Since I love to experience new things and because I have high-energy boys, we tend to pack in a lot on our family vacations. But sometimes, it’s exhausting. Here’s how I changed my mindset — and started to finally relax on family vacations.
Pad a day on the back end of vacation.
“Don’t fly back on Sunday night if they have school and you have work the next day; it adds too much stress,” says Laura Davidson, President of LDPR, a travel and lifestyle public relations firm. “Return on Saturday and use Sunday as your reality buffer.” This advice is not something I heeded when I first started taking family vacations — I wanted to maximize every minute we were away — but now I see the value in it.
That extra day on the end gives everyone a chance to unwind. In fact, a recent survey commissioned by Wyndham Vacation Rentals and conducted by APCO Insight explored the stressors associated with vacations and how to address them. A full 64-percent of people polled said taking an extra day off of work before the trip would help, while 57-percent said coming back a few days before you have to return to work would do it.
Don’t leave a huge to-do list at home.
I clean the house and do some chores before the trip so it’s not waiting for me when I return. The experts agree: “Prepare well before you leave,” says Dr. Wyatt Fisher, a clinical psychologist in Denver, Colorado. “Be sure to leave your place picked up, bills paid, and things organized so when you return, it’s a smooth transition.” This will also prevent you from worrying about chores mid-way through your vacation — and then dreading the return home even more.
Pack for the trip three days in advance.
Let’s face it — vacations begin the minute the packing starts. And packing can be stressful — especially for families. For me, traveling with two young kids means there are lots of things to pack (and forget). I aim to pack up to three days before a trip; that way, there’s no stress leading up to the trip and I feel organized. This gives me time to go out and purchase any last-minute items, too.
And unpack as soon as you get to the hotel.
Once I’m at the resort, I unpack immediately and put the suitcases under the bed, not to be seen again until check-out day. That way we are not scrambling every day to find the sunscreen, baseball hats and swim goggles. This helps us to feel fully settled into our vacation, too! I also always travel with a garbage bag for dirty clothes, and everyone puts the dirty clothes in the garbage bag to keep the room orderly.
Spring for the suite.
A smaller room is often cheaper than a suite (unless you find a good deal), but a suite is almost always worth the extra cost. Having everyone spread out, and ideally having the kids in a separate room, allows everyone to fully relax. It’s easy to get on each other’s nerves when there’s no separation.
Schedule time apart.
If it were up to my boys, we would be in the pool from the time it opens to the time it closes. And they don’t just want me to be in the pool area watching them; they want me in the pool playing with them. So we compromise. I’m full on when I’m with them, in the pool playing Marco Polo and tag. But I always have a morning when I hit the spa and they go to the kids’ club (fortunately, my kids love kids’ clubs, so it’s a win-win for both). Having some alone time for me to relax and unwind is imperative. I used to feel selfish, but now I feel it’s necessary – not just for me, but for them too.
Also schedule down time.
Certain trips, like Disney, tend to be long days-up early to avoid the lines and at the park until late to see the fireworks. But I’ve since learned that while packing it all in-and trying to get my money’s worth-seems like a good idea, it leaves everyone exhausted and cranky. “Be sure to pace yourself during vacation; don’t overdo it,” says Dr. Wyatt. “Be sure you have time to relax and replenish in addition to having an adventure.” Whether it’s iPad time when everyone is hot and cranky, or a nice walk before bed, I plan downtime for everyone to unwind and relax.
Use the return plane time wisely.
The trip home doesn’t have to be miserable and stressful. “That’s your chance to sleep, read and relax, especially if you can keep your kids occupied” says Davidson. While I’m not a huge fan of screen time, I’m 100-percent for it on the plane. Ipads and movies if you’re traveling on an airline with individual screens (JetBlue is great for that), can be a lifesaver for me to take a nap, answer emails and start to get back in the swing of things.
More From Family Vacation Critic:
8 Best Places for Families to Unplug
How to Survive (and Actually Enjoy) a Family Vacation With Your In-Laws
Our team of parents and travel experts chooses each product and service we recommend. Anything you purchase through links on our site may earn us a commission.