The weather’s warming across the country, and along with snow melt and longer days comes that familiar family travel time known as spring vacation. And though they may not reach either extreme, travels as a group can be some of the happiest as well as most stressful times you have together as a family.
Time away from our regular routines is essential for good mental health. We tend to thrive with a healthy balance of the familiar and the different, and vacations are one way many of us create difference in our lives. We can put away the same responsibilities, schedules, foods, sights, people, and weather for something different, a change that can make for a sense of escape as well as renewal upon our return. When we travel with our families, we get a chance to make shared memories and then recall them again and again in the future. Many of us remember the time spent in the back seat of our family station wagons, going somewhere together, as hallmarks of our childhood.
But like everything else with our families, traveling together as companions is a mixed blessing. While we can anticipate one another’s reactions, and find pleasure in those shared experiences and understandings, we also make quick assumptions, judgments, and responses to each other that can zap joy from the newness of travel. In other words, family travels can be great and awful at the same time. (Recall the Clark Griswold’s of the 1983 movie, Vacation, and you’ll know what I mean).
Before you come unglued in your rush to close the house and get on a plane for that long-awaited winter escape, consider a few things that may make for a more relaxed, pleasant, and renewing family trip. If you have ideas to share, add your comment at the bottom of this post.
1. Stay Within the Budget
Nothing can kill the joy of a family trip like spending more than you can afford. No one wants to pay off credit card travel expenses 11 months after a dream visit to Disneyworld. Do all you can to stay inside your planned budget, making room for the spontaneous and unexpected, and you will have a less stressful vacation and return.
2. Prepare to Travel
Don’t wait until the night before you leave to know whether you have enough cash, you have or need your passport, your favorite shorts still fit, the car needs an oil change, or you’ve renewed your prescriptions at the pharmacy. None of us need the turmoil of last-minute, rushed packing. It can take all the pleasure out of the first part of your vacation—and stall your trip through airport security.
3. Lower your Expectations
No destination is going to be as great as the travel brochure, the website, or what your dreams have set you up to expect. Even Hawaii has problems. Lower your expectations of the perfect honeymoon or family trip, and, instead, ready yourself to be flexible and thus pleasantly surprised. More fun will be had by all.
4. Manage your Job
Most successful employers know we are better at our jobs when we leave them for awhile. While it’s tempting to stay connected via email, texts, photos, or even phone calls to work, unplug from co-workers and turn toward the people you’re with. After all, family will stick around long after that job is over. And if you are self-employed like me, make a plan to limit the contact you’ll need with your business and stick to that plan.
5. We Bring Ourselves with Us
Your son won’t necessarily behave well just because he’s visiting grandma, and your spouse won’t miraculously be easygoing just because you’re in a different place. Remember: while your family is pretty much the same wherever they go, so are you. Cut everyone a little slack.
6. Staying with Extended Family
Nothing says emotional overload like traveling with family to stay with more. Treat the family you visit with respect, do your share of the extra work you create, and make time to get out from under their feet, and they will probably invite you back.
Some of us appreciate more time at home before the rush back to normal routine begins. I know I need time to do laundry, to make sure the refrigerator is stocked with milk, and sort the mail before I go back to work. Others, who don’t need much re-entry time, etch out as much vacation time as possible. Know your preferences and honor them. That way coming home will be as pleasant as possible.
© Copyright 2010 by Lynne Silva-Breen. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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