If you look at the modern family a few decades back and compare it with the family structures you see now, you’re likely to notice many differences. One of the biggest is the prevalence of blended families, in which 16% of children live as of 2009 according to the U.S. Census.
What this means is that traditions like family vacations are taking a different form too.
Ideally, family vacations should be characterized by Hallmark moments and love-filled memories. However, if you have a blended family and you’ve never been on a family vacation before, it’s easy to worry that things may not go as smoothly as you’d like.
There is no denying that traveling as a blended family can pose its own unique challenges. That doesn’t mean you can’t still have the time of your lives and make it a pleasantly memorable trip.
If you’re on the verge of planning a trip for your blended family, continue reading. You’ll find potential challenges you could face and how to overcome them.
What is a Blended Family?
To start with, a blended family is a pretty broad term, so it’s helpful to outline exactly what it is. The textbook definition of a blended family is a family that includes children from a previous marriage of one or both of the spouses.
If a man who has three children from a previous marriage married a woman who has two children from a previous marriage, that would be classified as a blended family. Essentially, a blended family is made up of step-parents, stepchildren, and step-siblings or even half-siblings, and it could be large or small in size.
Traveling Tips for Blended Families
Common Challenges They Face
Before getting into how you can travel with a blended family, it might help to identify common challenges they face. Seeing as blended families can mean strangers having to come together and live as one family, it isn’t surprising that sometimes there can be conflict. Learning to adapt to different parenting styles and dealing with sometimes conflicting emotions isn’t something that will be easy for both the parents and the kids.
A common encounter you might face as a blended family is fear from the kids. Some may feel as though the new spouse or step-siblings are going to replace them or steal the love and affection their parent has for them. Another challenge that could arise is resentment between ex-partners and stepparents, especially if there is unresolved conflict. This can affect the children’s relationship and make co-parenting far more difficult than it should be.
When it comes to successfully traveling as a blended family, effective communication is a good place to start. It’s important when you’re planning a trip as a blended family that you communicate effectively and clearly with both your spouse’s ex-partner and your stepkids.
A way to do this would be to make sure your spouse’s ex-partner is properly informed and has relevant details of the trip like where you’re going and for how long. You should also ask if they have any ground rules or preferences they’d like you to be aware of considering you may have different parenting styles. In the event that you and your spouse’s ex-partner don’t get along, it’s likely the best course of action to have your spouse do the communicating.
Choose the Right Destination
When planning to travel as a blended family, the first step is choosing a destination. Consider getting everyone to vote on the destination and activities so that all parties feel included and nobody feels left out. Take everyone’s interests and needs into consideration; this will help make an enjoyable trip for the whole family.
Select somewhere that’s easily accessible for everyone who will be traveling in your blended family. Doing so can reduce the amount of stress that applying for visas could cause. If you have permission to travel outside of the United States with your stepkids, then choosing a European travel destination is a great option. Luckily, U.S. citizens don’t need a visa to travel to the EU, but by 2021, they may need to register for ETIAS.
It’s critical to clarify whether or not you’re legally allowed to travel out of state or out of the country with your either your children or your stepkids. Usually, when two parents live apart or are divorced, they have a custody agreement that outlines whether or not the kids can travel and for how long. Read the details of the agreement to find out what limits have been set on travel, whether or not you have instructions for notice of travel, and what your state’s laws are.
Set a Budget
Taking a trip as a blended family will likely be more expensive than your average trip because your families tend to be much larger. To keep costs as low as possible, look for ways to save money during your trip. One idea is renting a caravan or taking a bus if you’re traveling cross-country rather than flying. Not only would this work out cheaper, but you also get the opportunity to spend quality time with one another.
Instead of booking a hotel, an Airbnb may be a more cost-effective option. It would be like a home away from home and you may have more space as well as a kitchen to make meals so you don’t spend money eating out three times a day.
If you’re traveling to a country where Uber is available, use the Uber Pool option to get around, as it can be up to 55% cheaper than UberX in some cities. The only downside is that it’s more or less a carpool, so you may have to stop to pick up other people along the way.
Create Time for Bonding
One of the most important aspects of traveling as a blended family is creating time for bonding. Take into consideration the fact that your stepkids and biological kids are having to adjust to big changes and that this could affect their mental health or even contribute to full-blown mental illness.
Some signs that their mental health may be affected are severe mood swings, being withdrawn, or engaging in high-risk behavior. A vacation could help them better cope as it can create a chance for them to get to know their new siblings and parents better. For kids who don’t live under the same roof as their biological parents anymore, it’s a chance to bond and reconnect.
Make the most of opportunities like long car rides and use them to play games or share funny stories. It’s also critical that you avoid any negative talk about past conflicts or events that could make anyone feel singled out or alienated, and instead, make everyone feel closer. In order to do this successfully, you should lead by example and also put any grievances you have aside.
Another tactic would be to try to discourage the use of electronics if they’re going to result in ant-social behavior. You want everyone to engage with one another, so set ground rules such as no technology during meal times or activities. Seeing as new research has found that American families spend just 37 minutes of quality time with each other per day, you don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to catch up on lost time.
Blended families can be a beautiful thing when everyone is able to accept and respect one another. It may not be a traditional family structure, but it doesn’t make it any less significant. You have the privilege of getting to know people from different backgrounds, cultures, and who have different needs when it comes to love.