Challenges to Keep in Mind before Traveling with Kids’ Friends
By Erica Colmenares
Often, as children get to their late elementary school or junior high years, they start asking if they can take a friend along on family trips, maybe even on Disney vacations. Sounds good, eh? You bring along little Suzie’s best buddy, and you and your spouse get to enjoy quality time together while the two friends frolic and play at Disney World. And it’s true. There are some real joys of having a child’s friend along for the holiday ride. But here, for the purposes of this article, I’m going to be a “glass-half-empty” kinda gal. I want to look at the challenges, the difficulties, the warts and all. Let’s think about what they are, and how to anticipate or avoid them.
Laying the Groundwork: Questions to Ask Yourself
First, ask yourself if you are really up for this. Logistically, can you handle another body – in your car and in your hotel room, tent or RV? And how will that extra person change your family’s group dynamic? Maybe vacations are the only time you really all get to be together – do you want to have one or more of your children drawn away from the family circle by their friend? On the other hand, maybe the addition of a child will help everyone, if your children span a wide age-gap, for instance, or do better with a more neutral influence around.
Next, ask yourself if your child has a friend you can stand being with for a whole vacation. Now, no one is doubting that you love children. But it’s just different to have someone else’s son or daughter added to the family mix, 24/7. If your child is the one that has brought up the idea of bringing along a friend, he or she probably has someone in mind. If it’s your idea, that gives you some flexibility to mentally scan your kid’s friends and weed out the messy, sassy ones.
If you are choosing between a couple of your child’s friends, consider that it may be easier to plan a trip with a child whose parents you know and have a relationship with. Perhaps the child is even a family member – a cousin, a grandson, or a niece. The better you know the child and his parents, the more likely you can avoid challenges and plan a wonderful Disney vacation.
If you’ve read to here and aren’t sure that bringing a friend along is for you, maybe you could ask the whole family to consider vacationing with you. Yes, there are ups and downs to this as well (I’m anticipating a second part to this article as I type), but it’s an option to keep in mind. This way, you can share meals and some activities, while having time just to be with the nuclear family unit. Ahhhhh . . . .
But, maybe you still think you’d like to go ahead and ask Victor Jr.’s pal? Great! Let’s keep going!
Now it’s time to talk about cold hard cash. You’ll need to decide who is paying for what. A Disney vacation is an expensive proposition, no matter if you bring your own food to the Value resorts, or do the Premium Plan at the Grand Floridian. If you feel most comfortable footing the total bill for a guest, then you need to figure out whether the extra cost is doable on your budget. Be sure to factor in travel expenses, food costs and park tickets, as well as souvenirs. If you know you cannot pay for everything for the additional child, decide up front what you are willing and able to pay for. That way, you can be clear from the beginning with the child’s parents. Opinions differ on what’s “right” to pay for, but you need to go with what is comfortable and affordable for you. The key is to communicate, from the beginning, regarding what you can pay and what you can’t.
A Test Run: Eliminating Questions
For the uber-planner, before making a final decision, maybe you can schedule a long day trip to a local theme park, or perhaps an overnight camping trip. That will give you a very good idea of the pros and cons of bringing along that particular friend. This will give you a sense of what might come up during a longer trip. Ideally, you would do this before even suggesting the bigger Disney vacation with the other family. Pay attention to how your child and the guest get along when they are with each other over an extended period. And how do other members of your family get along with the child? If your older kid loves having a friend, but the younger one is jealous and/or doesn’t like them, that’s good information to have.
Even if all you can manage is a breakfast out at Denny’s, this could be a very useful test-run. You’ll see how the child behaves in a restaurant setting, and whether you will be comfortable with that behavior. You’ll have to eat at Disney World, and will probably have a few sit-down meals. No one wants to spend much of their vacation teaching whatever basic manners are the family norm.
Next Steps: Questions to Ask Their Parents
All systems are still “go,” and it’s time to talk to Alice’s parental units. One piece of common advice is that you should consult with the parents before you even discuss this idea with your own child. That’s not always feasible, as your kid is probably the one who initiated the idea in the first place. If your son or daughter is “in on” the secret, be sure that s/he is cautioned not to mention it to the friend before a conversation has taken place with the parents. This can help avoid hurt or disappointment, if the plan is not to the other parents’ liking, or the monetary contributions needed are beyond their means.
If at all possible, make some time to really discuss this proposal with the child’s parents. While it’s not a life-shattering decision, neither is it an invitation to the movies. There are a number of things that everyone should bear in mind before giving the plan a green light.
As mentioned above, be clear from the outset about what you feel you can pay for, and what you would not. If the other family will be responsible for paying for anything, be prepared to go into specifics about the cost. If the other family is paying toward anything that has a set due date, make sure to be clear about that date and the amount due at that time. Also talk about pocket money, so that the child will have some discretion about what they buy while at Disney World. If you buy your children lots of souvenirs, it will be difficult not to include the other child in those purchases. If you and yours aren’t big spenders while at the parks, preferring to put dollars toward nice meals, or special activities (or the trip in the first place), share that as well. If you can come to an agreement about how much spending money the children should have, that will go a long way toward harmony during visits to gift shops while on your trip.
You will also want to get a general idea of how the child usually vacations. Do they like to sleep in, when you are an “up and at ‘em” family? Are they willing to go to restaurants of all types, or is their palate restricted? Have they ever been to a theme park, and how do they handle the type of attractions your family likes to ride? Are they shoppers, while you are not? Or vice versa?
Ask if the child has ever been away from home, and how they handled that. Are there things that make it easier? How does the family normally communicate when separated. If you take a child that has never been away from home, you run the risk of having a homesick kid on your hands. One family I talked to found that their guest had to call home three to four times a day. Sometimes that meant that everyone was waiting around in the park while the child talked with his mom. Not a huge deal, but something to take into account.
Ask about parental guidelines. You will be the child’s parent while at Walt Disney World. You might want to offer an overview of how your vacations typically go, and how you deal with bumps along the road with your children. Also share how much freedom (or lack thereof) is normal for your family. Make sure that the other parents are comfortable with the vacation environment you offer, and your family’s discipline patterns.
Finally, there are health matters to consider. Ask about allergies and medications. Make sure that you have insurance information and health releases, in case of emergency. You should get a written, notarized note from the parents stating that you have the right to seek treatment for the child and make medical decisions in their absence. Include the child’s full name and address, as well as their date of birth. You can often find a form at hospital emergency rooms, or print an online form, such as this one. Also get a copy of the child’s insurance card, front and back. Hopefully, you will not need this information, but it is always better to be safe than sorry.
Breaking the News: Questions to Ask the Friend
Maybe you’re thinking it would fun to have this trip be a surprise. Let’s talk, OK? It may be tempting, but think long and hard, though, since this could backfire on you. Maybe the child doesn’t want to go to Disney World (gasp!). Maybe you could benefit from their input on restaurant choices, or planning park days. The more all participants in a trip are included in the travel prep, the better.
Talk with your child and his or her friend about your typical Disney World vacations. If you haven’t been to Disney World before, share another vacation experience that could be similar, like a trip to another amusement park, or to New York City. (If you’ve never done a major family vacation, you might want to consider keeping this first one in the family- vacations can be stressful, and throwing in a somewhat unknown can just add to that stress.)
Have the child over for dinner, and discuss specifics about the trip. Are they familiar with Disney World? You can watch the Disney World planning DVD together. Pay attention to how the child responds to the thrillers, and the shows. That will give you a sense of what appeals to them. Talk about how each day might go. If you get up early, for instance, be up front about that, and see how the child reacts. If they like to sleep late, and your plan is to get up early, work this through before you leave. Make your expectations clear.
On Vacation: Questions that May Pop Up
I’ve talked with a number of families that have taken their children’s friends on vacation with them. Here are scenarios that came up, time and again, that you should be prepared for.
The Fight: Your child and best friend are now sworn enemies, because the best friend laughed at your child for being scared to ride on Splash Mountain. Now what? You are sharing a hotel room, and they are probably sharing a bed. Bring all your negotiating skills for this situation.
Souvenir Envy: Your guest seems to have a bottomless supply of cash, while your kids are hoarding their Disney Dollars for one or two cherished souvenirs. Now what? Do you level the playing field and confiscate the guest’s wallet? Do you break your bank and start buying your kids Disney paraphernalia right and left? And remember – this might also happen in reverse, where your guest doesn’t have the kind of spending money your kids do.
The Big Whine: This is directly related to Souvenir Envy, and can get to the most patient of adults. It’s not just that they want to buy stuff, they need to ask about it, over and over. And over. And over. This can also apply to snacks seen around the parks. If this bothers you, you must be clear about that, immediately. If it doesn’t bother you, could you please give me some parenting pointers?
The Medical Emergency: What if the friend gets sick? Now what? Do you take him or her to the clinic while your spouse takes the remaining children to the parks? Does everyone stick together? How are you going to feel about missing some of your vacation to attend to someone else’s sick child?
Discipline Dilemma: It’s bedtime, but your guest doesn’t want to turn off the TV. He likes to climb the queue rails, but your kids have been properly trained to refrain from such unsafe behavior. Or she keeps wandering off, while your emotional status alternates between frantic anxiety and intense frustration. Now what? Since everyone has different approaches to parenting, you can’t assume that your child’s friend will behave the way your kids do in any given situation. Being up front about your expectations will go a long way to avert issues, but also be prepared to chat the behavior you expect if things aren’t going the way you’d like.
These are just a few of the challenges that could arise during your vacation. Take some time to consider 1) how this will affect your family’s enjoyment of their vacation and 2) how you might respond in these situations.
Enjoy Yourself: Any Questions?
As I said at the outset, the purpose of this article is to look at the downsides of bring an extra child along on your Disney vacation. A bit gloom and doom, I know, but it’s worth looking at the cons before issuing an invitation. We’d love to hear your experiences with bringing along a friend. Just contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we may include your story in a future issue.