Before you pack your bags and pile everyone into the car this summer, here are a few things to keep in mind to avoid spiraling downward into a scene from National Lampoon’s Vacation.
As excited as everyone may be about the trip, their personalities and idiosyncrasies will remain intact and will be a wet blanket on your jolly good time if you aren’t prepared for and expecting this.
That annoying habit your spouse has will still be there. Trying to get your kids out the door in a timely fashion without a clothing emergency will still be there. That one relative who always has something offensive to say will surely say something that will make you want to crawl under the table.
But when we expect that people are going to be who they are and do the things that they do, it can be a little easier to let some of it roll right off our backs without attaching to it and making it mean more than it does.
So if your spouse always snores, expect them to snore. If your kid habitually loses their socks or shoes, make sure to pack extras and designate a place to put them when you arrive at your destination.
If your Great Aunt Sue has never had a kind word to say about anyone who is remotely different, while you don’t have to agree with her or condone her behavior, you also don’t have to make it mean that she is a hateful old shrew. She could just be that wacky relative who has no filter between her brain and her mouth.
Give your kids the chance to be responsible, but also let them learn from their mistakes without shaming them.
For example, give them age-appropriate responsibilities like packing their own suitcase or backpack of activities for the car, while still checking out their choices so they don’t have 5 pairs of fleece pants for a beach trip or 1 pair of underwear for 8 days. Or nothing to do for 12 hours in the car besides stare at a tablet or phone.
On that note, as tempting as it may be to let your kids zone out in electronic bliss the whole time you are in the car so that you can have a little peace, have them periodically shut off their devices and just look outside at where you’re going. Notice the similarities and differences not only in the terrain but in the people, food, and culture of each place you visit.
A rural town is not a big city and a beach town is not the high desert or the open plains. Try to teach your kids to appreciate the differences everywhere you go. Except for teenagers. They don’t like or appreciate anything that isn’t on social media. Kidding of course. Kind of.
Although the point of many road trips is getting to your destination, there is usually something of interest to see and do along the way.
Before you leave for your trip, help your kids research a few places you can either stop along the way or at least be looking out for as you drive. If you want more of an adventure, download a geocaching app or use a GPS device to take part in the world’s largest treasure hunt.
It can often seem like madness to tear a kid’s attention away from their screen. They’re happy, you’re happy because it’s quiet…but if you’ve ever found that the moment the screens are turned off, the arguments start and the whining begins, that’s sadly all the more reason to make sure they take breaks. Most kids are ill-equipped to know their own limits on devices and the addictive nature of games, dings, points, likes, and shares is already becoming a huge problem in schools and in everyday life.
Create some buy-in for every member of the family by having each person identify one or two things they want to see or do, even if you’re on a budget or camping in the middle of nowhere.
For one person, it could mean waking up early to go fishing. For another, it could be taking a jar to collect lightning bugs or special rocks or shells. For another, it could be visiting that special bakery that reminds them of their childhood. Giving each person something to look forward to doesn’t alleviate “It’s not fair!” altogether, but it can help each person feel like they are being heard and valued.
Let your itinerary reflect the ages and limitations of your family or group. If you have a young child, planning multiple activities every day is akin to drinking a Red Bull and expecting it to feel like a cup of warm chamomile tea. Young children are already out of sorts in new situations and routines, so try to keep your activities down to one or two per day while allowing them time to rest and recover.
Similarly, if you have elder relatives on the trip, keep a watchful eye on them to ensure that they aren’t pushing themselves so hard that they overdo it and become exhausted. Encourage them to take a break with the younger family members.
Afternoon siesta, anyone?
If you are having a family reunion or are going on a large group trip, it is ok to spend some time apart. I repeat-it is OK to spend some time apart. Trying to get everyone on the same page and sticking together for every activity and every meal most likely will not work. Not only will it not work, but several people will miss out on doing something they really want to do in order to please everyone else, which will be like serving up a big slice of resentment pie.
The phrase “I need a vacation from my vacation” almost always comes from trying to do too many things in too short of a time window. Stick to the most important things you want to see or do and let the other things go. You may get to do them another time and you may not.
Try to become ok with that by enjoying the moment you’re in and not the moment you’re planning for tomorrow. You can never be present in a moment that’s already happened or the one that hasn’t happened yet.
Stay and be present in this one.
Finally-don’t throw your common sense out the window as you cruise down the highway. Drink plenty of water. Eat foods that will nourish your body so that you feel your best and not like you need a colonic. SAMPLE and savor the food and drinks in the places you visit.
Walk as much as you can to keep your digestive system happy and moving. Have gratitude for being able to take a trip, even if your family members do their best to challenge your patience and things inevitably don’t go exactly as planned.
Take deep breaths. Relax. You’re on vacation.