If the idea of a family vacation evokes mental images of a frazzled Clark Griswold, you’re not alone. Our daily routines feel safe and predictable and it’s not always easy to step away, especially when kids are involved. Nevertheless, these adventures provide valuable opportunities for families to practice compromise, adaptation, problem-solving, frustration tolerance, and of course, communication. What’s more, the benefits often outlast the actual experience. A successful family vacation has the potential to enrich a family’s identity and provide “happiness anchors” – a set of soothing memories to mentally recall when we are stressed or anxious. Keep in mind, a “successful” family vacation is not guaranteed and like most adventures, a little planning goes a long way. What follows are helpful tips to make the most of your time away:
Budget wisely: vacations aren’t cheap, and money is a top adult stressor.
Consider everyone’s needs: whether it’s dietary preferences or equitable time with the car radio, a predetermined strategy will decrease the chance of someone feeling left out.
Expect crankiness: a family-wide discussion of the inevitability of crankiness will better prepare the group for patience and support.
Be flexible: teamwork makes the dream work, and the best teams know how to compromise.
Unplug: the modern American family spends less quality time together than ever, and four people on their phones means four people in different worlds.
Don’t over-plan: “quality over quantity” may be the best philosophy for avoiding mental and physical exhaustion.
Check-in: periodic check-ins are a good way to increase cohesion and preempt meltdowns – e.g., “OK all, let’s quickly touch base: how are you feeling? Anyone need anything? Any grievances? What’s been the highlight of the day?”
Leave early: avoid the mad dash by giving yourself plenty of time to arrive to your destination.
Plan ahead: loosely discuss the next day’s itinerary the night before to allow everyone time to mentally prepare – this is especially helpful for children who may not transition from activity to activity as smoothly as adults.
Document: don’t allow it to distract from your here-and-now experience, but photos and videos allow for warm and positive recollections long after your return home.