Ideally a family vacation means getting away, having fun and spending time with loved ones. If your family is far from those seen grinning in glossy travel brochures and more akin to gracing the cover of "Dysfunctional Weekly" then a family vacation can add yet another layer of crazy to the normal daily drama. Here are a list of the 10 most common family vacation problems along with solutions to help save your sanity...
1. Reality Check - We're all fighting all of the time. Everyone is stressed out. We all need vacation so we can get away and reconnect.
Solution - Chances are a family therapist might do you more good than a vacation. Traveling can challenge everyone's patience, tempers and comfort zones. This can lead to even more stress and anxiety. Everyone needs to be in the right frame of mind and willing to play fair in order for a family vacation to fun, successful, memorable and enjoyable for all.
2. Money, Money Money - You probably scrimped, saved and slaved all year for that week or two of vacation nirvana. Vacation is a time to splurge, indulge and party like it's 1999! Of course every attraction and theme park is designed to dump the kids right into the middle of the gift shop!
Solution -Frank budget discussions need to happen very early in the vacation planning process. Set a budget for your itinerary (transportation, lodging, food, and entertainment) as well as spending and a few splurges along the way. A vacation allowance is a great opportunity to teach kids good spending habits and budgeting. If you're traveling as part of a larger group or with extended family members, it's best to spell out everyone's financial responsibilities and obligations in writing, far in advance to protect against misunderstandings that can lead to arguments and resentments.
3. Problems Getting Along-Not a day goes by without a fight or argument in our house! It's impossible for everyone to just get along!
Solution - Pitching an umbrella in Paradise or visiting the "Happiest Place On Earth" doesn't mean your family will "magically" get along. Forget perfection, pick your battles and make sure everyone can agree to disagree respectfully.
4. Lack of Space - My kids can't be in the same room with one another for five minutes without me having to step in and referee.
Solution - So...what do you think is going to happen if your entire family is sharing one hotel room with one bathroom for an entire week? If you're kids need neutral corners to keep the sparks from flying then upgrade your living quarters if the budget will allow. Plan an itinerary that includes activities where each child can enjoy separate age appropriate activities like those offer in resort and cruise ship kids clubs.
Consider taking the kids on separate vacations. There is no rule carved in stone high atop a mountain that says families MUST all vacation together at the precise same time. Often giving each child the opportunity to be the center of attention and have one one one time with parents or grandparents can actually bring siblings together. (counter intuitive, I know but true).
5. Nobody Can Make a Decision - Everyone in our family has such different opinions. Everyone had their own unique agenda. Something as simple as where to go to eat dinner turns into an hour long loop of "I dunno what do you want to do". I don't want us spending our time fighting on family vacation.
Solution - Have a plan for success. Get older children involved in planning out your itinerary in advance and then stick to that plan. This may require choices, compromises and even picking options out of a hat.
6. Partying Policies - Just because my kid is on vacation doesn't mean they can_________. A. Eat chocolate doughnuts every day for breakfast
B. Drink alcohol with the locals
C. Stay up till 2am
D. Swim with Sharks
E. All of the above
Solution - Rules of engagement curb arguments in the heat of the moment and protect relationships. Kids need to know the rules if they are expected to abide by them. Behavior expectations need to be discuss, along with consequences for breaking the rules, long before you pack any suitcases. Sorry parents, the only way you get a vacation from parenting is if you leave the kids home with relatives (and toss your cell phone in the ocean).
7. Being Outnumbered - My kids are little and constantly pulling me in a million different directions. After a vacation, I'm more exhausted than before!
Solution - Vacation activities need to be balanced in order to make it feel like a vacation for everyone. Consider traveling with extended family or friends so that adults can take turns caring for kids. Hire a babysitter or vacation at a spot that offers free childcare. Balance is the key to happiness.
8. No Team Effort - My kids sit on their "butts", my spouse doesn't help and I get stuck organizing and coordinating everything. I feel like I can't relax on my own vacation.
Solution - Consider an all inclusive vacation package, cruise or tour for your next trip. There are price points for just about every budget and even vacation layaway programs for those who plan ahead. Pay one price and let somebody else handle all the logistics.
9. Family First - My family spends the entire year with their noses glued to their electronic devices. No body talks to one another any more. We need a week of vacation quality time together.
Solution -If this is your agenda, please know "quality vacation time" overload can backfire if it's forced. Again balance your itinerary with times where older kids can enjoy their own activities, younger kids can play with peers while mom and dad get a little "alone" time. Have everyone reconnect for dinner or evening activities. Another option is to plan a "discovery" trip...visit or tour a location that no one in the family has ever visited before. This puts everyone on an even playing field and bring generations together. (and yes, there are locations with NO cell or wireless service so that everyone CAN unplug if that is what is needed).
10. Taking the blame - If everyone isn't happy..., if the kids are bored..., if the pool sucks....- I'll never hear the end of it.
Solution - Get professional help from a travel agent this time. Travel agent commissions are already calculated into the price of cruises, tours and vacation packages. If you go online and DIY your vacation then you're doing extra work, getting no advice or service and the travel companies are pocketing the difference.
The key to keeping everyone happy and sane while on family vacation is clear communication. It's important to have a proper plan and match everyone's expectation to the right experiences. Remember to always play nice, take turns and listen to one another with love. If that doesn't work, hire a babysitter and order a margarita (or two)!