The SUPER-SIZED Vacation

Take grandparents, friends and the family dog on this year's summer trip. But happy campers plan ahead to avoid the pitfalls.

July 14, 2002|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Sun Staff

When the Guidells of Pasadena go on vacation, they don't worry about ever feeling lonely. They have friends Brad and Dawn and Frank and Maureen, one set of grandparents and two other families to keep them company.

"It's second nature to us to plan one big trip," says Nicholas Guidell, 25, whose vacation to a Myrtle Beach, S.C., campground last week included 30 travelers altogether. "You get to experience different things with people you know."

From the beaches to the mountains, the family vacation is showing signs of turning into something bigger -- the multifamily vacation. No longer is the summer trip about Mom, Dad and the kids. Now, it could just as easily be about cousins, neighbors, friends from college, and your kids' best friends sharing a get-away.

At Sun Realty on North Carolina's Outer Banks, multifamily homes are the fastest growing segment of the rental market. Six, seven and even eight bedroom homes, often with several master bedrooms, are not uncommon.

"This is a trend we've been seeing for years," says Melanie Buchanan, a Sun manager.

It's much the same at Smuggler's Notch resort in northern Vermont, where group vacations -- from family reunions to a bunch of friends from the office -- will often lease two or more neighboring hillside condominiums for a ski vacation.

"We have some larger condominiums with two master bedrooms that just lend themselves to two families at a time," says Barbara Thomke, a spokeswoman for the resort. "It's not unusual for people to make new friends here -- when you find a place you enjoy you're likely to find people you enjoy, too -- and come back to be with them."

One group leading the trend is grandparents who may vacation with several generations of family. Just in the past year, the percentage of grandparents who traveled with grandchildren rose more than 20 percent from the year before, according to a recent poll by Yesawich, Pepperdine & Brown, an Orlando, Fla., travel consultant.

But baby boomers are in the thick of it, too. So are single parents who want the comfort and convenience of traveling with other families.

"We're seeing more and more of this. People in their 30s and 40s who have grown up together and now have children and go off together on vacation," says Lynda Maxwell, owner of Destinations Inc., an Ellicott City travel agency. "This is often how they get to see each other once a year. It's a good way to stay in touch."

The advantages are obvious -- more time for family or friends to be together in a pleasant surrounding, sharing expenses (and babysitters) and chores (like cooking and laundry) -- not to mention a lot more camaraderie and greater opportunity to socialize.

"It's a wonderful experience," says Oliver Link, 68, a Carrolton, Ga., retired college professor who rents a Nags Head, N.C., house for himself, two sons, a daughter-in-law's brother and his wife, his brother and his wife and a family friend. "It's better than Christmas gatherings. No hustle and bustle, just pure relaxation."

Avoiding conflicts

Learning how to organize such a vacation -- and keep potential conflicts and even generational differences at bay -- is not as easy as it sounds. People who get along fine in small doses aren't always ready for a week or two together.

Two years ago, travel writer Christine Loomis flew from her home in Boulder, Colo., to France with two female friends and their children. Trouble brewed when issues of discipline arose -- who could say (or yell) what to which youngsters. She hasn't traveled with them since.

"We were all great friends," says Loomis, author of Family Travel: How to Plan a Family Vacation The Whole Family Can Enjoy (Reader's Digest, 1998). "You have to think about these things in advance."

Veteran group vacationers agree that advance planning may be the most critical step -- figuring out finances, schedules, and accommodations in advance. After all, who wants to find out you're sleeping on a sofa at the last moment?

The Guidells have been traveling with friends from their Glen Burnie church for 12 years -- going on camping trips as often as monthly and in groups as large as 50. For each destination, one of a dozen or so families is assigned to organize the trip and handle reservations and other details. On the next trip, a different family will take over.

"It probably took six to eight trips for us to figure out the system," says Larry Guidell, 52, who accompanied his son Nicholas to Myrtle Beach.

Paul Macala of Southington, Conn., has taken multifamily vacationing to new heights. He sends out weekly newsletters regarding his annual ski vacation in September. That's five months before the four-day trip.

But he practically has to. What started out as a group of 38 friends and co-workers at a local hospital has turned into a annual pilgrimage for 250.

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