- By Gretchen Richter de Medeiros and Tammy Oesting
"The key to a successful shared experience is intentional communication."
What could be better than traveling the world? Traveling the world with those that you love! We are two families who decided to combine our 'Round the World trips for one month in Turkey. The idea of traveling together around the world was born years earlier, with dreams shared around the dinner table and conversations over bottles of wine. The seed had been planted, but could we really do it?
As experienced travelers, we knew that group travel meant more expectations and unique needs which could lead to hardship and complication. Before buying any tickets, we discussed emotional subjects, such as differing interests, resolving day-to-day disputes, and managing interpersonal relationships while on the road. A weekend trip to a nearby city together exposed each family's "travel personality" and motivated us to take the next step, that of a five week tour of Brazil in the summer of 2011. Our families had lived in each others' homes for up to six weeks at a time (due to remodel and reconstruction projects) and from all these experiences came a loose, but no less powerful set of rules for engagement. As long-term friends-who-have-become-family, we've discovered the key to a successful shared experience is intentional communication.
One of the first discussions when planning our trips together was about time. Not just how long we choose to be together, nor when we go, although that is essential, but what is the nature of our time spent together. For instance, when we traveled to Brazil, the adults were holding down full-time jobs, the children were on summer break from school, so we planned our time to include a pre-scheduled 'round Brazil flight and specific activities for each week. On the other hand, in Turkey we were far more spontaneous; as we are traveling long-term, our itinerary is far looser with "lazy days" and the ability to change our daily activities far easier. Within the day, we're vocal about things like wanting to do more sightseeing (or less!), needing a nap, or suggesting a divide-and-conquer approach to part of the day. Knowing how long to travel together, and how you'll manage macro and micro schedules is part of this communication blueprint.
Money is another important discussion point. For us, it is very helpful that both families are traveling with budget-minded, mid-range financial parameters. We're neither low-cost backpackers nor luxury travelers. Before we decided to meet in Turkey we explicitly outlined how much each family wanted to spend for transportation, food, lodging and sightseeing. We determined how we'd divide the lodging costs: equally, with the Oestings paying 2/7 and the Richter de Medeiros clan paying 5/7. We kept receipts and settled differences in expenses about once a week.
Similarly, we talked about how we'd handle meals. Sampling local cuisine is an important travel goal for both families; we also enjoy shopping at local grocery stores and street markets and preparing traditional recipes for each other. With these elements of our travel personalities in mind, and striving to keep our food budget in check, we decided in advance that we would cook more often than eating out, and we'd divide up the kitchen responsibilities ... planning, shopping, cooking, and cleaning up. This also helped drive requirements for lodging; since we'd be doing so much cooking, we specifically sought out rental homes with well-equipped, spacious kitchens!
In addition to logistics, we clarified our personal desires, timelines and challenges. We shared our most-important sightseeing lists, and dentified the things we'd be okay skipping. It was no problem if someone's top choice is someone else's bottom choice, we agreed that knowing this meant that we could occasionally divide and conquer a day's activities. Once out and about, it also helped each person understand why one member of the group might be lingering at a sculpture or structure, when everyone else seems to be ready to leave. The de Medeiros family shared the fact that the kids would need at-home time for road-schooling lessons, that they prefer hands-on activities to museums, and that they'd need some "jammie days" when they didn't have to do anything at all, not even get dressed!
Once we had laid out these elements, it was easy to divide up the pre-Turkey and in-country labor. Gretchen, for example, took on the task of finding lodging, while Tammy researched transportation. Aaron and Rodrigo cooked most often with Heather and the kids on clean-up patrol. Tammy and Gretchen drove decision-making and itinerary discussions and Gretchen and Aaron managed the finances. Bella and Marco voiced when they needed down time and (mostly) graciously got off the internet when it was needed for planning. Heather, of course, taught the kids their formal lessons and communicated with others about how to fit school time in to the weekly schedule. Rodrigo focused on photos and videos of the group. We all tracked each other's humor and hunger levels, gauging when energy lagged and stopping for snacks or chats to solve any problems.
To be frank, talking about and practicing intentional communication doesn't mean that we avoided problems. There were minor disputes, unspoken irritations between everyone, and the occasional bad mood; all of which are normal everyday situations with the potential rife for communication snafus. We found that one of the primary antidotes to these moments was a refocus on our motivation to travel together. For our two families building our friendship is the most important reason we travel together, and thus, preserving our friendship is the most important basis we have for solving problems.
And finally, much as you may not want to talk about what you'll do if something goes wrong, successfully traveling with friends includes creating contingency and exit plans. What will you do if one family decides not to go? Are there deposits that are lost or tickets that can't be refunded? What if you decide to separate mid-trip? What will you say (and how?) to each other in this circumstance? We've agreed on a "no-harm-no-fail" policy for changes in plans, but we also accept that changes may have financial repercussions that we need to share responsibility for. Even if nothing goes sideways, it's good to consider a post-trip de-brief. What went well? What didn't? What would you do differently in a future trip? We did this after our 2011 trip with the happy result of deciding we make great travel partners and we wanted to travel together more often.
The seed of our dreams grew into two simultaneous RTW trips and a successful month exploring the remarkable the remarkable country of Turkey together. Would we do it again? We plan to . . .