Like Thanksgiving dinners and family reunions, you may inevitably have the opportunity to take a vacation with your spouse’s parents. For some people, this might sound like a daunting chore. For others, it might be delightful. Most of us probably land somewhere in the middle. Regardless of where you fall in the spectrum, you’d probably want to do everything in your power to avoid a disaster vacation with the in-laws. These are some of the ways to do that.
Account for everyone’s travel style when choosing a destination
Like with friends or lovers, traveling can be a tricky thing, even with people you love and know well. Not everyone’s travel style will be perfectly in sync and there’s a chance that will cause conflict, especially when it comes to traveling with in-laws. The planning stage is where you can avoid a lot of these issues by eliminating the kinds of vacations where your interests will diverge. Agree to vacations that are less likely to cause contention.
Don’t suggest hiking Machu Picchu with your mother-in-law if she can’t even get through a day at Disney without complaining about her feet. On the other hand, a week in a cabin or at the beach with a relatively light itinerary might be suitable for all kinds of travelers. It doesn’t matter if your in-laws tend to be late; you won’t have to worry about missing a tour bus.
Be a gracious host/guest
Money is a tricky thing, and it can be used to leverage power in a situation. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Paying for all or part of someone’s vacation shouldn’t mean you get to call all the shots. So if you’re treating your in-laws to the trip, you should still be considerate of their preferences. It’s tacky to pay someone’s way just to force them to do things they don’t want to do.
On the other hand, if you’re being treated, you should do everything you can to remain gracious and show gratitude for the experience. Not everything might be to your tastes, but it’s better for everyone if you focus on the gesture rather than on the fact that you didn’t love your hotel or that excursion. You also shouldn’t expect someone to treat you to every little thing on a vacation just because they offered to pay for the flight or accommodation. A simple way to express gratitude is to treat your in-laws to a few dinners if they were kind enough to book your flight or hotel.
Defer to your elders out of courtesy
Taking a vacation with your wife’s parents is a lot like trying to live in a multi-generational household wherein problems arise when people don’t know their place in the pecking order. You may be the man or woman of your house, but if you’re in a fishbowl with the in-laws, they might take offense if you’re the one trying to boss everyone around. Older people have more experience and likely more restrictions in terms of what activities they can handle. So go with the flow and try to accommodate their wants and needs. You can be a bossy bitch when you’re on your own with your spouse – they’re the ones that chose you, but not anyone else.
Set expectations in advance
As an extension of your relationship with your spouse, communication with your in-laws is really important. That includes establishing some ground rules so that no one is disappointed. If you don’t want to be woken up every morning at 7 am, don’t be shy about saying that in advance instead of being angry and resentful during your vacation because you’re not getting any sleep. If your father-in-law only likes eating at the hotel restaurant, let him know in advance that you may want to eat apart at least a couple of meals so you can enjoy more variety.
Make time for you and your partner
This is generally good advice for any kind of group vacation, whether you’re traveling alone or with your partner. If you’ve reached a point where you want some peace and quiet, speak up! Tell them you’d like to have some rest and that you’ll meet up later. Or have an early night even if they’re planning on staying out. There’s nothing wrong with establishing some boundaries, even during a family trip. You don’t have to be attached at the hip 24/7. Chances are, the in-laws could use some time to themselves too.
Communicate about issues that could make things awkward
There are personal things that may cause unwanted awkwardness during a vacation. For the sake of harmony, it may be worthwhile to get those discussions out of the way. My in-laws, for instance, were thoughtful enough to ask my same-sex partner and I how we prefer to be introduced to strangers, as wives or simply companions.
Money can also be a sticking point especially when there is a wealth disparity. Don’t be afraid to discuss your budget if you think the in-laws will want to do things that are simply too expensive for you. On the other hand, if you feel like you’re the big spender on vacation and your in-laws are on a pensioner’s budget, it would be kind to offer to pay for some of the pricier things. But it would be even wiser to ask in advance if they would be uncomfortable with that.
You may also want to brief them on health issues like allergies, phobias, or general mental health concerns that might arise. For instance, you want to avoid being perceived as antisocial just because you’re especially introverted and you need to recharge your social battery often.
Don’t be afraid to have an opinion
It’s one thing to be graceful and open-minded and quite another to be a pushover. Because that can be just as annoying. You know how much it sucks when you’re asking your wife what she wants for dinner and she can’t give you a straight answer? You don’t want to do that for a week straight on vacation with your in-laws. You can express your preferences without being pushy, and hopefully you can work out a compromise. But if you don’t speak up at all, you’re probably not going to enjoy yourself… and try as you might to hide it, that’ll be obvious to everyone.
Remember that they also want to make a good impression on you
If it’s your first time traveling with your in-laws and you’re feeling nervous, it helps to remember that the feeling is probably mutual. You could call this “surviving a vacation with your child’s spouse” and almost every tip would still be valid. Your in-laws also want to make sure everyone has a good time, and they’re probably also thinking about ways to avoid conflict on the trip. If you put that in perspective, you’ll realize that the focus isn’t going to be 100% on you the whole time. In fact, as the person both you and the in-laws have in common, it will probably be on your spouse. So pray for them when they have to answer to all three of you for their bad habits and decisions, and kick back and enjoy yourself.