If you asked me a year ago to name a few of the things I dread the most, family vacations would be in the top ten.
Sorry family. I love you all, but you kill me sometimes.
Let’s set the scene here:
My dad’s packing at four in the morning. He’s trying to figure out where his socks are because my mom definitely hid them on him. I hate mornings, so I’m an absolute monster to get out of bed. I begin snapping at everything my younger brother opens his mouth to say. My mom’s muttering as she does the dishes from the night before, piled up as if there was an all-out rager at in the kitchen.
All of a sudden, I hear shouting from downstairs as my dad yells at my brother because of course we need to move all the furniture off the rug. It’s being cleaned that week and Connor isn’t helping. Finally, we all pile into the car, tired and miserable. Now, there are fights over snacks, seats, air temperature, personal space, and music. The sun hasn’t even risen, yet our voices have all reached decibel that should never exist.
This was how our trip to Norway was looking and we hadn’t even left the driveway yet.
Don’t get me wrong, I am forever grateful to have a dad with a desire to show his kids the world and a mom that is a real trooper when it comes to putting up with our nonsense. But all good intentions aside, things always seem to go to hell in a hand basket pretty darn quick whenever we’re all together.
So, when we booked our tickets to Mexico for January, I started to dread those eight days. Inevitably, we’d have to spend it jammed together in a car that would probably be too small, apartments that would somehow all have a broken A/C, and Connor would get sick. Connor is always the one to get sick. That boy is a magnet for trouble. I almost saw it as foreshadowing when the plane ticket payment didn’t go through the first time, believing in signs. Despite that, I decided to give it all the benefit of the doubt. This could be awful, but at least we’d be bonding, right?
But somehow, instead of constant fights, I saw compromise. Where tiffs between each family member would normally happen, everyone seemed to maintain their cool and went along with the flow. Because of all this, it probably was one of my favorite trips to date. In case you’ve been thinking about booking a flight and traveling with family this year, I’m going to pass along a few tips we came up with to smooth things over when someone inevitably has a meltdown from lack of sleep.
1. Have absolutely everything in order.
I did most of the planning for Mexico, from arranging the forms needed for passport renewals to double checking addresses on Airbnb’s, I made sure my plans were air-tight. Do you need a phone plan? Does your itinerary include flight numbers and the local time you’ll be arriving? I throw all of my details into Evernote, print off a few copies to leave for anyone tending our pets, and screenshot a copy for myself in case the internet is down wherever we’re traveling.
Not the one doing the planning? It still doesn’t hurt to read up on the area. I picked up a guidebook that eventually passed around the hands of all my family members, easing more than one travel worry/question along the way. Any knowledge of the local customs, key phrases, or transportation is helpful while traveling with family.
2. Bring snacks.
Do you or your family members seem to get irritable after not eating for several hours? Have you ever described one of them as.. hangry? Then this tip is for you. I’m constantly in a state of being hungry and tend to get a little unfocused as well as cranky when I haven’t shoved some sort of snack in my mouth during the day. To prepare for this, I line my suitcase with snacks I could easily throw in a day bag and snack on between meals. This definitely saved me as well as a few other family members from getting into nonsense arguments.
3. Listen more than you speak.
This one seems like a no-brainer, in fact most of these will be, but it’s worth repeating. Take the time on that 4 hour car ride to really listen to the stories your dad has told a thousand times, or the new venture your brother has been up to. Understand what it is exactly that makes them excited to tell those stories. This also helps with siblings or family members you may have drifted away from, by asking a simple question it allows them to feel important. Let them talk without judgement, see what you learn.
Connor wanted to lay on the beach for 8 days and not move. My mom wanted to check out the local history, but didn’t want to do much walking. My dad wanted to eat at as few places as possible and find the more authentic cuisine when we did. But I love to eat, walk for hours, and am not really the happiest on the beach.
To satisfy everyone, I tried planning a schedule that only had a few, worthy road trip stops, included a few ruins, found a ton of local cuisine, and added a few days for Connor to do some beach lounging. Was I itching to move after 20 minutes in the sand? Yes. Did I want to walk another half hour to explore the furthest ruins of Coba? Of course. Did I really want to eat PB&J sandwiches for lunch some days? Heck no, but travel is all about compromise. The way I’ve always seen any group trip or decision, everyone’s going to be a little upset by the end of it, but will come away with something they will absolutely be thrilled to write home about.
6. When in doubt, ground yourself.
I’m taking a page out of a classic technique for dealing with panic attacks or general anxiety. Whenever anything feels too much, aka you’re pissed someone forgot their passport in the room, or your kid is just really, really getting on your nerves and even the sound of their voice is grating on you, focus on your feet. Pay attention to how they feel on the ground, the texture of it, the smells and sounds you hear around you. Focus on one object and describe it in your head.
An alternative method? Pull yourself away from all the chaos and remind yourself where you are. Inevitably, Connor and I clash, but as I sat there pouting I started to realize where I was. At that moment, it was sitting on the beach in Mexico, with a light breeze on my skin, and the sound of someone playing a guitar in the bar behind me. Will everyone get the chance to experience this? Nope. Is it worth ruining this moment to continue being upset? Definitely not.
7. Pick a get-along game.
My absolute favorite thing to do is to force my travel companions to say one thing they appreciate about someone in the group (sarcasm is not welcome) to break up any heavy tension.
Example: “Connor, I appreciate you trying new foods and not complaining when we got up early to do some exploring.”
So far, I have yet to see this fail and truly does seem to change the overall mood of the group.
8. Schedule in some alone time.
What did I do when the sun started to bother my glowing pale skin? I went up to our Airbnb for a bit to read a good book and check emails. My dad would take a dip in the ocean where the waves would try to sweep him away. As a classic extroverted introvert, I value time by myself to the highest degree. I start to go a little stir-crazy when I can’t take a few hours to decompress from sensory and social overload. Not everyone is going to want to do and want to see what you want, so maybe find a few spots along the trip to split up the group a bit, or go off on your own. This way you can come back recharged and full of new stories to tell the others.
Let me know what you found to be helpful and if you have any tips for my other readers to use whenever they take their next family vacation!