expectations before a friend is invited and will make the friend aware of what behavior will not be tolerated.
Whew! You’ve gotten through all that and now you want to extend the invitation to the friend. I would strongly suggest that at about the same time your teen mentions the trip to the friend, that you reach out to the parents. If your teen is younger, you may want to speak to the parents first, before your teen mentions the trip to his/her friend. The invitation should include your dates and itinerary, method of transportation as well as expectation about who is covering what costs and what those costs are expected to be. If you need a decision within a certain amount of time, state that and what the next steps will be if they can go. You should also make clear any other information about the trip that could impact their decision -- again, in the interests of making sure that this vacation will be a good fit for everyone. For example, if you’re sightseeing and plan to have pretty full days with early morning starts and late nights, make sure that is clear. When my daughter extended the invitation to her friend, she “warned” him that we were a little crazy about Disney and started early in the morning and had long days -- she just wanted to make sure he could handle it!
ALL of this may seem like a bit of overkill, but taking along a friend on a vacation with your family is a significant decision. You want to give the topic a lot of thought and provide as much information as you can so that everyone has an enjoyable trip -- including you! The time and effort you spend on this decision in the beginning, will make the trip go more smoothly in the end. FYI: we had a great experience on our trip with our teens’ friends! Their birthday/graduation celebrations were a success.