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Family Vacation: A How To Guide

wheelVacations engender their own particular brand of stress.  There’s all that anticipation and planning, all those relationships to manage, and we’re all determined to have FUN!!!

Maybe you’re going on vacation with just your spouse and kids, or maybe it’s the whole extended family.  Here are some thoughts on how to make the most of it.If it’s just your immediate family:

Before hitting the road, look at all the planning materials together.  If the kids are old enough to weigh in, let them.  Then think ahead of time about how to accommodate everyone’s preferences.  Or if preferences can’t be accommodated, say that.

Because expectations thwarted can be a vacation killer.  If you go in set on things being a certain way and find that it’s otherwise, it can be hard to adjust (for you and for everyone else.)  And if one family member is struggling to adjust, it can affect the overall vibe.

Setting the right (i.e. the lowest) expectations may be the best bet.  If you know for sure there will be trips to the beach, then establish that expectation.  If ziplining is iffy, make that clear, as well as how you’ll make the decision of what and when and how to do things.

For example, will it be a consensual process that you’ll undertake while you’re away?  Or are you just going to take into account everyone’s preferences and then you, as the parent, will work out the schedule and the details?

Managing expectations–and hoping that they’ll be exceeded–is a good rule of thumb.

If it’s a vacation with extended family, there might be less of a sense of individual control, and it’s important to recognize that and to prepare your kids (and yourself).

Be aware of your tolerance for group activities.  If you’re an introvert by nature (or if your spouse or kids are), you need to account for that.  Finding alone time in which to recharge can make a big difference.

You might also find that you’re challenged by the ghost of past relationship dynamics.  You might have a tendency to chalk up present behaviors of, say, your parents to what happened as a kid.  “Oh, there’s Mom, taking over again,” you may think.  Then you may find that you do exactly what you did as a kid.  It’s amazing how sticky that stuff can be.

But is that really what’s happening?  Challenging automatic reactions and assumptions can go a long way toward a happy family vacation.  And if your relatives really are behaving in ways that grate, remember that you’re not a child anymore.  You can pull them aside and raise the concern, rather than letting it fester.

When it comes to family vacations, the serenity prayer might come in useful.  Change what you can, accept what you can’t, and have the wisdom to know the difference.

Ferris wheel image available from Shutterstock.

Family Vacation: A How To Guide

Holly Brown, LMFT

Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda ( ). She is also a novelist ( Her latest is HOW FAR SHE'S COME, a workplace thriller which received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "This provocative tale will resonate with many in the era of the #MeToo movement."

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APA Reference
Brown, H. (2013). Family Vacation: A How To Guide. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 12 Aug 2013
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