Surviving Family Vacations

Family vacations can be fun, exciting, and an enormous headache. Conflicts about interests, how to get there, and finances can get in the way of your good time. Finding the right balance of planning and spontaneity will reduce the chances of unwanted surprises. Here are some tips to help you get the most of your vacation relaxation.

Plan Ahead

Deciding where and when to go on vacation is often the most difficult challenge. Sometimes spontaneous decisions work out great, but more often than not planning for a family trip will make things easier, even though it can take many months. How can you start that process? Here are some ideas:

  • Sit down with the family and discuss what type of vacation you are looking for. Relaxation? Culture? Adventure? Beach? Maybe a combination of all of them?
  • Do some research or enlist the help of a seasoned travel agent. They usually know the ins and outs of a particular destination and will think of things you will not.
  • Starting early will give you wider options for airline, hotel, and car rental deals.
  • Get everyone involved. You may not accept all ideas, but it will give you a good start in knowing what members of the family are thinking about.
  • Decide on land, air, or sea? How are you getting to where you are going?
  • If you fly, familiarize yourself with the regulations. You will avoid a lot of problems if you know what to expect.

Be Flexible

Planning is important, but whenever you travel, flexibility is a must. Many things can occur that will cause you to change your plans. There will always be things that you have no control over, such as traffic, bad weather, sick children, and delayed or cancelled flights. Adapting to change is important for you and those you travel with.

Auto Travel

If you choose the car, getting there may not be half the fun. Think of safe car games to help pass the time. Discuss landmarks like state welcome signs, historic sites, mountains, and oceans that will be passed each day. This gives everyone something to look for.

Some other tips to help make the road a happier place include:

  • Get your car serviced before you leave the driveway.
  • Map out your trip and highlight the attractions along the way.
  • Wear comfortable, but seasonally appropriate clothing.
  • Make your car a home on wheels. Pillows, blankets, games, and music can help keep your non-drivers comfortable and occupied.
  • Involve everyone by giving them a job. There is plenty to do before you go, so divide up the chores and make a game out of it.
  • Take breaks. Moving around helps keep you alert. This is where flexibility comes in, especially if someone needs to stop for a restroom frequently.

Air Travel

Be aware of rules and routines that you will encounter before you go to the airport. Here are some other tips that will help make the trip to the airport a bit smoother:

  • Know your airline's baggage rules. You may be charged extra fees for bags if you do not know their policy.
  • Avoid peak times, especially during the holidays.
  • Book seat assignments as far in advance as you can so you can all sit together.
  • Print your boarding passes at home to save time at the ticket counter.
  • Get to the airport early. It's better to have too much time than not enough.

When You Get There

It is wise to plan extra time for all activities. If one activity does not take as long, you can always opt to go somewhere else or just stay and relax a bit. However, if you are constantly aware of the time and feel pressured to make it to the next destination, you are not truly vacationing.

When you make your plans, create some free time each day so each member of your family can enjoy some activities they may want to do. It is okay to split up and meet later on. Then you can talk about your daily adventures over breakfast or dinner.

Pack Appropriately

Planning ahead for packing is a great idea. When you do, keep these tips in mind:

  • Make a list, modify it if necessary, but stick with it.
  • Check the weather and plan accordingly. There are many online weather services that can give you an estimate of what the weather may be during your stay.
  • Bring clothes that are comfortable for traveling.


One of the greatest stresses of a family vacation is spending too much money. Decide ahead of time how much money you can comfortably spend on the vacation. You may need to postpone some activities for another vacation.

Rest stops, gift shops, restaurants, and hotel lobbies can be tempting places to spend money. Set aside a certain amount of money for different categories, such as hotel, food, gas, entertainment, and miscellaneous.

It is natural for children to want to buy things that will remind them of their vacation. Give your children a certain amount of money to spend. This works well for children over 5 years old. In addition to taking the pressure off every time you pass a souvenir display, your child is learning the value of money and wise decision-making.

Make Wise Food Choices

It is easy to resort to an unhealthy diet on vacation. Try to maintain good eating habits, allowing some opportunities to splurge. Here are some ways to keep you eating right:

  • Research the safety of food and water at your destination.
  • Research food handling at your destination.
  • Avoid the hotel mini bar.
  • Eat only when you are hungry.
  • Try to eat smaller meals throughout the day.
  • Eat healthy snacks to curb hunger and cravings.

Pack healthy snacks and keep them handy. They are also useful if there is a long wait to be seated at a restaurant.

Deal With Health Issues

If you travel with a chronic disease, make sure you know what you need so you do not have any health-related setbacks.


This is probably the most important rule for enjoying your vacation. Your sense of humor may be the most valuable item you bring along. Do not let the vacation be the time you discuss all the things that irritate you about the other family members. This is a time for you to enjoy your family, so take advantage of the relaxed schedule to talk, play, and laugh.


American Society of Travel Agents
Traveler's Health
Center for Disease Control and Prevention


Public Health Agency of Canada


Family. Travel Channel website. Available at:
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Accessed October 12, 2016.
Planning your greatest family vacation. Travel Sense website. Available at:
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Accessed October 13, 2016.
Travel. Transportation Security Administration website. Available at: Accessed October 13, 2016.
Last reviewed October 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 10/27/2014

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