Our first ever family vacation took place in June 2000, when we packed the boys and a bevy of suitcases into a rented minivan for the nearly 800-mile drive to Destin, Florida.

We told them we were going to sleep somewhere else for a few days and that they could bring one toy and maybe a stuffed animal. Matt, 6, was excited and brought his Gameboy; Jack, 3, carefully selected one of his nighttime friends and belted it into the seat next to him. We were somewhere south of Nashville, about 6-7 hours into the drive, when he said, “Mom, when we get back tonight, I get to sleep with all my stuffed animals, right?”

Before we could gently explain the situation, Matt blurted out, “Jack, it’s vacation. We’re not going back home!” I think Jack cried through most of Alabama. Once he saw the ocean, though, his unease melted away. A beach will do that for you.

Earlier this week, we returned from yet another beach, a destination that has generated our most cherished family memories. There’s nothing like the ocean for instant relaxation and calm. Instead of driving, this time we flew. Jack, now 22, made sure he packed plenty of podcasts for the trip – and Southwest drink coupons.

This was another of our extended family reunion vacations. Seven times in the past 19 summers, my three brothers and our four families have reunited to celebrate our dad’s summer birthday. He was a spry 67 when we started this multigenerational journey in 2001 in Breckenridge, Colorado. In the years since, we’ve met in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.; Cody, Wyoming; and in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Last week, 16 adults, two college students, one high school freshman, a toddler and a baby all celebrated our patriarch’s 85th birthday under one roof on the beautiful Isle of Palms, South Carolina. A bit crowded? Yes. Memorable? Absolutely. Somehow, we’ve managed to navigate these multigenerational trips over the years with minimum irritation or confrontation. Here’s how:

We leave the childhood baggage behind. Does anyone really want to hear about the time you had to do all the dishes on Thanksgiving while your brothers watched football? Nope. Just grab a dishrag and start cleaning up, because the view outside the window is spectacular.

We play a lot of games. Card games like Hearts and Spades; Trivial Pursuit; escape rooms. Sometimes the games get raucous and competitive, but we generally go with the flow – even when you learn that the 12-year-old who beat you in Scrabble had help from his uncle.

We avoid talking about politics. Or at least we respectfully disagree. When common ground becomes elusive, there’s nothing like the smile of a 1-year-old to diffuse any politically charged conversation.

And we take pictures. Lots of them.