My grandfather used to say that family is like fish. They start to smell after three days. He was right. In my experience, three is the magic number when it comes to how many days to spend with family, especially on vacation and in shared spaces.

After three days with immediate family, grown men fall back into their role as the antagonistic little brother and women revert to their role as the domineering eldest sister. Add spouses, children, half-siblings and stepparents and well….you have yourself one dysfunctional week of a loosely interpreted version of a vacation. Hopefully mom and dad, who are now grandma and grandpa, have a healthy liquor cabinet to stay sane through it all.

I’ve learned that it isn’t just my family; everyone’s family has its own idiosyncrasies. Whenever a friend comes back from her week with family and I ask, “How was the trip?” the question usually takes an hour bike ride or few glasses of wine to answer. And it is never simple.

Most of us value close family but because of travel or other logistics break my grandpa’s fish rule and stay for longer than the recommended three days. I know I do.

After several years of long family vacations, at varying rates of success, we have finally found a formula that seems to work. It does not, however, prevent me from disagreeing with my dad regarding everything political, my half-brother from staying out all night or from my husband being late. Those things may never change.

What it does allow for is different generations of family to hang out and spend time together away from their everyday distractions and routines — for my half-brother to teach my nephew how to water-ski, for my sister to plan a family triathlon and for three siblings, from a blended family, to get lost biking with their dad for three hours.

Here are a few things that have changed the dynamics of our family vacations for the better.

Get your own place. When we get together with my dad and his family it’s a total of eight adults ranging in ages from 23 to 69-years-old and four kids ranging in age from two and a half to ten. Too many people for one house. The best gift we asked from our dad was to rent us our own place. This way the hosts, he and his wife, get a break and we get to stay up, talking loudly, for as long as we like.

Make a meal. It’s everyone’s vacation and it’s a bummer to have to leave the beach early, grocery shop, make dinner and clean up every night. Every couple (my two half-brothers count as a couple), shops, cooks and cleans up one night. The only caveat is that you can’t complain about what someone else serves. That means when your 23-year old and 25-year old half-brothers make 1,000 calorie bacon cheeseburgers, you give in, add some mayonnaise and say thanks. You can serve salad when it’s your turn.

Take a night off. Everyone cooks one night for family dinners and the remaining few nights are nights off – a night to do your own thing. They are a welcome respite and strategically placed throughout the week.

Find an activity everyone enjoys. With varying ages, abilities and interests, it can be challenging to find an activity that everyone can do. We have two – Euchre (a card game) and corn hole (a game that entails throwing bean bags through the hole on a board twenty feet away—it’s as addicting as it is simple).

Find an activity you enjoy. After all, it’s your vacation too, do something you enjoy. I always bring my bike, my brother in-law brings his golf clubs, my half-brother brings his medical-school books (although I never really see him open them). With so much family around, it’s easy to find a sitter for a few hours and take off with a sibling or two for a bike ride, round of golf, or swim to the raft.

Establish an annual event. My sister used to plan Beach Olympics for the kids every summer. This year it morphed into a full-blown triathlon. The kids and seniors got shortened courses and the rest of us swam, biked and ran – competing lightheartedly, but also as fiercely as you would expect of siblings. Bragging rights, pride and the first beer were on the line.

Summer Sunday is a weekly column by Jesse James McTigue and sponsored by Jagged Edge intended to deliver tips, news, musings and stories about the people, places, events and experiences that make the Telluride summer an epic adventure.



  • Kate Kurtz
    Posted at 07:08h, 25 July

    I am aorta tempted to send this one to my big sister and my mom! You nailed it!

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