holiday vacation

10 Ways to Make Your Family Holiday Vacation Bearable

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We were in the final days of a cross country road trip. My son, who sat in the last row of the van, told me he had to go to the bathroom. He couldn’t wait for the next exit, he said, and asked if he could go in a cup. Reluctantly, we agreed and sent back an empty Big Gulp. Five seconds later, my daughter, who sat in the van’s middle row, started screaming. When I looked in the rearview mirror, I saw my son standing up with a wide-eyed look of fear, like he had lost control of a fire hose—literally.

I don’t know if you have ever experienced a urine sprinkler system in your car, but it isn’t pleasant. My poor daughter got the worst of it. The fact that his stream also hit my wife and me in the front seats was actually impressive. The Big Gulp cup didn’t see a single drop. As we cleaned up at a rest stop, he said, “Dad, this just isn’t my day.” “Not YOUR day?” I said, “We’re the ones covered in urine.” Hopefully, your next family vacation won’t feature an incident this disastrous. While family vacations can be tough, they don’t have to be. Here are 10 ways to make your family holiday vacation more bearable.

1. Give everyone ownership.

Everyone needs to be involved in pulling off a great family vacation. You aren’t the only one who can contribute to ideas, responsibilities, packing, loading, snacks, car-games, route, tickets, schedule. There’s something for everyone to do, no matter how young, and ownership goes a long way toward setting up the possibility of cooperation.

2. Remember, the trip is for the entire family.

It’s not “Mom and Dad’s holiday vacation and the kids tag along.” It’s a “family” holiday vacation. Parents can do a lot to guarantee success by building an experience that’s great for absolutely everyone.

3. Talk it up.

Weeks, even months ahead of time, share literature, assign research projects, and have a countdown on the refrigerator. Whatever it takes, make sure expectations are high and it’s a family experience from the get-go.

4. Invest in some great family games.

Bring along some standards such as SCRABBLE or Monopoly, plus try some newer games, like Apples to Apples.

5. Mix it up.

Even the best activities get tedious when repeated day after day, so mix it up. Research a variety of things to do and, again, get input from everyone.

6. Don’t go into debt over it.

When it comes to holiday vacations, make sure to do something you can afford.

When it comes to holiday vacations, make sure to do something you can afford. If the theme parks are out of range this year, or traveling to another state breaks the bank, then get creative closer to home. Don’t add stress by pouring money you don’t have into a black hole.

7. Schedule downtime.

Take time to rest. Schedule a movie and pizza in the hotel room bed the evening after a long day or even just a day of lounging.

8. Divvy up responsibilities

Who says the kids can’t plan the menu for a couple of days or lead a day’s adventure? Put the kids in charge for a day or at least give them some responsibilities to handle.

9. Build in flexibility.

Leave room in your schedule. Make sure one day in five is left open or a couple of afternoons in a week. Then pay attention to how the wind blows, and listen to the kids.

10. Develop family traditions.

One family tumbles out of the car every time they cross a state line. They gather around the “welcome” sign for a photo. Same at entrances to National Parks. It’s “what we do,” say the kids. Your family has a distinct personality—get creative in adopting practices that say “this is my family.”

Sound off: How do you make holiday vacations great?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What would you like to do on our next family vacation?”