The Secret To A Less Stressful, More Joyful Family Vacation

How To Create a Shared Vacation Vision

Photo credit: Jackie Bourne

vacations can be pure joy. It may be that you have to get
creative with your definition of joy, but they can be memorable in
the ‘super fun, can’t wait to do it again’ way. Or they can be sheer
hell for all involved. Whining and crying, followed by a nonstop
refrain of ‘I wanna go home now’. It’s not just the kiddos
that engage in this behavior. The grown-ups can be just as unhappy, if
not more so. And no amount of chocolate or wine is going to take the
edge off.

what’s a family to do? In particular, what should parents do to set
the scene for a relaxed trip? That sounds like a challenging question, but the solution is less complicated than you might  imagine.

Once you
know where you’re going, who you’ll be seeing, and what activities
you’ll be participating in, it’s actually quite simple to build the
foundation for a relaxing vacation. It’s all about setting
expectations. The key to successfully doing that is to engage in a
conversation well before you leave for your trip.

might be wondering what’s the best way to start this dialogue. And
yes, I said dialogue, because this isn’t a time to hold court and lay
down the law. Your goal is to get buy-in from your entire family, so
you need to be inclusive in your conversation. That means everyone
gets a voice and can share what’s important to them. The idea is to
flesh out a shared vision for what your family adventure will look

This can
work with everyone, even very young children. They may not be able to
articulate any idea other then they just want to have to fun, but
they will be aware that they have been part of the process, and you
will be building on something you can use for years to come. It’s
also possible they will have very clear ideas – like I want Mickey
Mouse to have lunch with me, or I want to go swimming every day.

just this sort of information that can help you set clear
expectations so there are no dashed hopes later on. Explaining now
that Mickey is not available for lunch, but that your child will get
to say hi to him and snap a selfie, will help prevent a melt down
later. Or agreeing that swimming will definitely happen each
afternoon but only after you’ve spent time sight seeing, will give
your kids something solid to look forward to.

Part of
the discussion should also focus on expectations surrounding
financial resources. Make it clear now about what you can and cannot
commit to. You don’t have to do a deep dive into numbers, but it’s
ever so easy for expenses to get out of hand. Especially when you’re
in the middle of something fun and you don’t want to kill the mood.
Perhaps you decide that each child gets to choose two mementos to
bring home, or maybe this year you’re giving them a set allowance to
spend however they want. In any event, talking about this early on
will go a long way toward making sure no one is taken by surprise
when you have to bring out that two letter word – No.

you are getting everyone to buy into a promise to create the best
memories possible for the whole family. Your vision can include any
details you want. Some families include behavior guidelines and
nonnegotiable clauses. Like taking turns on who chooses the
restaurants, or predetermining how much time can be spent on
electronic devices. Or maybe you allow soda to be consumed, but limit
the amount. When everyone feels like they’ve been part of the process
and been heard, success is so much more likely. It’s a great idea to
actually capture the vision in writing. There’s just something about
writing things down that helps make stuff stick. Let someone play
secretary, then have everyone sign it. And give everyone a copy to

When you
hit a rough spot (and that will happen), refer back to the vision.
Remind everyone that you all agreed to certain things. By the way,
all this applies to parents too, you’ve got to hold your end up of
any agreement. Keep your promises and model the behavior you want.

Will it
be all perfect? Not on your life. But, and this a big but, it will be
so much more relaxed than if you wing it and just hope all goes
smoothly. At the very least, you will have enjoyed some quality
family time at the outset, so you’ll have at least one truly positive
vacation related memory, right? 😉

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