Later this month I am going on a girls' holiday with five great friends. My hope is that our relationships will be stronger not worse off by the end of our week crammed together in a small cottage!
Going away with anyone for the first time can be an elightening experience. Whether it is a new boyfriend or girlfriend, close friends, the new in-laws, your home group or a group of strangers, there is nothing like spending a concentrated amount of time in a confined space to bring out the best and worst in people. It is a good test of any relationship.
So, with the summer holidays approaching, here are my top tips for thriving (and not just surviving) on your time away with others.
1. Discuss your expectations. We all have different ideas of what constitutes the perfect holiday. There are those who love nothing more than lying in the sun with a cool drink and the latest John Grisham novel. And there are others who are only content taking on the elements and challenging themselves to reach the summit of yet another ice-capped mountain.
Being different is fine; the problem comes if you are holidaying together and hope the other people will fit in with your way of doing things.
I once went to Thailand with a friend who, I thought, would enjoy exploring the beaches, just like me. I was wrong. We were on the plane when I discovered he wanted to go freedom-fighting in the Burmese jungle. We parted company on the second day. I should have done a little more research into his intentions before agreeing to the joint holiday.
So, I would recommending discussing your expectations with your holiday companions ahead of time.
If it transpires you have different expectations – try and come to an agreement about how things might work in practice. It might mean doing what the other person wants one day and what you want the other or perhaps taking time out to do your own thing. Be creative as you work out a way forward.
2. Agree on finances and draw up a rota. Be up-front with each other about your budgets for the holiday especially if you have very different spending habits. If you are on a tight budget it is better to say something now, even if it feels a little awkward, than to try to keep pace with their spending and find you are left with large debts and lots of regrets.
If you are self-catering you could decide to take turns cooking or hosting each day. That way you can choose activities and food that you can afford. When it is their turn, they can splash out if that's what they want. If they do, try to accept and enjoy their generous hospitality. For any communal spending, like breakfast cereals or loo paper, you could set up a small kitty. That way everyone contributes.
Try having a rota for setting tables, clearing up, shopping and any other jobs. It may seem a little contrived, but it is a good way to keep things fair (and to get the children involved if you have any).
3. Be flexible. You may have certain rules and routines at home, but could you relax or change a few of them on holiday for the sake of harmony? Decide what you are not prepared to compromise on. For instance you might want to be open on children's bedtimes or when you'll all eat breakfast but maybe you won't be prepared for your twelve year old to watch scary 18 movies.
4. Pray. It can help to stop any little annoyances from building up. Keep short accounts with your holiday companions and also with God. Communicate often and apologise quickly if needed. If you need space – take a walk, go for a quiet time or spend some time reading a book. If there is someone on your holiday who is being particularly challenging – ask God to show you how you can see them with his heart and ask him to show you ways you can be a blessing to that person. You may be surprised how the relationship improves if you take time to understand and really be curious about the other person.
5. Finally, maintain your sense of humour. When your little darlings are losing it after far too many sweets, the hot water has run out just before it's your turn to shower, your tent is drenched or your friend's child declares your lasagne "disgusting", try to see the funny side. If nothing else, you'll have some great memories to laugh over when you get back home.
Sarah Abell is the founder of Naked Hedgehogs. Her passion is helping people live, love and lead more authentically. To discover how authentic you are take her free test at www.nakedhedgehogs.com @NakedHedgehogs