Family personalities and dynamics can be tricky on any given day. Confine siblings to a car for several hours and you'll quickly see the rivalry come out. Put several family members into one hotel room or cruise cabin for a week and watch how fast you can get on each other's nerves. Add parents, in-laws and perhaps a few outlaws, kids from previous relationships and you can quickly start to hate the people you are suppose to love.
While we may not be able to fix your passive-aggressive sister in law, there are ways to help prevent or alleviate the stress that may come during your next vacation. Often an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of bitter memories.
Much of the stress can be alleviated with proper planning and expectations. Here are some tips to help save your sanity....
1. Start with a Grateful Heart
This may sound trivial but it does help to keep things in the right perspective. Remember how many families out there can't afford a vacation or cannot travel for whatever reason. Your family has the opportunity to create some incredible memories. Embrace the opportunity you've been given.
2. Work with a Travel Advisor
This is ESPECIALLY true when planning a reunion style vacation with several different family members. Everyone will have their own agenda and it can be incredibly frustrating trying to get everyone to agree. Having a neutral, unrelated, third party can really help alleviate the stress of vacation planning. Trying to make everyone happy without losing your mind is a skill that comes with practice. You may plan vacations once a year, or once every few years. Travel agents do this every day for all types of different clients, families and groups.
3. Fight Nice
Even when your brother is getting on your last nerve, do not regress to your 8 year old self. Take a deep breath and be the grown up. Remember your children are watching how you resolve conflict and they will learn by your example.
4. Choose Quality Over Quantity
If you fear your teenager may drive you off the deep end after a week's vacation, then plan for a long weekend family trip and use the remaining vacation days for some "me" time. Consider spending your vacation budget on less nights in a suite with multiple bedrooms and baths instead of trying to cram everyone into two beds in one hotel room. Additional living space will help alleviate too much togetherness.
5. Always Pack Snacks...always!
It's like that snickers commercial, people get cranky when they need to eat. When blood sugars drop, people start to whine...and then you'll need the other kind of wine in order to cope....and then people say too much....which leads to other problems. Lots of problems can be avoided by always packing enough snacks!
6. Set Budgets
Money is the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about and its the leading cause of most family vacation arguments. Travel Agents are very comfortable talking about money. We can help you insure this is indeed a family vacation that doesn't turn into a financial guilt trip. We can even help with financing options for extended family members who want to be a part of the reunion but may not have immediate funds. We can also help lead conversations when it comes to who is going to pay for what. This comes in handy when Grandma says she'll pay for everyone's flights but your cousin insists she'll only fly nonstop first class.
In addition to the adults, it's important to talk budget with the kids. Vacations offer a tremendous opportunity to help teach kids some financial responsibility. Giving them a souvenir fund will teach them how to spend wisely and it will also prevent "gimme" tantrums.
7. Plan Activities Where No One Talks
A day of snorkeling might just save you from listening to your mother in law who won't ever shut up. An audio tour of a museum, a loud ATV off road tour or even two hours in a movie theater or an hour massage can offer a buffer to your nerves. There are ways to avoid interactions with relatives that get on your last nerve.
8. Exercise Relieves Tension
Hiking, Biking, a day at the waterpark are all things that tire kids out. Exercise also relieves stress for adults. An early morning beach walk or run may help you put on a happy face when you meet your Aunt for breakfast.
9. Do Not Rush
Rushing stresses people out so don't do it when you're on vacation. Rushing appears in many hidden forms. It's making sure you allow for PLENTY of extra time to get thru airport check in and TSA. This can mean arriving 3 hours ahead of your flight if you're traveling during busy family vacation times like the December holidays or Spring break. Not rushing means giving yourself plenty of extra time when traveling with children. We all know they will need extra bathroom stops, those important snacks and time to just be kids.
10. Screen Time Limits
This is a HUGE point of contention for many families. Now to avoid vacation arguments, I am a firm believer in "holiday rules" when it comes to unlimited screen time during long car and airplane rides. Pack extra batteries and let everyone binge watch and play fortnight till their eyes bleed. The ride will pass by quickly. After that, every family needs to set their screen limits but this needs to be discussed in advance. This discussion includes WiFi access for kids, security issues while away from home and parents limiting their own work. If your family needs a digital detox, your travel agent can recommend vacation destinations with limited for no WiFi.
11. Plan Some Adult Alone Time
Remember, this is not just your kids vacation, it's not just a family reunion...it's YOUR vacation too. You deserve some "me" time and some alone time with your significant other. Whether you divide and conquer child care with your partner, ask a trusted relative for some help or plan an itinerary to a resort or cruise ship that offers child care facilities, makes sure to incorporate me time. It will give you something to look forward too and might help offset some of the other drama.
12. Recognize and Set Limits
If your toddler turns into a little monster without their nap, then be sure to schedule that down time into your itinerary. If Grandpa still thinks he's superman but can't really walk very far, make accommodations for him right from the start. If you have relatives that don't understand the needs of others, you may need to draw a line in the beach sand and stand your ground, especially if its for the greater good.
13. Get The Locals Involved
Meeting new people and learning about different histories and culture is one of the best aspects of traveling. Interjecting new people into your family or group can also help change the entire dynamic. People are usually on their best behavior when they need someone new, at least for a little while. If nothing else it may just give your Uncle something new to talk about at dinner instead of his glory days back in high school.
14. Embrace New Family Experiences
Families are built on memories. Remember life can change dramatically and often unexpectedly. Even if the thought of another trip with the family is frustrating, just think about all the new survival stories you'll have. Things that drive you crazy now may end up being those crazy, heartfelt memories that you look back on or make fun of some day in the future.
15. You Will Get Lost
Plan on it, expect it and embrace it. Remember, you're only lost or new to something once and then you become a pro. Sometimes the most treasured, serendipitous travel moments of any trip happen when you find yourself lost. My husband is the type that needs to analyze maps before
we travel anywhere. That said, addresses in different countries or ways of doing things can be foreign, especially when traveling overseas. This is when I'll hear the line, "You're a travel agent, you should know this". My reply is usually something like, "Yes, I'm a travel agent, not Google". This makes him laugh and we get back to finding our way. It's important to recognize personality differences and practice how to diffuse them to avoid major conflicts.
16. Do Not Expect Perfection
Expectations are everything. If you expect nothing less than perfection in all things, you will be disappointed. Even with the very best made plans, "stuff" happens. You didn't expect it to rain the entire week you planned at the beach. You didn't expect your kid to get sick the night before a long flight. Welcome to life! How you choose to deal with it often sets the tone for how your children and the rest of your family deals with disappointments. Instead of seeking perfection, try to be a realist. Start your journey anticipating not everything will go 100% your way, then when things work out you can be pleasantly surprised.
17. Always Have a Plan - Then Have a Plan B
If you think you can "wing it" on vacation, think again! This kind of freedom may have worked when you were traveling alone or as a couple. If you have a family, you need to plan for your vacation. It's tricky enough traveling with children. Add the extended family and it becomes even trickier. You do NOT want to be that family wandering aimlessly through Disney World with screaming kids who are missing all the fun.
But like snacks, you always need to have a Plan B packed and ready. Stress can boil over quickly if you find yourself in a situation and you're not quite sure what to do. If weather in not in your favor, then have contingency plans for indoor activities or pack gear that will help you handle the elements. Some folks need to have a Plan B, C and D....and that's ok. It's always better to be over prepared than to be disappointed.
18. Don't Overpack
Yes, schlepping heavy baggage and worrying about all your worldly possessions can be stressful too.
What I'm talking about is not to over pack your itinerary. Finally remember - Rome wasn't built in a day and you're not going to be able to see all of Italy in one week. Despite the temptation to "get your money's worth" do not over pack your itinerary. Again, this goes back to quality verses quantity. Do you want to have a fun vacation or spend your time yelling at your relatives to hurry up?
19. Learn to Delegate
It can be difficult for just one person in the family the shoulder the burden of planning and prepping for a family vacation. Yes, a travel agent can help but we can't do everything. Get family members involved any way that you can. Give your 4 year old the job of counting bags every time you're on the move so that you don't forget your belongings. Ask your 16 year old to help arrange pet sitting with your neighbor. If you're traveling with a group perhaps each family can be responsible for a day's worth of activities, meals and child care.
20. There Are Other Alternatives
Listen, even with all of this great advice, the thought of traveling with your family or extended family may sound as fun as having a root canal. Remember, there are NO rules written down anywhere that say if you are a family, you MUST vacation together. If your parents drive you insane but are offering to pay for vacation, suggest they travel with the kids so you and your partner can enjoy some alone time. if your partner and some of the kids crave an adventure, sports themed holiday while you and the other kids would prefer a week of shopping and museums remember families can take separate vacations. Taking separate family vacations doesn't make you a loser. It often brings families together.
Listen, the fine are of compromise is never easy. It's also important to remember that you're not alone struggling with these issues. I've been a travel agent for more than 20 years. My team and I have dealt with thousands of families who have all dealt with many of these same issues. Travel agents do more than put trips together and make reservations. We're here to help you navigate the tricky twists and turns of family vacation time.