9 Ways to Ensure a Stress-Free Family Vacation
Spend your next trip relaxing, exploring, and bonding—not quarreling and hassling.
Many families are gearing up for their annual vacations, whether its jetting overseas or road-tripping. But family trips don't always play out exactly as envisioned, especially when the whole family is in close quarters—constantly, 24/7, for a week. Gulp.
If you’re afraid of taking getaways with your gaggle of kiddos and partner, you’re not alone. But there are major benefits to traveling with those you love most. Not only will you bond through mutual shared experiences in new, unfamiliar places, but getting out of your typical routine fosters deeper, more meaningful conversations and helps everyone to reap a little (much-needed) R&R.
The key, of course, is using strategies from seasoned travel wizards who have mastered the fine balance of happy vacations and happy interpersonal relationships. Here, some tips for a less stressful travel experience for all.
1. Decide on a Mutual Trip Goal
Whether it’s relaxing on the beach, exploring a new destination, or learning a new skill, the purpose of a vacation can take many different forms. Agreeing on a mutual trip goal (for example, “try one new food every day of the trip”) before leaving will ensure everybody’s on the same page, according to travel expert Wendy Perrin. Having aspirations for adventures will have everyone working in together, and will cut back on the arguments you have while on the go.
2. Allow for Everybody's Temperaments
Think beforehand about what it is that throws individuals in your crew off. You know your family, so you know which triggers will inevitably cause crankiness or discomfort. Do what you can to prevent it from the start, as much as possible, Perrin recommends. For instance, if you're taking a long, grueling flight, don't jump right into an activity—allow for some adjustment time upon arrival. Do your kids get hangry—especially after spending a few hours in a museum? Make sure to pack snacks and plan meals ahead so the group never gets too hungry. Planning the trip with everybody’s dispositions and skill sets in mind can prevent bad behavior and grumpiness from both the kids and adults.
3. Always Carve Out Meaningful Time With Your Spouse
Indulging in one-on-one time with your partner or spouse while away can help the trip feel more therapeutic. Choosing a family-friendly resort or a cruise with a kids club is one way to work in couple’s time, and tiring the kids out during the day can mean alone time—or even a date night—later in the evening, Perrin advises If you’re comfortable leaving the kids on their own in a hotel room, find a night to rent them a movie and order in room service, then sneak out for a bite just the two of you. (It'll feel like a treat for the kids too! #freedom).
4. Limit Screen Time
Deciding as a family to limit screen time on vacation will ensure everyone is present and engaged during the trip. And Perrin means everyone in the family: so mom and dad, it’s time to let go of that mighty attachment to your iPhone. Adults should tell their Facebook friends they'll share photos when they return, and kids' electronics should be limited to long flights or car rides. If the kids are antsy during down time on vacation, encourage them to write or draw in a travel journal.
5. Don't Sweat the Small Stuff
There will pretty much always be hiccups you can’t plan ahead for, but acting out and dramatizing it will only add to disappointment. "You want to be the kind of person who can turn lemons into lemonade, but we all get handed lemons when we travel. Figure out how to make the best of it, and turn it into something good," Perrin explains. Not only will this help you have a less stressful time, it'll show your kids a great example of how to handle disappointments, snafus, and changes of plan—something they’ll carry with them (and that’ll make them awesome travelers) for life.
6. Come Up With Safety Game Plans Before You Leave
Many parents worry about safety when bringing their most precious cargo with them on a trip overseas, or even stateside. The key to easing your worry and helping to make your vacation feel more secure is active communications—before you take off. As travel blogger Lisa Niver explains, arm your kids with information on how to find help if they need it and the details of where they’re staying. “If you are traveling in a country where you do not speak the language, take a card from the hotel before you leave that has the address and phone number in the local language,” she suggests. You can think of it the same way you teach your children their home address, phone number, and parents’ names. Niver also suggests coming up with a meeting place for crowded areas so you never lose one another: this could be a coffee shop in a main square, a police station, and so on.
7. Maintain Family Traditions Away From Home
Some people are born to live their life on the fly, galavanting from one place to another on a whim. Others prefer the comfort and security of home and enjoy the familiarity of a routine. If you’re more on the second team, you can still experience the magic of traveling within your comfort zone by bringing some “home” with you. Niver says that packing a favorite stuffed animal, journal, book, tea bags, coffee, and other essentials you may not be able to find abroad can ease nerves.
Another tactic is to maintain your rituals, whether that’s reading a book with your kids before bed or having family breakfast at a table. Staying at an apartment-style hotel or Airbnb makes it easier to replicate that homey feeling with fully equipped kitchens and home-like amenities. You’ll have more room to spread out, while still being able to take advantage of hotel staff and amenities.
8. Consider a Travel Agent
Before you start thinking of your grandparents who used travel agents “back in their day,” remember this profession is experiencing a reemergence. Much like you would hire someone to repair your car or file your taxes, agents are experts in wanderlust and have relationships that lead to a better vacation. This could be saving money on tickets to events, helping you get upgraded on a flight or hotel, and being your go-to person if any hiccups happen. As travel agent Janice Strand explains, her job is to share her expertise so you don’t have to worry. “Finding a great agent is like finding that hairdresser you would follow anywhere,” she says. “With unexpected world events from airplane groundings, hurricanes in addition to strikes and weather, your travel agent is your connection to rebook or make changes quickly when things don't go as planned.”
9. Share Responsibilities
Life coach and frequent flier Elizabeth Pearson reminds couples that happy duos make for happy families. And if one person feels as if they are tasked with planning every last detail while their partner catches up on Netflix, an argument is bound to happen. Instead, she suggests splitting up vacation duties. “Maybe one of you oversees packing snacks, electronics, and books to ensure a road trip or flights with plenty of distractions. The other may be in charge of parking the car, checking bags, and ushering kids to the washroom,” she says. “The odds of a fight with your partner will drastically decline if you both have set expectations for one another before you leave the house.”