Traveling with Friends (And living to tell about it)

Don’t look for me at the Parkville Home Depot this weekend, because I’m taking a break from the home improvement/gardening/mrs-fix-it projects, and I’m heading out to Cape May.

I’m going with 11 of my closest friends and family members (not that family members can’t be friends). We’re renting a house–our house, in fact. Our old house. The one we sold in March. (You can see lots of self-pitying blogs in the archives if you’re into that kind of thing).

I just realized that going to our house will probably be a little like hooking up with an ex. It’s kind of like the good ol’ days, but as soon as it’s over you realize that someone else is in your baby’s bed. And in this case, because we sold the house furnished, I mean literally.

So I’m not focusing on the house right now. I’m focusing on the house guests.

If you’ve read this blog for more than a day, you know that the hub and I love to rent old houses. And, because renting a whole house can get pricey, we often do it with a large group. In the last year, we’ve enjoyed/tolerated/attended group vacations in old houses in Cape May (duh), Galveston (natch), and St. Augustine. It’s a great way to feel more like a local (yes, in St. Augustine we all sat in the living room with the windows open so that people walking by could envy us for our temporary zip code). It also is a good way to experience the history of a town first hand. And, of course, it’s a free house tour. One where you can sit on the seats and touch the artwork.

There are no downsides.

Unless you go with the wrong people.

So, in an attempt to reassure the right people that they’re good traveling companions, and in the hopes that the wrong people can be trained (and if you’re not sure which group you fall into, simply ply me with a couple of chardonnays and I will tell you more bluntly than you would like), I offer the following list of things to do when traveling with a group:

1. Pay your way. This is non-negotiable, unless, of course, you’re seventeen/unemployed/never interested in traveling with your friends again. I know this seems like a no-brainer…after all, if you agree to go on a vacation, you are also agreeing to contribute to the costs, right? You’d be surprised how often the answer is “Wrong!” This counts for the house rental itself, the alcohol, toilet paper, the orange juice, the alcohol, the dishwashing detergent, the alcohol, and anything else that might be necessary on the trip. This is all part of the cost, people…and just because your good friend Mike (some other Mike–not my husband Mike of course) planned the trip, and paid the deposit, and signed the contract…he* should NOT have to pay for all these other incidentals just for the small joy of being able to spend time with you. Trust me. (*Note: the personal pronoun used here does not under any circumstance refer to my husband Mike.)

2. Ask which bedroom is yours. Yes, we’ve all seen The Real World where things “start getting real” as soon as the housemate with the most emotional problem runs through all the rooms and picks the one with the cushiest digs. This isn’t the real world; this is vacation. And you don’t want to be that person with the most emotional problems, even for a weekend.

If you’re traveling with someone elderly, they get first choice of a room. If everyone in your group is elderly, then the person who made the reservations gets first choice. (Same thing if no one in your group is elderly). After that, it’s all up for grabs.

If you require special accommodations–a king-sized bed for your king-sized butt, a private bathroom because of your intestinal problems, a first-floor room because of your fear of second floor ghosts–please mention that *before* you arrive at the house. And you might want to pony up a little extra cash for the consideration.

3. Now that you’ve chosen your room, make sure that you don’t walk into someone else’s. That means you should knock before you go into every room. The hub and I have owned rental homes for about 13 years now…soon after we bought the second one, I realized that I needed to resign myself to the fact that everyone I invited to the house with us would eventually see me naked. (As you can imagine, that was a bit of a deterrent to some of our friends and probably cut down on the number of our guests considerably).

Staying in a house–particularly an old house–can be disconcerting at times. You can wake up in the middle of the night, and not remember where the bathroom is. You can walk down a hallway of closed doors, and *think* that the third door on the right is the linen closet. But it might not be. It might be your friend’s bedroom, and you might see more of them than you ever wanted to.

Play it safe–for everyone’s sake–and knock first. It’s not a tough rule to remember, and–as you’re clawing at your eyes trying to erase the picture of your mother-in-law pulling off her skirted bathing suit–you’ll be glad you did.

3. No loud sex. Just because you’re confident that no one will walk into your room as you’re shaking your groove thang baby, doesn’t mean that you should shake it till you break it. As much as we don’t want to see you naked, we don’t want to hear you doing naked things, either. Turn the television on, turn on the music, or just wait until you get home. Really, you’ll live.

4. Keep your underwear to yourself. And your wet bathing suit. And your sex toys/vaginal creams/adult diapers. You were invited on this trip because the trip planner presumably likes you. Don’t threaten that relationship with your dirty laundry. Keep your personal items…personal. And hidden in your suitcase.

5. Use the bathroom for peeing and pooping. I don’t want to get graphic here (it occurs to me that I’m probably too late), but most old houses have more bedrooms than they do bathrooms. That means that there will inevitably be a line for the facilities in the morning. As you head to the bathroom, think about the functions that *really* need to be done there, and do them. And only them. I will never forget the summer of 2003, when I sustained permanent kidney damage one morning while listening to **** (name removed to protect the author) blow dry her hair (!!!) in the bathroom. By the time she was done, I was ready to pee out the second-floor window. The one facing the boardwalk.

6. Go with the flow. It’s great to be easy to get along with (who doesn’t love a traveling companion that shouts YES!! before you’ve even finished the question of “Would you like to…”??) Of course, that *doesn’t* mean you have to go with the group all the time. Really. If your friends want to take a six-hour bike across the state line during an orange-level ozone day, and you would rather lay in bed watching HGTV with a bendy straw in your fruity drink, do it. It’s your vacation, man. Don’t make a big deal about it, and don’t whine that no one wanted to go hunting for dead jellyfish on the beach so now you’re not going to participate in the bike-a-thon. Just politely say no, mix yourself another margarita, and settle in.

7. Chow down with the chow hounds. At least once in a while. While I *always* advocate having the group split up periodically (after all, how can I miss you if you never freaking leave?), I also think it’s nice sometimes to go to a restaurant together. If you’re going to do this, make sure that it’s not the most expensive restaurant in town (unless your friends all invested in Microsoft in the 70’s), make sure that the eatery takes reservations (nothing ruins a group dynamic faster than standing outside a restaurant, swatting mosquitos off of each other, and talking about how hungry you are), and make sure that no one minds splitting the bill (note: if it’s the waiter that doesn’t mind splitting the bill, that makes the whole night more enjoyable for everyone). And take a camera–a group vacation is not a group vacation without at least one shot of everyone sitting around the table, leaning in so you can (almost) see everyone.

8. When you eat together, make sure you pay your fair share. Wait a second–are we back at the beginning of the to-do list already?

So that basically sums it up. Pay to play–keep it kid friendly–don’t hog the bathroom–eat now and again. Oh, and one other thing–don’t forget to drink. I’m not talking about hydration here. I’m talking about survival, people.

Wish me luck this weekend!!!

(And, just to entertain me, tell me your worst stories about traveling with other people!)