Cohabitation 101: Tips to Sharing a Drama-Free Vacation Home with Friends & Family

By Kathy Bertone

Are you planning (or perhaps required), to spend a long weekend, or a week, with friends and family? If you are going on a summer getaway with old or new friends, sharing a house for a week with several families, planning a destination family reunion, or even meeting up with your old college roommates and their spouses at the beach, proceed carefully and thoughtfully. More than one relationship went south (and not to the Caribbean!) because of a good vacation gone bad.

When taking on the responsibility and expense of a shared vacation, planning and frank communication several weeks if not months ahead is imperative. Someone must take the lead. If that is you, the first thing you should do is send a group email telling everyone you would like to start things off and ask—or appoint if you must—someone to assist. Surprisingly enough, that person should be someone who is not of the same mind as you—better for balance! Look at it this way: say you are overly neat and dictatorial. If the other person is messy and disorganized you not only gain them as an ally, but you better ensure that all needs are met. The visit will go much smoother and you are less likely to have anyone complaining. You know who they are.

Always determine before leaving on the trip how everyone is, or is not, splitting the cost of the house, events, food, meals out, and so on. This is not about being selfish or petty, it is about keeping harmony by assuring some don’t end up feeling taken advantage of or that they are the ones doing all the giving. When it comes to sharing a home for vacation, things need to be as equal as possible, at least when it comes to cost. Who gets the bedroom with the best view would be you, since you are doing the up-front work. Did someone say “diplomat”?

Of the many issues that should be addressed before everyone walks into the house, bags and suitcases in hand, the easiest ones—surprisingly—may just be the splitting of costs and chores. Here are 4 tips to guide you through this first, major step in pre-planning:

1) Pay per bedroom: If there are only adult couples who each have a bedroom then this is a no-brainer. Split the cost of the rental equally between the adults. It gets more complicated, however, when it’s you and your significant other, your sister and her three kids, your grandparents, and one single friend. The fair thing to do is for each person (or couple) to pay for his or her own room. Yes, do include pullout sofas as bedrooms.

2) Food: Again, if adult couples are sharing the house an easy solution is to simply split groceries evenly between the couples as long as they are “normal” expenses, and you take care of your own personal extravagances. If you must have that $300 bottle of wine don’t expect your friends to contribute to that particular cost. And mind “The Shopping Cart Rule”: Whether you are strictly adults, or families with children, the best plan of action is for one person from each family to sit down at the table upon arriving and prepare a shopping list, or better yet, email it around before arrival. Include on the list what the children can, or want to eat. Parents vary in what they allow for their children, so lists are important.

3) Divvy up supplies: If one family is driving to the destination perhaps they could offer to bring some superstore items to split between the families. This includes those necessary paper products, such as toilet paper, paper towels, napkins, paper plates, and plastic utensils. If the vacation is long enough and the group large enough buying these things in quantity and splitting the cost equally is a great way to save money. But before you rush to the big box store, make sure the other housemates are hip to the program. Also, set a per-family price limit so they know about what you are going to spend. How many times have you walked out of one of those warehouses thinking, “Wow. How did it get to be that much?”

4) Household Chores and Kitchen Duty: There is nothing that can cause bad feelings faster than if a few people think they are doing the majority of the work. Or, worse yet, those one or two grown adults who, when confronted with a large house with many people of the same and opposite sex therein, regress to dorm room or spring-break mentality. Everyone is responsible for keeping things neat and relatively clean in the common rooms. This includes a vacuum or mop if and when needed. Consider writing out an itinerary for who is responsible for cooking and minor cleaning for the week, emailed around first to see if anyone has a preference. Yes, really. It doesn’t have to be in stone, but at least it’s a start and sets the tone.

So now that those issues are nicely and efficiently out of the way, it is easier for everyone to enjoy this special time together. Finally, give people their space. Don’t be offended when some want to go off on their own. It is everyone’s vacation to enjoy as they please. Sometimes a good book in a hammock or a quiet walk is all that is desired. Forced activities (except those which must be made and paid for in advance) are usually not welcome in this venue.

Kathy Bertone is the co-founder and former managing partner of a merger and acquisition firm located outside Washington, DC. For years, she and her husband have enjoyed entertaining friends and family in their three homes. She currently lives in Naples, FL where she continues to perfect her hosting expertise. Kathy is the author of the new book, The Art of the Visit: Being the Perfect Host, Becoming the Perfect Guest. For more information, please visit:

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