It’s easy to underestimate just how important family vacations can be for all members of the household. It’s that rare opportunity for you all to be together in a different location outside the home. For the kids, it’s a chance to broaden their experiences, see and do new things, create great memories and have a break from typical routines. For the parents, it’s a chance to get away from
work and the house for a bit, indulge themselves in activities they don’t have the time for and some space to be open and available to the rest of the family. A change is as good as a rest, right?
Well, that’s the ideal, anyhow!
The reality is that holidays can be highly stressful occasions, where often the end result is simply to need a vacation so you can recover from the family’s recent annual getaway. Sometimes you just can’t avoid the screaming children, cramped cars in traffic jams and delayed flights. That’s why the planning and logistics stage is so important. Vacations are an investment in time and money, so some reasonable planning beforehand is essential for ensuring you’re getting most of that investment back. Take the time to sit back and breathe to ensure you avoid the common pitfalls behind family vacations dissolving into family feuds.
Common Sources of Family Holiday Stress
There are many points where a holiday can result in people tugging their hair and biting their knuckles, some of it occurring even before they’ve left the house. Typically, those reasons are:
- Expense. Holidays may be an annual or biannual experience for many households, and for some it’s even rarer. Therefore, the temptation is to splash out and go as wild as possible - the dreams of a luxurious hotel room, expensive restaurants, and exclusive tours abound. However, it’s important from the start to be realistic and to recognise that the perfect holiday doesn’t need to be expensive. You can get lots of great deals on flights, accommodation and tours that are not only affordable but genuinely memorable for all the right reasons. Set a budget for things such as meals and gifts, so you know what you can afford (and what should be avoided) and stick to it as much as you can. Share this with the whole family, doing so will prevent rows while you’re away, and financial headaches when you’re back home.
- Travel. Whether it’s by plane, train, boat, or the family saloon, travel can be the point where the anxiety really steps in. You get caught in traffic, you get to the airport and realise that you can’t find a passport, the sea is rough and someone’s feeling sick. This is not the time to run out of coffee or patience! The key here is to plan ahead, and make sure you’re prepared long before you leave the front door. Get the airport three or four hours before your flight (you’ve got kids to marshall, remember!), and factor in how long it’ll take to get there. Plan the route you’re driving long in advance, and always keep up to date on what the traffic is going to be like. Make sure that you have everything you might need and you know exactly where it is. When it comes to travelling as a family, always over-prepare and over-compensate. Better to have too many snacks, plasters, travel sickness pills, than too few.
- Young Children. Although older children can have their hang-ups too, travelling with youngsters requires several strategies to keep them calm and occupied, which we’ll cover in more detail later. Older children, meanwhile, will have a greater sense of independence and can start to act out if they feel as though their holiday is being taken over. Try to be responsive to both sets of needs, and make sure you listen carefully to their wants and expectations.
- Expectations. Speaking of which, be sure you have a realistic idea of what the holiday is going to be like. It’s all too easy to be swept up in the thrill of the moment and develop romantic and rather fanciful ideas - the room will be luxurious, the food will be delicious, the family will be always smiling, the sun will always be shining. By all means, be excited. It’s your holiday. But keep one foot on the ground. Remind yourself that you’re being sold a holiday, and that the restaurants, the hotels, and the beaches will always present their best face in the brochure. Mentally prepare yourself for moments when things are less than ideal and make contingency plans if the universe kicks in and throws you a curve ball. You may not be able to go to the beach because of rain, but you can still enjoy yourself by a heated indoor swimming pool at the right hotel.
Travelling with Kids
Let’s not deny it - children can make or break a holiday (there – we’ve said it!). On the one hand, it’s every parent’s joy to see their kids truly enjoying the thrill of a trip to somewhere new, fun and exciting. On the other hand, it’s also their dread to see their children screaming, fighting, or loudly complaining about every slight hiccup. Fortunately all you need is a little patience, a little foresight and a little know-how, and you stand a good chance that your children will become the happy heart of your holiday rather than the bane of it.
- Keep them entertained. Whether it’s long hours on the plane or long hours in the car, your children have plenty of time to get bored. When children get bored, they tend to be very vocal about it and very active in finding ways to relieve it. When travelling, always make sure that they have something to occupy themselves with. Books, pencils and crayons, or music and films on travel-friendly entertainment devices are all good shouts. An inexpensive tablet and scheduling some Netflix downloads can pay huge dividends.
- Travel during their sleep hours. If your kids have a regular sleep pattern, you can cheat a bit by travelling at times they’re usually asleep. Get them as comfortable as possible with a pillow and a blanket, and let them snooze during the bulk of the journey. It allows you to focus on getting there while they skip the more boring parts.
- Listen to their needs. Your children know what they want, even if they don’t always know how to express it. Be attentive and understanding, and try to accommodate them wherever reasonable. Bring snacks and drinks for when they’re hungry, plan regular pit-stops for when they need the toilet, and try to find a way for them to stretch their legs if they’re restless.
Most importantly, remember they are kids; they find it really hard to be patient and calm in exciting (or boring) situations, so plan and make your travel decisions accordingly. Thinking about what is easiest for them, will almost always result in a better travel experience for you.
Why Choose a Hotel?
Where you sleep will be an important factor in how relaxed or stressful your holiday is. This is where you recharge your batteries, eat and sleep, and prepare for the next day. As such, choosing how and where you’ll be staying while on holiday is a hugely important decision. There are a number of options available to you in this respect.
- Hotels usually offer the best in terms of comfort and value for money. The principle advantage in a hotel is that they offer a fixed and reliable place to stay. Most come with plenty of storage places for bags and clothes, leaving you with somewhere to keep them safe while you’re out seeing the sights. Many also have safes for valuables such as spending money, passports, and emergency phones. Hotel staff will also always be on hand if you need any extra help, giving you an extra line of support. Unlike a holiday let, at a hotel you’ll always have a team of staff on hand to help with anything and everything.
- They’re the only real option if you’re travelling with a family. Hotels come with the space and comfort required for family members of all ages to make the most your holiday. We don’t go on holiday to replicate the everyday stresses and chores we have at home. At a hotel you don’t have to worry about food shopping, cooking and cleaning, just relax and let the dedicated team take the pressure off.
- While not all hotels are equal, it’s a safe bet that the hotel will also be weatherproof. As great as camping holidays can be, a few days of rain can really put the dampeners on everyone’s mood. A hotel provides all the amenities to ensure you have a great time, whatever the weather so you can visit anytime of the year. If you want to travel on a shoestring, hostels are always an option but they lack the privacy and comfort you enjoy at a hotel. Once the door is closed and locked, you can shut out the rest of the world.
Finally, hotels offer a wide range of facilities and services to meet the needs of their guests. Even the most basic will offer things such as cleaning services and complimentary towels in the bathroom. Many will have on-site restaurants with free buffet breakfasts, or will be located near an affiliated restaurant that will offer discounted meals. Going more upmarket, you can also expect facilities such as gyms, swimming pools, spas, bars and lounges. In many respects, hotels can easily be not just a place to sleep but an entire vacation experience in themselves.
We may be in lockdown right now but it won't last forever - where will you be staying on your next vacation to minimise stress for the whole family?