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I don’t know about you, but the 2000 comedy movie Meet The Parents is one of my all-time favorites. First of all, the obvious: I love Ben Stiller. He is funny, smart, and quite good looking. Secondly, throughout the movie, he goes through all the things that I have gone through -- especially the part about proving yourself to the in-laws. Let’s be honest, a lot of us have probably done the same thing at some point in our married lives, right?

Hanging out with in-laws over a weekend or even a few hours is one thing. But traveling with them in close proximity over several days is something else. As a family who loves to travel, we plan out several short and long trips each year depending on our combined vacation days. What this means is that family time, in-law time, and vacation time often overlap. If nothing else, these trips with my in-laws have taught me a few life lessons for sure.

1. Patience Is A Virtue We All Need To Master

I am of Indian origin. In fact, I grew up in India and spent more than half my life there. I moved over to the States for school and have lived here ever since. The dichotomy of cultures, traditions, and lifestyles is very real in my life. Hence, when my in-laws visit from India, there is a lot of learning and re-learning that I have to endure. Sticking to a schedule, maintaining a sense of control, and the concept of being on time all essentially go out the window.

There is a joke among people that India has its own time zone -- Indian Standard Time (IST). Operating in IST takes being fashionably late to a whole new level. While I have adjusted out of the IST mindset, my in-laws haven’t. When we are traveling, schedules and expectations have to be laid out well in advance. A tour that starts at 10:30 a.m. will start at 10:30 a.m. no matter what -- with or without us. I used to get very stressed about missing out and losing control of the day. But over the years, I have learned to give my mother-in-law an earlier time than what is required. This just makes it easier to manage and everyone is happy.

Patience is most definitely a virtue that really helps make life on the road with the in-laws much more manageable. Adjust here and there, and tell yourself Que sera sera -- what will be will be.

Taking a trip with family members.
Karthika Gupta

2. Opening Yourself Up To Different Experiences Is Priceless

We all have things that we love to do and experience when we travel. I am a professional photographer, and a huge part of my travels revolves around photos and capturing moments -- whether they are my family’s or a client’s. I have been known to get up really early in the morning, load the kids in the rental car, and head out for sunrise, or even grab some fruits and water for dinner and stay out late to see the Milky Way. These moments are very special to me because I love being out in nature and I want to share that love with my family.

Now this is not necessarily the case for my mother-in-law. Particularly as she ages, she cannot keep up with the late nights and early mornings, and skipping dinner is not really an option. So now we have allocated days and times when I get to do my thing and she gets to do hers. Sometimes it is stopping at an outlet mall and other times it is just relaxing in the hotel for a night in. I have to admit these experiences have given me a real appreciation for the term down time. Now I quite enjoy days of doing “nothing” on a vacation and have even grown to appreciate things I don’t usually prioritize, like a massage at the hotel spa.

3. You Should Break The Rules Once In A While

If you are a parent, you know the cardinal rule: no telling other parents how to parent! But somehow these rules don’t quite apply to in-laws. When my kids were young, I would always take offense when I was told that I was parenting incorrectly. I was too rigid. I was always the parent who did not let the kids have any fun. So what if the kids want to have ice-cream three days in a row on vacation?

Over time I realized that while traveling with the in-laws might not be my cup of tea all the time, my kids and my husband really enjoyed themselves. The relationship between grandparents and grandkids is really super special. I learned to adjust my expectations, knowing that with every trip, things would be different than what I was used to at home. It is always an opportunity to try something new. Go with the flow, don’t sweat the small stuff, and break the rules once in a while. People, including your in-laws, may not remember all the things that you say, but they will always remember how you made them feel.

A travel photo from the writer's trip.
Karthika Gupta

4. Family Matters

You may or may not agree with this, but I have learned that at the end of the day, family is all that matters. The older I get, the more I realize and appreciate the validity of that statement. You see, I lost my dad 13 years ago and my mom a few years back. Till then, I always considered my in-laws “the others.” They were really not my family. I had a family. My mom was always just a phone call away.

I lost my mom to a painful struggle with breast cancer, and when she was diagnosed, I dropped everything and left to be with her. My mother-in-law stepped in, no questions asked. She took over my home, my family, and my kids, and not once did she give me any reason to feel divided about being away. She patiently stood by and waited for me to let her in on my terms. I miss my parents, especially my mom, fiercely. But I know deep down that I have a mom in my mother-in-law. Even when we travel, she gives me space and time when I need it most. She volunteers to watch the kids, supervise activities, and even cook meals so my husband and I can get some time alone. Even if it is just for 30 minutes, it’s something I greatly appreciate.

Merriam Webster defines family as the basic unit in society traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children. But I have found that the true meaning of family is the people who support and love you -- the people you can confide in and trust. In-laws can be the family you crave or even miss. Don’t let small issues or grievances get in the way of enjoying time together when you have the opportunity to travel as a family.

Considering a multigenerational family trip? Here are one expert traveler’s tips for overcoming the challenges of multigenerational family travel.

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