6 Tips to Stress-Proof Your Family Vacation

Spring break is almost here. Are you looking forward to getting away and having a worry-free family vacation? Advance planning can help you to stress-proof your family travels so that you can have the most fun and relaxing experience possible without undue worry.

A vacation with the family, while intended to give everyone a break and some relaxation, can be a stressful event in itself. Several factors can increase everyone's stress levels - the actual travel, unfamiliar surroundings, and perhaps a different language and culture. If all family members are dealing with their own stresses related to the different surroundings and lack of familiarity, the potential is heightened for conflicts among family members.

Lack of communication is one factor which can greatly increase holiday stress and worry. It's important to discuss the trip in advance and talk about what everyone's expectations are in terms of activity vs. quiet time, time spent alone, and the degree to which your days are planned or scheduled in advance. You should discuss your expectations of the vacation as well. One family member, for example, may crave activity and diversion while others may simply want to rest. Finally, people often get caught in the trap of unrealistic expectations while on vacation. For example, expecting anxiety and stress over work-related problems to magically disappear, or thinking that a conflict-ridden relationship will work itself out on vacation. Financial issues are often a source of stress for families on holiday. If you're on a budget, discuss how you'll handle things such as impulse purchases and eating out in restaurants.

If you are traveling with young children, it is important not to overload your schedule and to allow plenty of time for spontaneous activity. Location is not as important as the way your time is spent. "Kid-friendly" can be what you make it. It's perfectly possible to have a relaxing city holiday with children, visiting parks and zoos and taking leisurely walks. It's also possible to turn a tropical paradise into a tense and stressful place if your days are overscheduled and you're constantly tired and quarreling.

Children can become stressed by a vacation just as adults can, although they may show their stress in different ways. It's not surprising that children may experience stress when they are in an unfamiliar environment and confronted daily with new experiences. Since many children are not able to recognize or verbally convey their feelings of stress, their stress may manifest itself in their behavior. For example, children may behave in a way that is inappropriate for their age, or they may appear to be moody or temperamental.

While a "worry-free" vacation is likely an unattainable goal, an ideal vacation is one in which the "good" stresses (i.e. dealing with unfamiliar cultures, increased contact with family members) are not outweighed by the "bad" stresses (arguments, tiredness, resentment).

Here are six brief spring break vacation survival rules:

  1. Accept others' wishes and be prepared to compromise. Everyone should have some opportunity to do things he/she wants. In most families, this means compromises on everyone's part. Recognize that you may have to take part in some activities that wouldn't be your first choices, for the sake of group harmony.
  2. Give yourself plenty of time for the trip. Rushing to catch a plane or train only increases everyone's stress level and leads to conflicts. This is especially true when traveling with very young children who are likely to require more breaks and cause unpredictable interruptions.
  3. Don't overextend your schedule. Very few people can do a "whirlwind tour" of five cities in seven days and remain relaxed, and trying to do so would be unthinkable for a family with young children. Likewise, don't try to fill your days with too many commitments and activities. Leave time to see where your whims and moods take you.
  4. Communicate without being confrontational with other family members. Don't sulk and act resentful if it seems that nothing is "going your way." Kindly mention to the others that you're feeling disappointed that you haven't been able to see or do whatever it is you feel is important to you. Suppressed anger and resentment can easily ruin your dream vacation.
  5. Be realistic about your expectations. If your children misbehave at home, they're not going to behave perfectly just because you're on vacation. Interpersonal differences and conflicts won't magically disappear.
  6. Relax and have fun without expecting the very state of being on vacation to "cure" any difficulties or problems you may be facing back home.

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Medically reviewed by Margaret Walsh, MD; American Board of Pediatrics


Brigham Young University. Tips for a stress-free flight during the holidays.