Taking a Stress Free Family Vacation

Well, I shouldn’t even claim that it is possible to have a stress-free vacation, because it’s just not true. No matter what your end game is be it a cruise, a family trip to the beach, a camping excursion to the mountains, you still have the stress of planning, getting there, and most of all,the stress of dealing with failed expectations, yours, theirs, his, everybody’s.

The first part of getting ready to go on vacation…the planning and packing itself can be extremely stressful. The planning can go two ways…you pick a destination and research a few things to do while there, or you can be the Clark Griswald (see the movie Vacation) style guerilla by the hour planner with a killer itinerary. As I’ve learned through the years, you can benefit from both styles of vacation planning. One fits well for making your trip feel spontaneous and carefree, two elements of a stress-free vacation. The other is appropriate if you have time based events you’re trying to hit at a given location (i.e. a concert, a tour, or a particular show). Whichever way you go, you do have to solidly plan where you’re going, where you’re staying, and a decent budget for the whole thing.

To ease your stress in this step, I recommend being very realistic with yourself and your family. A three day road trip these days including hotel, outings, food, souvenirs, gas, and pet care (pet sitters make a cool $35 a day where I come from!) can run you anywhere from $500-$1000. If you hate driving…add another $1500 to that for airline tickets to a semi-not-too-far location. If the stress of this budget stuff is already giving you hives, then I suggest you think of one of the “stay-cation” options and research fun things to do closer to home. Take a couple day trips over a long weekend, and you can get the same effects of a longer trip. Whatever you do, researching on the internet will usually save you money. Buying tickets ahead of time will sometimes get you a discount, and this will also save you time at your location from waiting in lines.

Recently we decided to take a long weekend vacation to the mountains of North Carolina. My husband and I are diametrically opposed in how to go about vacations. He likes the whole get there and just see how it goes plan. I like the itinerary style where I know exactly what I’m going to be doing at which times of day. However, one thing that my husband likes to point out is that I always over estimate what we can do in a day, and end up disappointed that I’ve failed my own expectations. Children also suffer if you have to cancel an activity you’ve hyped up. So my experience recommends a blending of the two philosophies. The last vacation I took, we attempted this, and it worked wonderfully. I went away for three days and came back feeling rested, that I’d accomplished a lot culturally, and that my family had really enjoyed themselves.

Here’s how to make it work…

Do plan the hotel reservations, research good deals, and buy tickets to events ahead of time. For instance, my husband reserved the hotel rooms three weeks in advance. We were also able to find a hotel deal that gave us a discount on a local activity we wanted to do. Then I researched the cultural events and museums in the area we wanted to see. I was able to get a package discount on the tickets to all the locations and saved a bundle. I printed the tickets and we were ready to go. Wait…not quite totally ready.

Know Where You’re Going…it’s half the battle…

The twenty-first century demands that we use some technology in our trip planning. Being IT geeks, we of course located all our destinations on Google maps ahead of time, saved the locations to a favorite map named for our vacation, and then made sure we could access them on our phones (we prefer Android/Google/G1 phones to Iphones..but I won’t get started on that one.) After making sure we had our destinations in the phones, we also programmed the major points into our Tom-Tom navigation system in our car. We like to use both…the Tom-Tom helps you avoid bad routes, recalculates on the fly, and has less risk of losing signal and satellites as the phone. So we use that one for the driving parts, and then we tend to use the Google one when we get into town and are moving in a reliable area for signal, or on foot where it’s excellent. These planning steps will help you ease stress along the drive. If you’re taking a plane, read the Business Trip 101 article to find out how to ease stress in a typical airport trip.

Fun, Rest, More Fun Strategy

Once you’ve arrived and checked into your hotel, if it’s not late in the evening, or you’re starting your first day of vacation, try the following approach. Tackle one cool thing you want to do in the morning. Check the weather…if it’s likely to rain in the morning, do your indoor museum like visits during that time. Eat lunch after, and then here’s the important part…come back to your hotel for a rest. Even if the kids just kick off their shoes and watch TV while you lay down on the bed for a snooze, take a rest. After a couple hours of rest, get up and tackle another activity. If you’re good you might even be able to do three a day if you are not too tired. Our experience though is that with all the walking, hiking, exploring, combined with the heat in summer, two activities usually are the max for a day. Wind down the day with dinner at a local restaurant and a dip in the hotel pool or a trip to a nearby ice cream place. The key is to balance activity with rest, and not to over plan or over schedule yourself.

Stress , Kids, and Staying in the Moment

Kids on vacation are either fun to be with or pains in the butt. They are so excited about what you’re going to be doing, that they might harass you about when you’ll be there, what’s going to happen, what they would like to buy, etc. Start out the trip by telling them point blank, “we’ll be there at x time.” Show them the clock and tell them they can’t ask you again until 15 minutes before that time. Even young children these days can read numbers on a digital clock, just say…”Don’t ask until you see it says 4 (use the hour you’ll likely arrive).” Also, even though you are excited yourself, if there’s even the smallest doubt you might not do something, don’t talk about it before you’re going to do it. I learned my lesson the hard way on this when we were in North Carolina.

I had thought we would have time to go tubing down the river along with our other activities. I didn’t count on how hot it would be during a previous activity, and that it would totally wipe us out, and by the time we felt better, there were afternoon thunderstorms rolling in. My son was very upset we didn’t get to go. Lesson learned…keep it on the down low until it’s a definite go.

Kids these days also tend to focus on what’s next. It’s been bred into them with the immediate nature of things and how they normally operate. Try to focus them on the moment, enjoying what you’re doing right now. When hiking, and they say “what are we doing tonight”…ignore them or say, “we’ll talk about that later, but isn’t it lovely here under the trees, listen to the water fall”.

Always cue them back to the moment and teach them to appreciate everything as it’s happening. This goes for mom’s and dad’s too. Don’t sit there and figure out how much money you’ve drained out your bank account while you’re hiking down the path…let that wait until you’re back at the hotel later…for now just be with your family, be in that moment enjoying what you’re doing.

Stress Free Vacation Recap

Plan what you can plan, but leave some to chance. Have some ideas of what you want to do, but don’t over schedule yourself. Do set all your locations into your GPS/Google map before you leave. Research highly rated local restaurants and places to visit, so you can have a genuine local experience. Take the fun, rest, more fun strategy to make sure you enjoy your day and keep everyone’s energy levels up. Stay in the moment. Teach your kids how to enjoy what they are seeing and doing by being a good example yourself.


My Maps– Google Maps- Here’s a sample one we did for a trip to North Carolina. You can make yours private or share it. Just make sure you remove any home/personal destinations before sharing it to the public after your trip:-)
View Cherokee, NC and Asheville area-Mining and Indian Cultural Fun in a larger map


TomTom– Great little portable navigation systems for your car, and you can carry it with you as well..

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