How To Travel With Your In-Laws (Without Going Nuts)
STORY: Jenny Tai
18 May 2022
Even if you’re on good terms with your in-laws, travelling together can be tricky. Catching up with them during weekend dinners is not the same as spending an entire vacation with them in unfamiliar territory. Add kids into the mix, and you’ve got a whole new set of travel challenges. Look, you can be fond of your in-laws, but still feel a bit out of your comfort zone while navigating, among other things: your spouse’s family dynamics, their travel style and daily habits, and oh yes — small talk on long-haul flights. That’s okay, we’ve been there. To help set your mind at ease, here are some tried-and-true tips to survive (and even enjoy) travelling with the in-laws.
1. Find out what your in-laws’ travel preferences are
Do your in-laws prefer to relax at the resort the whole time? Or are they open to hiking adventures and activities to explore the local culture? Find out what their travel style is from your spouse so that you can manage your expectations. Schedule-wise, if you’re expecting to catch up on much-needed sleep because IT’S A VACATION, but they’re “up and at ‘em at 6:00am” folks, then you need to know that in advance – lest you roll up embarrassingly late at the breakfast buffet.
2. Pre-agree on ground rules with your spouse
Travelling with your in-laws will be easier and more enjoyable if you have a chat with your spouse beforehand about each other’s basic expectations. Agree with your spouse on the schedule, money arrangement, what’s acceptable for the kids, and how to respond to your in-laws in certain situations. For example, while you wouldn’t hesitate to say “no” to your own mother about giving the kids too many sugary snacks or keeping them up late, you might not feel as readily comfortable saying no your mother-in-law. Don’t expect others to know what you need, but let your spouse know your needs beforehand so that they can support and advocate for you.
3. Plan blocks of time that will be spent with your immediate family
You don’t need to do everything together and you probably shouldn’t, especially if it’s a multigenerational group with different interests. For example, if you’re the only ones with young kids, save children’s theme parks and indoor playgrounds for your separate outings. (Trust us, your spouse’s elderly parents and single, childless siblings won’t feel like they’re missing anything.) Then, meet up with the rest of the group for dinner.
Likewise, if you’re dying to visit museums and historical landmarks but your in-laws would rather go shopping, it’s fine to go your separate ways for an afternoon. Everyone gets to accomplish their mission this way. Plus, you will have more to talk about once you regroup.
That said, if you’re the one who needs alone time (hello, introverts) but your spouse wants to keep hanging out late into the night with their family, don’t be clingy and then resentful about being “made” to stay. Politely retire to your room early and let your spouse bond with their siblings like the old times.
4. Don’t expect your in-laws to babysit your kids every minute
Just because grandma and grandpa love their grandkids doesn’t mean they’re up for 24-hour babysitting. It’s their vacation too. In many cases, they’re physically unable to keep up with your crazy active kids who can out-speed-crawl even you on your two feet. In the same vein, manage your babysitting expectations toward single relatives, no matter how “good with kids” they are, unless they indicate that they’re willing to watch your kids for a bit – say, for you and your spouse to enjoy a romantic dinner out or a quick walk on the beach. Then make sure you tell them over and over how thankful you are.
If possible, look into hiring professional babysitting services at your destination. It’s easier laughing through your father-in-law’s dad jokes and being engaged at the dinner table when you get a break from feeding cranky kids.
5. Make an effort to connect with your spouse’s family
Making a conscious effort to bond with your in-laws is a way of showing love to your spouse. Even if vacationing with them can take some getting used to, remember that it would be just as difficult for someone to travel with your family – and yet, wouldn’t you also want your spouse to get along with your parents and siblings with all their quirks and habits?
Try to see your in-laws in the best light. They’re not out to annoy you with their unsolicited parenting advice (which often comes from a place of genuine care) or make you feel left out. Chances are, they’re also trying to get a grasp on how to better connect with you. Be a gracious participant during the trip, ask questions about their childhood memories, and be a captive listener always. As for all the little stuff – best to let them slide.