Whether as miserable children stuck in the back of a car, bored teenagers who just wanted to stay behind with their friends, or despairing parents bickering about directions and money, most people have experienced the ugly side of the family vacation. So it is hardly surprising that a recent U.K. survey revealed four out of every five parents do not look forward to it. And yet this is supposed to be one of the year’s highlights, reward for all the hard work and money saving; surely it needn’t be this way? Though nothing guarantees success, you can at least take steps to make your vacation less stressful:
1) Plan, plan, plan. Approach your family vacation as you would approach a military expedition. For example, if you are driving a long distance, have the car checked before you go. The last thing you want is a flat tire or hole in the exhaust when there is a fractious toddler on the back seat. Have you pre-booked a car space at the airport? Do you know how to get from the airport to the hotel? If you have hired a taxi, why not double check that they have your booking? Look up the temperature in the place you are visiting. If you live in a cold climate and are setting off to a hot one, it will be a shock to the system. You wouldn’t be the first family to arrive in a tropical climate wearing jumpers and jeans!
2) Talk things through before you leave. If you are the family peacemaker, it may be worth taking each family member aside and having a quiet word with them. Never forget that the members of an average family see comparatively little of one another during the year, so it can be a shock to spend hours on end together. If your teenage son often clashes with his father, try taking him aside before you leave. Remind him that his dad works hard, gets stressed, and needs and deserves this break.
3) Do not compare your vacation with your friend’s. In the age of Facebook and Twitter, people compare like never before. It doesn’t hurt to be reminded that most of your friends only tell you about the good times. Don’t be misled by Facebook images of three happy, tanned, smiling children outside a luxury hotel in Miami. Your neighbors and friends were never going to post photos of the dirty toilets, the bad food, or their daughter’s temper tantrum at the airport!
4) Accept that disasters are likely to happen. Flights get cancelled, sunglasses get lost, and insects bite. If you are jetting off for two weeks in the sun, something is bound to go wrong. What matters is not the disaster (barring something truly dreadful of course), but how you react. Do not make a bad situation worse. So you had your wallet stolen — well bad luck, these things happen — at least you weren’t stabbed at the same time! Accept that something has gone wrong, express your anger or disappointment, and then let it go.
5) Make a few allowances. People can behave like idiots when they go on vacation. If you live in a dull, cold climate and spend most of your days working, do not be surprised if you, your partner, and anyone else you take, goes a little crazy when enjoying freedom, warm sunshine, rich food, and plenty of alcohol. So if your husband gets drunk and embarrasses you by dancing like a fool or winking at another guest, cut him some slack.
6) Don’t expect too much. Many people work themselves into a frenzy searching for those magical moments. This is especially true on foreign vacations. Above all, be wary of the gap between fantasy and reality. If your image of London is based on Mary Poppins, Sherlock Holmes, and Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, you are likely to be shocked by the reality; the same goes for trips to New York, Paris, and Rome, not to mention landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, Stonehenge, and Buckingham Palace. Try to be open minded and accept what comes. And don’t worry; the magical moments usually happen when you least expect them.
It may seem pessimistic and cynical to approach a vacation in so cautious and negative a manner. But family vacations can be exhausting and stressful, and a little caution (or cynicism, if you prefer) may just save the day!