Gretchen RubinWas it Jerry Seinfeld who said, "There's no such thing as fun for the whole family"? I disagree - but family vacations can definitely be a challenge. I've found these 10 strategies help keep that time fun.
1. Make time for your own kind of fun.
I've learned that I need to make time for the activities that I find fun on vacation - which in my case means reading. If I spend my entire day chasing my children with a bottle of sunscreen, or going to a movie about chipmunks, I'm not going to be having a good time. I need some time for my own kind of fun. Along the same lines, sometimes I think, Why am I just lying here, reading, on such a beautiful day? I should be going for a run/playing in the ocean/learning to play tennis. I love to read, and now I let myself read as much as I can get away with, given the realities of a family vacation. Everyone will have more fun when everyone has fun, so it's not selfish to prioritize some time for yourself.
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2. Leave plenty of time to get where you need to be.
Nothing takes the pleasure out of a vacation faster than missing a plane, arriving late to a show, standing in an enormously long line because you arrived at a peak time, or having to keep screaming, "Hurry up! Hurry up!" I've identified a speed rule: When you're trying to get out the door, for every child, add 20 minutes to the time it would usually take to accomplish any action. (The same applies to slowpoke adults.) Set your departure time with this in mind.
3. Document happy memories.
One of the best ways to make ourselves happy in the present is to recall happy times from the past, so making the effort to take pictures and videos, keep trip books, or gather souvenirs (meaningful ones, not just knick-knacks from a gift shop) will really boost your happiness later. It can feel like a lot of work to haul the camera around or to put together that scrapbook, but in the end, your efforts will help your whole family remember the past more vividly. It's worth the trouble. After all, when you think of the possessions in your home, aren't your photographs and mementos among the most prized?
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4. Recognize your children's limits... and your own.
My daughters are cheerful and cooperative - until we keep them at the table too long, mess with their schedules too much, let them skip applying bug repellent, make them walk too far, or let them get too hot or too cold. In the midst of fun, it can be hard to say, "Enough!" but it's a key to keeping things pleasant. In particular, although kids and grandparents beg, "Just this once!" or claim, "They don't seem tired" or "Everyone can sleep late in the morning," I do everything humanly possible to make sure my kids get the usual amount of sleep, and that I do, too. And I make sure not to let anyone get too hungry. Never again will I travel anywhere without a few bags of almonds, raisins, or dry cereal; I learned that the hard way.
5. Take time to exercise.
Some people view vacation as an escape from daily burdens - such as exercising. Don't think that way! Exercise is energizing and cheering, and it promotes sleep and relaxation. Vacation is an opportunity to make exercise fun, not a chore, by taking a new class or adding a new (sunny) backdrop to your usual routine. Recently when I had jet lag, exercise helped me adjust both coming and going. Also, you might be able to kick-start a new routine by beginning that exercise on vacation, when you're not as busy.
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6. Tackle one irksome task on vacation.
Some interesting studies suggest that interrupting a pleasant experience with something less pleasant can intensify a person's overall pleasure. As a consequence, I try to assign myself one annoying chore to tackle while on vacation; on our last vacation, I worked on updating my address list - a boring, time-consuming chore that I'd been putting off for months. Being away from my usual work routine made me feel relaxed, and completing one irksome task gave me the delicious feeling of having earned time to goof off. And I got to cross that chore off my list, which was enormously satisfying. (If you dislike exercise, see number 5; exercise could be your "irksome task.")
7. Allow yourself to overpack (when possible).
People may disagree with me about the happiness-boosting qualities of overpacking, and this strategy doesn't work if we're hiking or doing lots of moving around. It's a luxury just to toss a bunch of stuff in the suitcase - but when I can, I do. While at home, we go for months without opening the medicine cabinet, but on vacation we seem to need every conceivable over-the-counter medication. I used to have long debates with myself about what we'd actually use - now I throw everything into a plastic bag, just in case. A simple problem, like not having a bandage handy, can turn into a major hassle when you're away from home.
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8. Make peace with technology.
The fact is, I have much more fun when my e-mail and Internet service are working; otherwise, I brood about it and spend a lot of time trying to get connected. So I made getting service a priority. Other people want to disconnect completely; that's fine, too. Just recognize whether connection or disconnection will make the vacation experience as pleasant as possible for you - and plan accordingly.
9. Be grateful.
Because of the psychological phenomenon of the "negativity bias," we're all more sensitive to negative events and thoughts than to positive ones. It's so easy to get annoyed by the broken air conditioner, by the traffic, by the fact that I packed us all for 80° weather when it turns out we'll be in 50° weather. By mindfully focusing on feelings of gratitude and enjoyment, you keep yourself in a happier frame of mind. Also, if anyone on a family vacation is getting on your nerves (yes, it has been known to happen!), by focusing on reasons to feel grateful to that person, you help squelch emotions like annoyance and resentment.
10. Go ahead and unwind.
Perhaps the most important tip for a family vacation is - remember to take a vacation! Especially given the technology these days, it's tempting to have a change of scenery and call it a vacation. But a vacation really means taking a break from work and routine. Have fun, enjoy the moment, and let yourself relax. On a less elevated note, I would add that if you're traveling with children, it never hurts to pack a few pieces of novelty candy for a long car ride. That, and a Harry Potter audiobook, will take you a long way.
- by Gretchen Rubin
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