Planning a Stress-Free Family Vacation and Actually Having Fun During the Vacation!
Dear April Masini,
I'm planning a family vacation and I am so stressed. The kids want to do a certain activity and the parents want to do something totally different, so we never spend any actual quality time together! I'm ready to pull my hair out! Please tell me how we can enjoy this vacation together without any of this stress?"
Pulling My Hair Out
April Masini's Advice :
Dear Pulling My Hair Out,
Relax. Family vacations are wonderful ways to break the routine and spend some time together as a family on a special adventure — whether it’s action packed or laid back. Regular family vacations are important for the health of the family as a unit and for the individuals in the family so that they remember to balance work and play. However, there are tricks to successful family vacations when children are involved.
STRUCTURED VS. UNSTRUCTURED TIME The amount of structure and lack of structure on a family vacation depends on the ages of the children and the personalities of everyone in the family. This ratio of unstructured to structured time will change as the family changes. It’s important not to over schedule a vacation otherwise the family returns home from vacation needing a vacation! Inversely, it’s important not to leave too much free time in which family members can get bored, pick fights and get into all kinds of unpleasant family dynamics. If you’re not sure of the ratio of structured to unstructured time, start off with this ratio: Schedule one activity after breakfast and one activity in the evening. The morning activity should be energy intensive — and the afternoon should be lolling by the pool time. The evening activity can be going out to a nice dinner with the entire family.
SUSPEND RULES DURING VACATION?
You bet! Don’t suspend rules that have to do with manners or conduct. But relax the rules about junk food, desert, staying up late, etc. Allow the kids to let their hair down with parameters — and the parameters are the vacation days. It will give them something to look forward to on the next vacation. It also gives parents a break from having to enforce the rules, and shows the children a model of flexible parenting.
WITH OR WITHOUT FRIENDS?
Family vacations without other friends are important because they strengthen the mettle of the family and build on family bonds. Sometimes this is hard to do, but all relationships that end up being rewarding require hard work. And family vacations are no exception. Spending time with your nuclear family allows opportunities for heart to heart talks — and even fights that need to happen in order to break through cycles that have been repeating. They also allow time for family members to get to know each other — for better or for worse. Bringing friends dilutes nuclear family relationships. Friends are great, but they don’t have to go on the family vacation, and often, they are asked to go because the family doesn’t want to spend time together. If it’s difficult to vacation with just the family then shorten the vacation time to five days or seven days. But do it and do it regularly.
SOME FAMILY VACATIONS THAT OFFER LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES
- Gifted child programs are very trendy these days, and most of them offer family learning opportunities in different states and countries.
- Environmental groups all offer family learning and studying vacations. Some of these are helping vacations where instead of actually vacationing, your family volunteers and works to help other people, animals or nature preserves.
- University alumni groups offer vacations that you can take your family on. Check with your university, and if you don’t like what they’re offering, check other local universities that may allow you partake of their alumni trips whether or not you’re an alumni.
- “Home-school” vacations. You can always make up your own tour or vacation with the help of your auto or travel club or online travel services. Train trips are wonderful ways to see the country.