Ah, the family vacation. A time of togetherness, a time of memories, a time of play … and, let’s be real, often a time of bickering. Stress naturally creeps in when we experience a new place or break out of our normal routine. Plus, with all the things on the to-do list before, during and after the trip, your vacation can start to feel like, well, anything but. However, while there will be the inevitable squabbles as our family members adjust to new places and routines, you can avoid the worst of it with a few pre-trip behaviors.
It seems counter-intuitive, really. We’re about to head out on vacation – new places! a cool hotel room! dining out! – and yet, those very expectations are what can lead to conflict during your family vacation. We’re placing demands on ourselves and our family members, working with tight deadlines, cramming in last-minute tasks before you leave and then adjusting to a new destination and experiencing new activities. Long lines, going through TSA with that large bottle of expensive shampoo you forgot to take out, getting up early to catch a flight – this all taxes our bodies, increasing cortisol – that nasty stress hormone – and setting us on edge before the fun even begins.
Most of us have experienced just this situation with our own families. Let’s learn from each other and try a few stress-management techniques to avoid bickering on your next family vacation. Try one, try them all … just remember you’re not alone. Plus, as the old adage says, you’ll look back on all this fondly someday. Right?
1. Plan collaboratively. Allow the family to contribute to the vacation itinerary. If possible, let each child offer something special they would like to do. This is especially helpful if you have, say, elementary-school-aged kids and high schoolers. This way, not everything will be too young or too old for them and everyone will have a day that caters to their interests.
2. Hold a family meeting before you leave. Discuss the travel plans you worked together to create and communicate expectations for behavior, attitude, etc. Download this free copy of the Family Vacation Meeting Agenda. This is a great opportunity to assuage your kiddos’ concerns if they’re a natural worrier and are more comfortable when they know the routine. Prep kids for getting up early, for long days of travel, etc. by telling them what great stuff comes next.
3. Recognize how stress appears in you and your family. Be aware and offer grace when family members are under stress. Hopefully, this will reflect back on you as well so a calmer atmosphere will prevail.
4. Identify ways to keep your cool when stress attacks. Try breathing techniques, download a meditation app on your phone or step away from the situation for a couple minutes and leave the kids with your partner.
5. Get some sleep. It’s easy for sleep patterns to be disturbed when setting off for vacation or during your vacation. Make time for adequate rest. After all, even if you’re trying to pack in everything possible, it’s not going to fun if you’re all too tired to enjoy it.
6. Spend quality time together before the trip. Don’t wait until the vacation to engage in fun with your kids, sometimes we spend so much time apart that spending time together can seem awkward for your preteens and teens.
7. Pack protein snacks to avoid the crankiness that accompanies empty bellies. Favorites include nuts, cheese sticks, jerky, even prepackaged hard-boiled eggs.
8. Avoid the impulse to change daily routines just because you’re on vacation. Sure, you can limit device usage, but demanding that they need to unplug completely during the trip can be a shock to the system and create conflict.
If the bickering continues for more than two days into your vacation, it may be time for another family meeting. This time, be sure to allow each family member to share their feelings. You may need to allow everyone to just have their space and adjust to the new environments. Travel can be a lot for small children and teens, and even grown-ups.
The good news is that if approached in a sensible way, the natural conflict that occurs during family vacations is healthy and can benefit your children by teaching them how to manage conflict. Through travel – and all its good and challenging moments – they’ll learn to become a responsible, caring global citizen. It’s not as easy as retreating to their bedrooms to avoid conflict when you’re far from home. Travel is a healthy way to simulate real-life situations and provides a safe environment for children to learn and grow. That, combined with seeing the world outside their neighborhood, is as great a gift as the vacation itself.