Last year I bravely took my parents and their friends to India, it is always hard planning travel for other folk. Read the latest blog from Guest blogger Andrew, about the fun and games he had travelling with his Russian in-laws.
Many a comedian has written, performed and been admired for the quality of their mother-in-law jokes. Very much a genre of joke from a bygone age now, but for me the comedian who epitomised the joke the best was British comedian Les Dawson.
I can always tell when the mother in law’s coming to stay; the mice throw themselves on the traps.
The wife’s Mother said, “When you’re dead, I’ll dance in your grave.” I said: “Good, I’m being buried at sea.”
I took my mother-in-law to Madame Tussaud’s Chamber of Horrors, and one of the attendants said, ‘Keep her moving sir, we’re stock-taking’ [source]
If you follow my guest blogging antics you will know that I have touched on the subject of travelling with my in-laws before; well not to be put off by the China trip it was now time to host them in our home in South Australia. However, this time was different, this time the in-laws, as well as mother and father in-law, included sister in-law and her 2 year old daughter, our niece.
Problem 1: Visas.
Now anyone who has ever travelled to a country that needs a visa will know: a) it’s often not an easy process; b) it can take time, whether queuing for appointments at embassies or literally just waiting for confirmation you have been successful; and c) next to buying property it is probably the most stressful thing in life.
Try helping and supporting visas for Russians (who are only allowed in about 20 countries without a visa). 1 who is ex-military (even the Russian government suspend ex-service personal from travelling for 5-10 years after their service), 1 who is married but kept her maiden name, a youngster who has her father’s surname but is only travelling with her mother (with her maiden name) because her father is also ex-military and currently has a suspended passport (if a child is only travelling with one parent the other parent has to give written permission not to mention the surname conundrum). In this case the mother-in-law was actually the easiest one to sort out, but the waiting did lead to a few tears and tantrums.
Problem 2: Language again!!!
As mentioned in my earlier blog my in-laws speak very little English. This extends to my sister-in-law who over the last 6 years since knowing me has attempted basic English, but like me has no enthusiasm for languages and knows only how to ask the main basics. This causes issue number 2 – Getting through customs and passport control in a foreign language.
The Australian border is one of the most protected in the world; carry an apple across and get caught and man you can get hit with a huge fine and a stern telling off. So when it came to getting 4 non-English speaking Russians over the border we in acted a sudo-military operation. Russians like to travel, like many, with let’s say ‘home comforts’, food that makes them feel at home. For my in-laws this would normally include dried forest mushrooms, caviar, honey and occasionally dried berries/leaves for tea all extremely big no-no’s when entering Australia. In this case we handed out clear instructions:
DO NOT BRING ANYTHING… ANYTHING,
Except maybe some chocolate… We managed to get hold of some landing cards, prefilled them, scanned and emailed them, so they knew what to do when filling them in. We wrote down and practiced via Skype what they needed to say in response to carrying chocolate and prescription drugs, whilst more importantly our address so they could say where they were going.
Apart from an argument over a carry on push chair it worked and as well as 4 family members crossing the border successfully, so did a large amount of Novosibirsk Chocolate for which I was very grateful.
Problem 3: Taste.
No matter how best you plan a trip you will inevitably not meet everyone’s expectations. 6 people all with different tastes is a recipe for disaster. Now I’ve been travelling with my wife now for 5 years and I am pretty in tune with her likes and dislikes. This radically changes when you add your mother and father-in-law to the trip, let alone your wife’s sister and child. Just the addition of a child changes everything we would normally plan to do and book.
My mother-in-law I know likes the opportunity to stay near nature; whilst my sister-in-law likes luxury so she can show off to her friends on the Russian version of Facebook; and my wife likes comfort, normally 4* minimum but will try anything once.
How did I achieve a balance?
Well I mixed it up. Over the two week road trip I booked a variety of different accommodation from self-catered holiday homes to 4/5 star hotels.
It kind of worked. In the majority the accommodation was liked by all. However, issues did arise, normally linked to bedrooms. In most cases we had two adult rooms and 1 child’s room and in one case this included a bunk… queue demonstrations from my sister-in-law about sleeping in a bunk bed as an adult.
Problem 4: Family dynamics.
This was always going to be an issue. We have holidayed twice before with just my parents-in-laws in Scotland’s whiskey country and in Beijing. Both times things went relatively well and things like choice and bills were shared equally. However, as a whole family unit we had stayed together a number of times in the family home, but only once been away together in Russia. This was an interesting trip and tears were shed a number of times between sisters and mother, so preparing myself for 4 weeks under the same roof was important.
With the language issues, copious amounts of sisterly ‘love’ and the addition of a 2 year old child into the mix I had to set myself up mentally for what was about to come. Being a 2 week road trip I became chauffer which allowed me two things, 1; Control of the vehicle (destinations, times, random photo stops) but also more importantly 2; Control of the noise. I was driving so I chose the music, the noise levels and could nip an argument in the bud which a quick application of the brakes and the immortal phrase “be quiet I’m trying to concentrate on the road”.
Still sisters are sisters and arguments took place. Not happy about places to eat was the biggest one. Amazingly I found myself an ally in the 2 year old who at the end of the day was really the person in charge and through game play and childish behaviour we always won.
Problem 5: Money.
My final issue is always going to be a problem amongst extended families. Money drives and binds the world. It is the cause of success, it is the cause of failure. This is true with money and family.
With the road trip and a number of activities preceding the trip we had offered to pay. We pre-booked accommodation, the hire car, days out, even flights. In the most case these were pre-paid. This caused issues. Issues I still can’t understand. My in-laws wanted to pay for things, give us money, settle bills, no matter how hard we remonstrated that this was our gift to them. On the other hand my sister-in-law didn’t pay a cent yet made it her business to find out the cost of every single meal, hotel stay and outing, so much so I became very annoyed at her insistence to see receipts that I snidely commented at one point that “don’t worry everyone this one is on Jenya, she has taken the padlock off her purse”. Even though she doesn’t speak English my mother-in-law laughed and my sister-in-law blubbered. I was in the dog house.
So with all my planning and attempts to ensure people arrived safe, didn’t feel intimidated, felt comfortable, had opportunities to enjoy each other’s company and didn’t have to worry about cost I still managed to end up in trouble and tears were spilt.
Travelling with your extended family is interesting and though we are still to get it 100% right and the words “never again” have been muttered more than once since they left, I’m pretty sure we will inevitably holiday together as a family group again soon as we get ready for another trip to Russia later this year.
So any tips would be gratefully appreciated.