Extended family travel: our experience in Morocco

I read the other day that extended family travel is a hot new travel trend, with increasing numbers of people travelling in multi-generational family groups. Unaware at the time that we were part of the zeitgeist, we recently spent two weeks travelling through Morocco with my mother, brother, sister-in-law, two nieces and a nephew. We were 10 people of diverse ages and stages – children, a teenager, some middle-aged adults and – last but not least – our 71-year-old matriarch. How did that go? (I hear you ask)

It was awesome! As it turns out, travelling with extended family has a lot to offer – and I’m not just talking about built-in babysitters.

Speaking for ourselves, after four months of nuclear family travel we couldn’t wait to see other family members again and to spend time with a more diverse group of people. OK, let’s face it – any other people! Four months of constant companionship is inclined to get ever so slightly dull.

There’s always something interesting going on in a big group.

Travelling with my extended family enabled us to spend more time together and reconnect with individual family members, something that can be hard to achieve in a large family, in the course of usual life. Sharing memorable travel experiences and building on our shared history are other great bonding factors that we believe will strengthen our family ties. On a more pragmatic note, we could also afford some more expensive accommodation options, due to economy of scale.

Coordinating a diverse group of people travelling through a foreign country does have its challenges. Catering to different interests and tastes, securing suitable accommodation, finding a table for 10 in your restaurant of choice – all this can prove difficult. Here are some pointers that worked for us and might help you ensure a smooth extended family holiday.

Do your research to identify destinations, sights and activities that are likely to hold cross-generational appeal. For our family, Morocco held the allure of a very different culture and offered adventures in charismatic landscapes, such as the Sahara, that we could all enjoy.

The traditional tannery in Fes.
The work has been done the same way for centuries. It’s a distinctly medieval job!
While very smelly (a sprig of mint helps), the tannery is a great place to shop for hand-made leather goods.

Moroccan food turned out to be universally appealing to our group, somewhat to our surprise!

Enjoying a home cooked dinner in our first riad.
Tagines and sardines in Essaouira.

Consider options that minimise the need for constant decision-making, such as guided tours. Groups can waste a lot of time milling about trying to make decisions on what to do, where to eat etc. While we are generally pretty independent travellers, we do find that there are times and places where a tour can really make your experience. We chose to do a private 5-day, 4-night tour from Fes to Marrakech, via the Atlas Mountains, and the edge of the Sahara Desert. This simplified things considerably, as for this part of the trip we didn’t need to worry about transport, accommodation, meals, what sights to see and what activities to do. Our chosen tour company, Soul Adventure, catered very well to our group and were particularly skilled in making things fun for the kids, who overall had a fantastic time.

A traditional kasbah.
Trying out traditional dress.
With our Berber guides, Mohammed and Said, in front of the Berber flag.
Drawing well water for some thirsty camels.
VERY thirsty camels!

Plan and book well ahead. This is very important to secure quality accommodation when you are in a larger group. Morocco is particularly well suited to extended family travel as many riads easily cater for 12 or more people and are very affordable. If you don’t know already, according to Wikipedia, a riad is a ‘type of traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard.’ Our riads in Fes and Marrakech were definitely palatial – we felt like princes and princesses in these beautiful places!

Our riad in Fes.
Enjoying our rooftop terrace in Fes.
Stunning views, day or night.
Our Marrakech riad was magical!
Villa Habibi, near Essaouira, may be more modern but it is no less palatial!

Be flexible in deciding who does what and when. Remember that not everyone will be keen on every option. Be creative, negotiate and don’t worry about breaking up the group. Letting the children stay home and swim in the pool, rather than dragging them through a lengthy shopping expedition in the bazaars, is usually a no-brainer win-win. At the same time, don’t let the kids cop out of every excursion – our kids often needed to be pushed to leave the sanctuary of the riad – but once they did, they generally enjoyed themselves. It can also help to mix up combinations of people; the kids are far more likely to listen to, and behave well for, an aunt or uncle! (Or is that just my kids??)

The children loved the Majorelle Garden in Marrakech, despite an initial lack of enthusiasm.

Share responsibility for the success of the trip. An advantage of extended family travel is the presence of more adults to share the load. If you are the lead organiser, don’t forget that you can step back and let others make decisions and lead the way, including in times of crisis. Travel can be stressful and sometimes it’s hard not to get tense when things take an unexpected turn – but you don’t have to solve every issue. Constant decision-making on behalf of the group can also end up being burdensome – remember you are on holiday too! If you are someone who is more or less along for the ride, look out for the opportunities to add value or lend a helping hand and try not to fall into the habit of always relying on others to make decisions or take the lead.

Our culinary leader in action!

Create happy memories and take lots of photos to remind you later!

Who could forget goats in trees?!