Family Vacations can be exciting and stressful all at the same time. You've been studying all the glossy travel brochures. It's a wonderful escape just flipping the pages. You see photos of carefree families all together, with happy, smiling faces enjoying some tropical paradise. Then reality hits... Who are these people? The reality is, stress free family vacations don't just happen. It takes a good deal of planning and some work to take the stress out of vacation. Family vacation planning is more involved than packing a suitcase and watering the plants.
Here are 10 tips will help take the worry out of your next family vacation...
1. TALK, TEXT, EMAIL-
KEEP THE LINES OF COMMUNICATION OPEN
Cell phones, Iphones, facebook, twitter, Blackberries, Instant message, chat, blogs - even with all the latest gizmos, it's amazing how many families never take the time to actually sit down across the dinner table and talk to one another face to face. Often our staff will spend hours working with a mom or dad who planning and booking their vacation. Then we get a freaked out phone call from our client saying their spouse's important business or daughter's soccer tournament conflicts with their vacation schedule. Needless to say, this is a waste of time and energy for everyone, not to mention costly reservation change fees.
Another example occurs after working for hours with one spouse only to speak to the other who actually want's a completely different type of vacation. Life is all about compromise but these conversations really need to happen way before the vacation planning stage.
Before you talk to your travel agent or make your reservations, talk to your family FIRST. Confirm schedules, expectations and come to some sort of collective agreement about your family vacation. Important points to cover are:
-Who is going on this Family Vacation?
-What type of Family vacation do you want?...adventure, beach, theme park, ski???
-Where do you want to go?
-When do you want to travel?
-How much is your budget for this vacation?
With answers to these questions at the ready, planning your family vacation will be far more focused. You will be able to make definitive decisions and stay on track.
2. DECOMPRESSION TIME
If possible, try to plan a free day prior to your vacation departure day and another extra free vacation day upon your return home. Even with the most organized of vacation planning, there's certain to be a long to-do list important details that will need your attention before you leave home. Having an extra day to prepare will certainly relieve the stress of last minute packing and errands. No body wants to start their vacation sleepless and exhausted. On the flip side, having a bit of free time upon your return will enable you to sort mail, laundry and catch your breath before getting back into reality.
3. PLANNING FAMILY VACATIONS ARE LIKE PLANNING A FAMILY - YOU NEED TO WORK 9 MONTHS IN ADVANCE
When it comes to family travel, this cheesy line is so true. If at all possible, try to book your airline tickets and make your hotel reservations about 9 months prior to your departure. Cruise lines will let you make reservations up to two years in advance. This will help ensure that you get your choice of hotels, cabins and/or flight times that are most convenient for your family. This is especially true if your family plans to travel during busy travel weeks like the December holidays or spring break.
4. PACK YOUR BAGS - NOT YOUR SCHEDULE
You want to get your money's worth out of your vacation. You want to make sure your kids to do and see everything. We appreciate the temptation of doing three theme parks in three days or every major European city in week...Our advice - Don't! Over-scheduling will cause additional stress and in the long run you'll feel like you were rushed. Creating a minute-by-minute itinerary, jam-packed with activities while keeping one eye constantly on your watch while prodding crabby kids is work...It's not a vacation. Your family will end up feeling anxious, stressed, guilty and frustrated instead of having the fun you all desire. Prioritize your to-do list for a few of the most important things on your wish list but be sure to schedule plenty of down time in between. This way you can concentrate on the most important activities and have plenty of time for spontaneous family fun. Serendipity often creates the most lasting vacation memories.
5. TAKE YOUR TIME
Give your family plenty of extra time when it comes to getting checked in at the airport, meeting a tour bus or planning a meal break. Kids often have their own internal clocks that may shift with jetlag or new surroundings. Last thing you want to stress about is a missed flight due to an unscheduled potty break. Airport check-in rules are one hour prior to departure for domestic flights and 2-3 for international flights. Add at least an hour to these times with kids in tow. If your children need a little prodding with their time management, make a game out of it. For example the first person dressed and organized for the beach wins a prize -gold star, blue ribbon, ice cream, their restaurant choice for dinner...whatever! Also take your time throughout your day to relax. Schedule some down time. Take a nap with your toddler. Breathe! Relax... Remember,you're on vacation!
6. KEEP A SENSE OF ADVENTURE
DON'T FEAR THE UNKNOWN
Travel takes people out of their normal surroundings and comfort zones. Certainly a bit of control is lost. Some people are more control freaks while others are laid back and can go with the flow. Recognize these personality traits. Verbalize and address concerns before anxiety can build. Be aware that many of these same fears can also affect your children. Some kids absolutely need a routine while other can be flexible. Depending on your child's age and personality, they may not be able to accurately verbalize some of their own worries and concerns. Parents may not realize their child's naughty behavior while packing for their vacations may result from the child's worries about leaving the family dog at the kennel. Be alert to signs of stress and manage them before they become overwhelming.
7. OH BEHAVE!
A favorite line from the Austin Powers movies but something every parent wants their child to do. How to become a good traveler is something every child should learn, just like they need to learn how to brush their teeth properly. Kids don't just acquire good travel manners by osmosis. It's up to their parents to teach them the appropriate travel behavior. Have frequent discussions with your children prior to your departure about acceptable behaviors while on vacation. Setting the rules ahead of time regarding things like manners, vacation bedtime, souvenir spending, curfews, safety and consequences can save parents a whole lot of embarrassment, angst and stress.
This doesn't have to be a demanding lecture. Play make-pretend airport with your toddler so they know what they can expect at the airport. Host a tea party for your child and a few of their favorite stuffed, fuzzy friends to practice restaurant manners. Involve your child picking out activities and games to avoid boredom during their journey. Give your teen a pre-set gift card for souvenir shopping. Helping your kids acquire good travel manners will boost their confidence and self-esteem while decreasing parent stress levels while on vacation.
8. LEAVE WORK AT WORK
Many parents have important, demanding jobs. They feel they must work or at least check into the office even while supposedly on vacation. Often they think this will relieve stress upon their return. Nothing can be further from the truth. Vacation time and relaxation makes workers far more productive when they return to their jobs. Downtime promotes problem solving skills, creativity and often, your entire career. If you want a worry free vacation, leave your work worries at the office. Focus on your family during your vacation. More often than not, trying to work from the road creates more angst and frustration than if you had waited until you returned to the office. Leave the stress behind and enjoy your family time. If, in the scheme of the universe, the world will stop revolving and absolutely come to an end if you don't work, then make a conscious decision to acutely limit your work time to just a few minutes each day no matter what crisis you uncover. Parents need to understand how to protect their own health and peace of mind so they can be the best parents for their children. Remember, work will certainly be there when you get home.
9. KEEP YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR
Good parents wouldn't allow their child to eat chocolate cake for breakfast every day but perhaps it might be fun for the family to do it just once while on vacation. Be flexible and have fun. Not every thing is negotiable but don't stress over the little things. Open yourself and your family up to new experiences. Even with the best-made plans, the one certainty of travel is that "Stuff Happens"! Murphy's law says there WILL be a major snowstorm on the day your family is scheduled to depart. You will get lost in foreign country if you can't read highway signs at 65mph written in a strange language. The London transportation system will go on strike the day you plan to go sightseeing with your son. Please know all of these examples come from my own real-life family vacation disasters. Funny...these are often the events our family remembers first when we talk about our family vacation adventures. A delayed plane can easily turn into the best family game of airport scavenger hunt. Getting hopelessly lost in Belgium meant delicious strawberry waffles in a riverside cafe with the most incredible chocolate for dessert. And a London transit strike can lead to the discovery a brilliant children's garden and play ground while walking through the park. It's all how you look at life. Instead of complaining and acting grumpy, set the example for your kids and offer them a sense of discovery. Parents need to realize they can control the stress levels for their entire family. Be flexible and make lemons out of lemonade. Laughter can often be the best medicine for relieving stress.
10. TRAVEL INSURANCE
Family vacations are full of "what if" worries. Ease this stress with the purchase travel insurance to protect your vacation investment and give your family a worry free vacation. The cost is usually between 5-7 % of the total cost of your vacation. It's a fair price to pay for your peace of mind.
Many health insurance companies do not cover their clients outside of the U.S. or charge extra fees for out of network healthcare. Many travel insurance policies will cover medical, pre-existing conditions, trip interruption, cancellation, lost luggage as well as other issues. Every insurance company and policy is different so be sure to read the fine print and make sure you have the coverage you need. Having insurance for your family while on vacation is just one less stress you won't need to worry about.
When it comes to keeping stress levels down with family vacations, many of these tips may sound like common sense. Take it from us, they are important points typically overlooked by busy parents. So take a deep breath, let it out slowly and take the time to plan a stess free family vacation. In the end, you'll be glad that you did.