How to Herd Adults

Mar 23, 2016

At the start of March, during my weekly Meeting with Myself, I did a full month look-ahead. I’m glad I did!

This month alone, I have work trips to NYC (twice), Atlanta and Chicago. I’m also headed to Miami (for fun!). But travel alone is no biggie. What gets really big is adding to that a host of houseguests, including my sister and her two kids under the age of 4, my older brother, his wife, and 5-year-old daughter for a week over school break, my mother-in-law for a quick trip, and my own mother for an extended stay. Phew.

It should be fun, but it will also be a bit exhausting figuring out food, planning activities, and trying to meet everyone’s preferences as a good hostess. So, I was reminded of what my best friend Amy did over the December holidays when she was 8 months pregnant with her second kid. She couldn’t travel for the holidays, so her entire extended family-in-law came to NYC so they could all be together. Since this meant a total of 9 adults and 4 kids under the age of 7, she channeled her inner-Togetherness goddess and put her MBA love of Excel to good use.

Here was the result:


Click to see the whole document

Believe it or not, Amy is as laid back as they come. Opposites attract. She and I once spent two weeks traipsing around Myanmar together, but more on that in another blog post.

I had so many questions for her.

Maia: How did you even get started?

Amy: I sent everyone a Google Forms survey that gathered information on travel plans, nap schedules/bedtimes, dietary restrictions, and activities they were interested in.


Maia: This is amazing. Then what did you do?

Amy: I knew group activities and mealtimes would be the most complicated, so I put the most structure around those.  The first step was to put a different family member in charge of each takeout or homemade dinner. The second was to assign a ‘captain’ to some activities.  For the ‘lower key’ activities, I built in some flexibility to account for people’s moods and the weather, but tried to simplify by setting some parameters like “Upper West Side Adventure” and listing a few possibilities.

Amy also set some rules. In her words:

  1. Only one ‘high impact’ activity a day. If we did the circus or Rockefeller Center in the afternoon, the morning activity was local and chill.
  2. I covered most expenses with my credit card and tracked them in an Excel sheet.  We issued ‘invoices’ to each family at the end of the trip.  Way easier than asking a restaurant to split the bill or dividing groceries at the store.
  3. I built in some flexibility.  There were a few times I left more open so that we could change depending on weather or mood.
  4. People could opt out of any activity and do their own thing if they wanted. For example, my father-in-law wanted to see a show, my sister-in-law wanted to visit college friends, and I had some doctor’s appointments.  If I knew about any of that stuff ahead of time, I’d try not to plan a ‘big’ activity (like the circus) for that day.
  5. I built in some fun bonding time. We had a spa day for the girls one afternoon and my husband and his siblings went out to a bar another night.
  6. I planned a few restaurant outings–one lunch and a couple of dinners. You can’t just march into a restaurant in NYC and ask for a table for 11, so we reserved ahead.  If I couldn’t find a place, I split us up into 2 tables or made separate plans for those with small kids and early bedtimes.
  7. I planned some things ahead of time and delegated other stuff. That way, I could pretty much be on autopilot when everyone was here.  This was so necessary when I was pregnant, and it also let me have more quality time with people.

As for the result? Were any feathers ruffled or feelings stifled? Amy proudly reported no: “Everything went really well!  I would definitely do it again.  Even if I wasn’t 8 months pregnant or living in NYC.  It was a great mix of structure and freedom and think we got to enjoy each other more when the logistics were simplified ahead of time.  People commented that we should do it this way every holiday!”

I think I see an Excel sheet in my future to help me manage family visits! There are some good DC tourist activities we haven’t done, and as always, good planning = good fun!