Travel

Tagging along with the in-laws on vacation

The author’s wife, Carlene, and son, Calvin, in Venice, Fla.
The author’s wife, Carlene, and son, Calvin, in Venice, Fla.GEOFF EDGERS/GLOBE STAFF

It was freezing and we wanted to get away. But we had committed to our regular summer weeks in the cabin and didn’t want to sell off the kids’ college funds to hit a beach. The solution: a tagalong trip.

We’ve done this before. My in-laws, Jack and Bonnie, are retired and spend about a month in Florida every March and April. They head to Siesta Key, a beach community on the west coast. In previous years, we’ve accepted their generosity and joined them for a few days. That routine has been on hiatus for a few years because of scheduling conflicts. But this year, we were free and decided to head south with our children, 10 and 2.

A tagalong trip isn’t as simple as buying your plane tickets. There’s a dynamic to consider and a level of harmony you want to protect. That can be challenging when you’re sharing space.

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I remember trips I took as a child with my parents, grandparents, and an uncle and aunt. There were great memories created along with moments that tested my young soul. When you travel with family in close quarters, you’re bound to create memories — and have the inevitable brawl. I remember all.

So as an adult, I try to avoid testing relationships. I visualize an egg timer when I consider trips with family or friends. Set the clock and when it rings, you’re done. Depending on the circumstances — how much space, how many children, how much affection between groups — I generally set my timer to three days. Also, don’t forget that on a tagalong trip, the in-laws are picking up the housing bill. Be courteous. Never reprise John Belushi’s turn as “The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave.”

The beauty of staying with my in-laws is that there are no drag-out fights. We don’t say things to each other that we’re going to regret. Rather, the few tense times center around order and cleanliness. Carlene and I are neat and keep a clean household. But Bonnie might keep the cleanest house on earth. She vacuums after every meal. She managed to have a family dog for years without letting that dog in the house. If you place an object like a Q-tip in the bathroom trash can, it will almost immediately vanish. Garbage, I learned years ago, is not meant to be witnessed in her household.

So throw this into the equation — along with a one-bedroom condo rental, two children, a beach (with trackable sand), and the fact that we tend to be oversensitive — and you’ve got the trade-off.

On the first morning, of course, Calvin, who is 2, awakened at 4:50 a.m. He stood up in his playpen and demanded to be set free, shrieking for attention in the dark.

Carlene and I did what came naturally. We grabbed him and fled. We left Lila, 10, asleep on her blow-up mattress and headed out to our rented Jeep. That brings me to another key to the tagalong trip. Have your own wheels. That allows for maximum flexibility and escape.

In this case, we headed about 30 minutes south as the sun began to rise. We found a town named Venice, crawled along a seaside street with mansions that looked as if they belonged in the Armani collection, and found a jetty where we took Cal to watch men fishing.

By the time we got back the others had roused themselves.

Three days, I have to say, were perfect. During our time, Lila got some quality walks on the beach with her grandmother. Cal got to watch his grandfather and Lila go fishing and then watch a frustrating attempt by Jack to gut the fish without a proper knife. Carlene and I got to go running on a warm, Florida morning. We watched the kids climb a tree outside the condo. I took Cal to the circus museum at the Ringing complex, and we celebrated Carlene’s birthday at an Italian restaurant.

When we got home that weekend, we found that a neighbor had been kind enough to shovel out the driveway from an unexpectedly intense storm. And one more thing: We weren’t broke.

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