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Sharecations: Vacations + Friends = Extra Fun

Coordinate your family getaway with some pals, share expenses and experiences. But before you plan a 'sharecation,' read this primer.

During the summer months, so-called "sharecations" are seeing renewed interest as families in southeast Michigan discover the fun of traveling together – and the added benefit of reducing costs by dividing up the expenses.

But before you confab with your best buds, book your hotel reservations and pack up the kids, here are a few things to keep in mind when traveling together. Remember: You have two goals –have a great time during your stay and still be friends after the vacation is over!

The benefits of sharing

Mike Norton, who follows Michigan travel trends as the media director for the Traverse City Convention and Visitor's Bureau, recalls that as a child his family would rent a cottage with another family. "There's no way we would have been able to stay at a Lake Michigan resort on our own! Going with another family made the whole thing possible for a city kid from Grand Rapids. We would stay a week or two at the lake, and it was a huge deal."

Beyond splitting lodging costs, families also can look for living arrangements, like cottages or hotel rooms with kitchenettes, so that they can cook together and share food costs, too.

Another potential sharecation plus: dividing up kid duty. Laura Martone, author of the Moon Michigan travel guide (Avalon Travel Publishers, 2011), suggests taking turns with the other family watching kids, so the adults can slip away to do their own exploring.

"Maybe one set of parents can take all the kids to explore Sleeping Bear Dunes for the afternoon while the other parents take off for the wineries or spas. Then they swap and the other parents can have a night at a nice restaurant while the kids go with the other parents to see a movie or something," Martone says. "Traveling with another family might help parents feel like they get a chance to have a 'mini-vacation,' too."

While the practical advantages can add up, Norton notes less tangible benefits. Families that travel together share adventures that can help make them closer.

"Unlike more programmed destinations like Cancun or Las Vegas, which is largely about being indoors," Norton explains, "destinations in Michigan, where you're experiencing the outdoors – walking along these long beaches just meant for exploring and goofing around – it can change the rhythm of your of your own life, which inevitably changes the rhythm of your relationship."

Avoiding sharecation pitfalls

With any vacation, you need to plan out the details beforehand. That's especially true with a sharecation, since another family is involved.

"You need to talk about the budget together and go over the nitty-gritty details, so no one feels like they're paying too much," Martone says. "It's part of the boring details of traveling, but it's necessary."

During that discussion – or, rather, discussions – decide how to split costs. If you're sharing a cottage, figure out if one family is going to have to pay the bill and the other family or families will reimburse for their share.

Or, as an alternative arrangement, the family that doesn't pay for lodging could cover food expenses. Does it matter when dividing costs if one family has four kids and the other has two? Should the family with more kids pay more? Go over these questions clearly, well in advance of your travels.

You should also make tentative activity plans together. Sure, you might be staying on the beach or near a lake, but sharing a home together might start feeling confined if you don't already know that you're going to visit a nearby museum on one day or an amusement park on another. Don't worry about scheduling everything down to the minute, but you want to go over what kind of activities will interest both families or what activities you should do apart from one another just so there are no misunderstandings once you're there.

Perhaps just as touchy as the budget, you want to review kids' behavior expectations pre-trip too. Yes: discipline! "You need to make sure both families are on the same page," Martone says. "I've been in situations with my nieces where I tell them to stop doing something, but I make sure it's OK with my in-laws first."

Keep in mind that just because you're vacationing with another family doesn't mean you have to spend every waking minute with them. "Families need their own alone time, too," says Jessie Voigts of Stanton, Michigan, a mother, travel writer, and publisher of WanderingEducators.com. "Too much togetherness can be too much of a good thing." You might consider having each family follow their own bedtime routines or periodically take off on their own.

Ready to share?

Traveling together can give you a chance to see a whole other side of people. Sometimes it's a peek at their adventurous spirit, but you might also see their tired, cranky side, too. Remember that you may be sharing a confined space together. You'll want to make sure that all of the people – and personalities – mesh well together.

Before you start making travel plans, consider going on an overnight camping trip with the other family to see how you all get along. You might also plan regular game nights where the adults can take some time to go over trip details and then play games altogether.

In the end, Norton says, "You need to be prepared to do some give and take." Looking back ,he's grateful for the times he had as a kid when he shared his family's vacation with others. He was able to hang out with friends in an entirely new setting, exploring the lake together, spending lazy afternoons with one another. "It can really deepen friendships."

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