Five Tips for Enjoying a Stress-Free Family Vacation

Vacations are fun. Family vacations? Not always. But if you’re hitting the road with your clan, there’s no need to stress. These tips will help you stay sane and enjoy quality time with the fam.

On my last trip with my older sister and my mom, we were a model traveling family. We enjoyed long, leisurely brunches with lots of laughter and scoped out Boston’s best sights by foot. When it was time to head back to the hotel, my mom retreated to her bedroom while my sister and I enjoyed a nightcap in our separate room. It would be reasonable for passersby to think we had always been so in sync.

Honestly? That couldn’t be further from the truth. Past family vacations have resulted in angry standoffs, frustration and tears, typically shed in a public place (you haven’t really cried until you’ve thrown a tantrum at a museum). While getting older certainly has helped, we’ve also learned how to compromise — a skill that is saving our collective sanity. Here’s how we’ve transformed our family vacations for the better.

1. Communicate before takeoff.

Traveling with family members is a unique opportunity. It can bond you via shared and exciting experiences, but it can also leave you feeling like you need another holiday to recover. Why is it so fraught? You’re often at your most vulnerable (and comfortable) with your family, turning seemingly simple situations into emotional powder kegs. That’s why it’s important to communicate your expectations and set boundaries before the trip. With a bit of behind-the-scenes work before taking off, you’ll be able to minimize squabbles and look back on family travel memories fondly.

2. Research your destination.

Your first discussion? Be realistic about who’s going on the trip and what their needs will be. That secluded beach bungalow might look perfect for a weeklong getaway, but if your brother is bringing his two young children, you might prefer to stay at a resort with more space and children’s activities. Organizing a city escape with an older relative? Factor in how much walking they’ll be able to do and what other transport options are available. If someone else is planning the trip, voice your preferences on food, accommodations and activities early.

Quick Tip:

If you’re traveling with young ones, check out these four tips for flying with kids.

3. Determine the activities you can’t do without.

Once you’ve decided on a location, find out what activities or sightseeing options are really important to members of your family — the nonnegotiables. By making a point to include these things in your itinerary (sans whining and moaning), you’ll show respect for your loved ones… and also gain a bargaining chip for later.

4. Splurge for more space.

It can be tempting to pile as many people as possible into each room to save costs, but trust me: You’ll want a bit of space to unwind and to get your beauty rest. Plus, nothing puts a damper on the day like having to wait an hour for the shower. I like sticking to just one bunk mate — preferably someone who has similar habits to my own — and keeping the family vacation vibe by reserving villas, suites or adjoining rooms.

5. Carve out personal time.

If you’re following a jam-packed schedule, be sure to set aside some daily personal time, ideally for at least an hour or two. It’s a great way to let members of the group follow their interests, whether that be a solo coffee or a local yoga class. After a little “me” time, everyone will feel more relaxed and empowered to get the most out of the trip.


6. Stay positive.

So your parents make corny jokes and your aunt’s sartorial choices make you cringe. Ultimately, the good times will trump any awkwardness — and when you keep an upbeat attitude, that’s much likelier to happen. One of the best parts about travel is that you get to surrender to your surroundings and go with the flow. And that’s even truer when traveling with your clan. So roll with the punches, laugh at the ridiculousness of it all and make some family memories.

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Kissairis M. is a freelance writer living in Melbourne, Australia.