How to Survive Family Vacations Without Losing Your Mind

Family vacations can be filled with fun, lasting memories, but also the possibility of frustration and boredom. While you may not be able to please everyone on a family trip, it’s important to plan ahead. Be patient and accept that things may not go according to plan. Make sure that there is quality family time together, as well as quiet time apart. Allowing for delays can help you to handle stressful situations without losing your mind.

Plan a trip for all ages. Make sure that each family member’s age, interests, and physical abilities are accounted for when planning a family vacation. While you may not be able to accommodate everyone’s concerns, be mindful that a five year old, a teenager, and a grandparent are likely to have different needs and interests.

  • Talk ahead of time, before a specific destination has been planned. Ask each family member whether this destination and the possible activities could be of interest.
  • Explain to each family member that they each have a say in the situation, but that there will be compromises from time to time.
  • Accept that disagreements will arise. Try to come to a consensus that can appeal to the majority of family members. While there needs to be a set destination, allow for flexibility once at the location in terms what activities are planned.
Allow for extra time and delays. If you are traveling with a bunch of young kids, you will likely need more time to travel from point A to point B. Kids may need more rest time, more breaks, and get more distracted. Make sure to add additional time into the trip so that you don’t get too frustrated by being late or delayed.

  • Talk as a family about realistic expectations about travel time and possible delays. Make it clear that traveling long distances could include traffic jams or flight delays.
  • For example, if you are traveling for a family vacation by plane with two young kids, make sure to factor in extra time for check-in and airport security.
Get some extra rest right before the family vacation. While it may seem odd to think that you need to rest before your vacation, this may be exactly what you need if the family vacation involves of lot of activities and expectations. Don’t overload yourself with work, school, or other obligations right up until you leave for vacation. Engage in self-care before your travels.

  • Don’t plan major activities or parties right before your family vacation.
  • Give yourself some extra time to rest or sleep. Focus on low-key activities and lots of sleep a week before the vacation.
  • Avoid putting major work or other deadlines a few days before you leave. This will create unnecessary stress before you go.
  • Consider planning big family vacations outside of high holiday times, such as Thanksgiving or Christmas, so that you are less overwhelmed by high expectations from other relatives and friends.
Bring a variety of activities to fight boredom. Consider filling a bag or backpack with activities and games that appeal to each family member. This way, if there’s a long car, train, plane, or bus ride, then they have a bag of activities to keep them focused. Consider putting these types of activities and games in their bags, depending on their ages:

  • For younger kids, put in travel games like Mad Libs, simple puzzles, coloring books, crayons, and their favorite stuffed animals.
  • For teens, put in gadgets like tablets with built-in games, e-readers, teen magazines, music players, young adult books, and travel journals for writing.
  • For adults, fill bags with books, magazines, crosswords, tablets with games, and comfortable pillows or blankets


Have lots of snacks and goodies available. When kids and adults are restless, it may be partly due to hunger. Make sure to have snacks easily accessible, particularly on longer drives. This can help to soothe a kid’s temper or help an adult feel less fatigued. Pack a variety of things like:

  • Healthy snacks such as fruit slices, carrots, nuts, and granola bars
  • Sweet treats like cookies, candy, and fruit snacks
  • Filling foods like sandwiches, cheese, and chips
  • Drinks such as water, juice boxes, and soda

Setting Expectations

Offer a variety of options that can appeal to different family members. Understand that each family member has their own unique style, personality, and behavior. Give them a variety of activities to choose from so that they can feel involved in the trip planning process.

  • For example, let’s say that you’re planning to visit a national park for the day. Offer a few options of what to do in the afternoon. There’s Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C. Even if they aren’t into outdoor hikes, they can at least feel like they contributed.
  • Think about what activities have worked and not worked in that past. For example, are there certain activities that your child, sibling, or family member are more likely to enjoy? Try offering options that are more likely to appeal to their interests.

Split up activities by personality and interest. If you find yourself getting upset with your family members’ whining when on vacation, try to minimize those behaviors by separating activities from time to time while on vacation. This way you can help to keep the peace by accommodating different people’s interests.

  • For example, let’s say you’re having a family vacation at a winter lodge. Maybe your teen and your spouse want to go skiing, and you’d rather be sitting by the fire and reading a book. Split up events this way, and meet up later.
  • See this as a healthy way to avoid constant whining or conflict. It could also help you to bond with a specific family member better.

Accept that things may not go according to plan. While you may be hopeful that everyone will have a great time, and you’ll be praised for your amazing travel planning skills, this may not always be the case. You may encounter the unexpected such as a sick kid, a fight with your partner, or family drama.

  • Give yourself permission to be imperfect. Understand that you may have challenges even when heading out for the perfect family vacation.
  • Set yourself up for the unexpected. By anticipating that problems may arise, you’ll be less frustrated when they do.
  • Be patient when possible. If you feel yourself getting upset or impatient, step away from the situation. Take some deep breaths. Think about or say words of self-affirmation that remind you of your strengths and resilience.

Have screen-free times to feel more connected. While you may be glued to your smartphone or tablet, make it a point that on family vacations there will be less time spent staring at screens. Use this a special opportunity to connect with your family in a way that you don’t normally. Try to forget about school, work, or what’s going on back in your hometown.

  • Try focusing on the present moment and what you can do to make it interesting.
  • Avoid defaulting to old habits that may isolate you, such as reading articles on your tablet or checking social media.
  • Notice things out the window of a car or hotel room that remind you that you’re free from the troubles back at home. Appreciate what you see, rather than focusing on the negative.

Have go-to games in the car and on a plane to help redirect boredom. You may find that your bag of goodies or usual gadgets aren’t enough to entertain you and your family. Make sure to balance individual activities with group activities to reduce impatience. Try games like these to help redirect your kids’ boredom:

  • I Spy games in the car, at a rest stop, in an airport terminal, or on a plane
  • License Plate games in cars
  • Count the Cars on long car rides
  • Card games on plane flights

Allowing for Privacy and Space

Set aside time for each family member to do their own thing. While family trips are about quality time together, don’t expect that everyone should spend every waking minute with each other. Make sure that family members, young and old, have opportunities to do things on their own. This can help to make family time together less exhausting, particularly for family members that like to do things independently.

  • Talk openly with your family about the opportunities to separate and do things independently. See how each family member feels, and identify what they are wanting to do on their own.
  • Ensure that they are connected by phone, or stay in a specific place while they do things independently. This can help to prevent people from splitting up and getting lost.
  • For example, let’s say you’re on a family vacation at a big resort. You want to hang out with some other teens at the resort’s pool, but your parents want to take a walk along the beach nearby. Talk with your parents about a set time that you’ll be at the pool, and what time you’ll meet back up with them in the afternoon.

Make sure there’s downtime each day. While your family members may want to see and do everything they can while they’re on vacation, avoid overscheduling events each day. Allow for time to unwind and rest. Make sure that each person is given the time they need to feel rested and ready for the next day.

  • Over planning and high expectations for the day could lead to meltdowns from the kids and stressed parents.
  • Make sure that the end of the day is about winding down. Do things that are low-key together when it’s later at night or right before bedtime.

Find time to connect with your spouse or family members one-on-one. If you’re on a family vacation, you may have fewer opportunities to be connected to your spouse or partner. Make time when possible to do things that help you stay connected one-on-one. The same may be true if you have a bunch of kids on the trip. Make sure that each person feels special.

  • Arrange for alone time at the end of the day or at certain points during the vacation with your spouse. Consider going to resorts where there are kids’ clubs that have adult supervision while you spent time relaxing with your partner.
  • Bond with your parent or child one-on-one. Do some activities with just the two of you present. This way, there is more quality time spent and less time spent just managing everyone’s needs.

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