- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 12, 2006

Terri Nussbaum has learned a lot in more than a decade of sharing beach houses. Bring sunscreen and towels, for sure, but more important: Know your travel companions.

Nothing will break up an idyllic week at the shore quicker than the realization that everyone does not, in fact, have the same idea of fun. The neighbor who tells a great story back home can turn into a drunken bore; the family with the fancy car may never pick up the dinner check. Maybe baby-sitting your children isn’t the relaxing break Grandma had in mind.

“The key to vacationing with others is communication,” says Mrs. Nussbaum, who lives in Great Falls with her husband, Andy, and 8-year-old daughter, Maxine. Mrs. Nussbaum, 41, takes several beach and ski vacations a year with other families. She and her husband — who met at Dewey Beach, Del. — both enjoyed group beach houses as singles.

Most of the time, the Nussbaums’ vacations are successes — but there was the time they realized their then-infant wasn’t going to fit in with a bunch of childless folks at the beach. And there was the ski vacation when a college friend was in a serious marital crisis and assumed the Nussbaums would watch her two young children while she and her husband had some couple time.

“You need to vacation with people who are in your same price range,” Mrs. Nussbaum says. “There needs to be plenty of room. The more families you have in a beach house, the more complex it gets. You need to ask questions upfront. If you can’t have an honest conversation, then don’t waste your time.

“You’ve got to go on vacation with people you want to spend time with,” she emphasizes. “If you are going with others just so you can afford a nicer place, then you are going to pay for it in the end.”

As family and friends get more far-flung and the cost of vacations continues to rise, the idea of sharing a vacation rental has been gaining appeal.

Vacationing with relatives has risen by a third since 2001. The research firm Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell calls it “togethering” and reports that eight out of 10 Americans will take at least one vacation with family or friends this year.

Dale Atkins, a New York psychologist and author of several books on family relationships, says a beach-house vacation brings with it different responsibilities than, say, a stay at a resort with room service. Shared and private spaces are both needed so all can have “their space,” she says. Scheduling private time as well as shared time also is a good plan.

“Planning to have every meal together may not work all of the time,” she says. “You may just want to plan one or two meals together, then have everyone fend for themselves the rest of time. If you don’t, someone may have to do an inordinate amount of cooking and cleaning labor and may end up getting resentful.”

Jennifer Pedersen is planning a vacation to North Carolina’s Outer Banks for later this month. It will be the third year that a group of six families from her neighborhood in Reston — including 14 children ages 2 to 10 — will travel together. That’s a lot of personalities, preferences and politics in an eight-bedroom house. It helps to have a clear routine and rules, Ms. Pedersen says.

The most important rule: Any adult has veto power on bringing a new family into the mix.

“Vacation time is precious,” Ms. Pedersen says. “I would never ask someone who would make it not a vacation. You can even be great friends with them the rest of the year. It doesn’t mean you have to vacation with them.”

Other rules Ms. Pedersen’s group has agreed upon in advance: bedtimes, the use of video games (from 1 to 3 p.m. only) and who brings what.

Each family provides its own breakfast, lunch and snacks. It is agreed in advance that each family takes one night to cook dinner for everyone. (An organized e-mail list prevents duplicates.) The extra night is pizza night. This year, the group is bringing two baby sitters to free up parents up equally.

“It is important for us to agree on all of this in advance,” Ms. Pedersen says.

Of course, when a house is full of individuals rather than families, the rules usually are different.

It is complicated to organize a summer share at the beach. In this type of arrangement, people join a house and are guaranteed a space certain weekends during the season.

Rich Godbout has been doing a summer share at Dewey Beach for 10 years. Some rules are necessary to keep everyone happy.

“Any drama at a beach house comes from people who don’t know how to interact well,” says Mr. Godbout, 36, a Bethesda mortgage broker. “Those people quickly find themselves not enjoying the beach.”

Mr. Godbout is part of a team that is making a movie about the Dewey Beach house scene. The team has been filming “Dewey Beach: The Movie” this summer and hopes to release it this winter.

Some Dewey Beach singles houses have virtually no rules other than “You barf; you mop” and “No smoking.”

Those were the basics for Mr. Godbout’s house, which was reorganized this year. Other rules: Full-share members get a bed. Guests pay the $25 fee and should bring a case of beer.

“For the most part, it is just common courtesy,” he says.

Mike McDonnell, a Washington lawyer, was the moderator of Mr. Godbout’s house for about seven years. Having someone in charge of a summer share, where different mixes of people are vacationing every weekend for the season, is crucial, he says.

Mrs. Nussbaum agrees.

“Ideally, you should have two people in charge,” she says. “You should have one person in charge of the money and another in charge of maintenance,” including hiring a cleaning service and arranging repairs. “You can’t make decisions by committee when you have 20 people.”

Mr. McDonnell says that in his singles share, he tried to keep to the guideline that guests must park on the street, not in the limited owners’ parking. Other good rules: if you see a bag on a bed, that bed has been taken; and don’t climb in bed with anyone you don’t know. In a singles share, a sure way to make the summer awkward is to “hook up” with someone in the house. Though most houses don’t have rules about it, common sense says to beware, Mr. McDonnell says.

“My own personal rule was don’t date someone in your own house early in the summer,” says Mr. McDonnell, 36. “You are just setting yourself up for disaster.”

Some personal rules can be broken, though. Mr. McDonnell met his fiancee two years ago on Memorial Day weekend. They are getting married this fall.

The couple recently bought their own Delaware beach house. This summer has taken on a quieter tone.

“Now when we go down to the beach on the weekend, we don’t have to share a bathroom with 15 people,” he says.

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