When we think back on our childhood, it’s often the case that many of our most treasured memories have the golden backdrop of long-ago family vacations. With wistful recollections of endless summer days and childhood adventures, it’s no wonder that we want to create the same experience for our kids.
Unfortunately, being an adult comes with responsibility. While your kids get to dive-bomb in the pool and consume an ungodly amount of ice cream, all the planning, budgeting, scraped-knee tending and tantrum-soothing is down to you. A survey by HomeAway found 46 percent of U.S. travelers admit to not being able to fully enjoy their vacation because of stress, and travelling with children can be challenging no matter what their age.
Luckily, there are many things that you can do to ensure that your vacation experience goes as smoothly as possible.
What are the key stressors on a family vacation?
No matter which summer vacation idea you end up pursuing, you are likely to encounter a couple of tense situations. But while there’s always going to be a little bit of stress when you are away with the kids (it’s in their job description to be annoying occasionally), there are also plenty of ways to tackle it.
Whether your child is just toddling or beginning to grow body hair (along with an “interesting” new attitude), flights just won’t be quite the same as when you were kid-free.
If you have younger children, you can help them cope with the sometimes demanding experience of commercial flights by explaining what they can expect from the airport and journey in advance. Plan for delays, with lots of distractions that you can produce at a moments notice – such as colouring books, handheld games consoles and snacks (sweets can be particularly useful when you’ve played all your cards and bribery is all you have left).
Perhaps the most important thing when flying with children is not to sweat the small stuff. Getting on a plane is rarely anyone’s favourite part of a holiday, so simply tolerating the bored fidgeting from young kids and low-level hostility from teenagers is perhaps the best way to get through it. Practicing a few mindfulness or breathing exercises is a good option, and remember that it will all be over soon – even if your toddler is having a full-on meltdown in the airport lounge.
It can be a bit of a drag if you take your teenager on vacation, only to realise that they are determined not to enjoy anything. Our expectations can be so high when we go away that we believe our family will behave completely out of character, but unfortunately, this usually isn’t the case.
The best way to cope with this situation is to lead by example. Create an atmosphere of relaxation and fun by making it clear that the normal service of family life has been suspended – starting with giving your teens a little more freedom and breathing room.
Try to choose a safe location (such as a gated resort) where they can wander around a little and hang out with kids their own age – and if they’d really rather not walk around a theme park with their kid sibling, you can consider letting them get on with their own thing back at your accommodation. It’s likely they’ll regret missing out and want to join in more later down the line, but even if not, it isn’t doing anyone any harm.
As soon as they realise that they are allowed to enjoy themselves on their own terms, and that you aren’t going to rise to any bait – because you’re on holiday, enjoying a Sangria by the pool! – then they should unwind and begin to have some fun.
Of course, it’s good to have an itinerary, and if you want to visit somewhere like Disney World there’s so much to do that it really is advisable to plan in advance. However, it’s important not to over-optimise your time. It can be tempting to cram in as many activities as possible in order to make the most of your vacation, but without some rest both you and your kids are going to feel exhausted by the time the holiday is over.
Giving yourself too much to do also ramps up your stress levels if anything disruptive happens. The domino effect of your transport being late, or your child feeling under the weather, can ruin your plans for the whole day and waste a lot of your budget. This is why, when making your plans, you should allow room for spontaneity, rest days and a bit of personal space.
Give kids some company, a swimming pool and their toys and they can keep themselves entertained for hours – which gives you the chance to catch up with your partner as you watch them having fun. Schedule in some beach or villa days, and make dinner something simple you’ve cooked on the grill or ordered-in, and you’ll avoid making your itinerary overwhelming.