Friday, March 19, 2010

Family Travels

The weather’s slowly warming across the country, and along with snow melt and longer days comes that familiar family travel time known as Spring Vacation. And though they may not be, as Charles Dickens’s wrote, “the best of times, the worst of times” in your family’s lives, travels together as a group can be some of the happiest as well as most stressful times you have together as a family.

Time away from our regular routines is essential for good mental health. We do tend to thrive with a healthy balance of the familiar and the different, and vacations are one way many of us create difference in our lives. We can put away the same responsibilities, schedules, foods, sights, people, and weather for something different, a change that can make for a sense of escape as well as renewal upon our return. When we travel with our families, we get a chance to make shared memories and then recall them again and again in the future. Many of us remember the time spent in the back seat of our family station wagons going somewhere together as hallmarks of our childhood.

But like everything else with our families, traveling together as companions is a mixed blessing. While we can anticipate one another’s reactions and find pleasure in those shared experiences and understandings, we also make instantaneous assumptions, judgments and responses to each other that can zap the joy out of the newness of travel. In other words, it can be great and awful at the same time! (Recall the Clark Griswold’s of the 1983 movie, “Vacation,” and you’ll instantly know what I mean).

So, before you come unglued in your rush to close the house and get on that plane for that long-awaited winter escape, consider a few things that may make for a more relaxed, pleasant and renewing family trip. If you have some more ideas to share, be sure to add your comment at the bottom of this post.

1. Stay Within the Budget
Nothing can kill the joy of a family trip than spending more than you can afford. No one wants to be paying off credit card travel expenses 11 months after that dream visit to Disneyworld. Do all you can to stay inside your planned budget, making room for the spontaneous and unexpected, and you will have a much less stressful time while vacationing, and particularly, upon return.

2. Prepare to Travel
Don’t wait until the night before you leave to know if you have enough cash, if you have or need your passport, if your favorite shorts still fit, if the car needs an oil change, or if you have renewed your daily prescriptions at the pharmacy. None of us needs the emotional turmoil of last-minute, rushed packing. It can take all the pleasure out of the first part of your vacation, and can really stall your trip through airport security!

3. Lower your Expectations
No destination is going to be as great as the travel brochure, the website, or your dreams set you up to expect. Even Hawaii has problems. Lower your expectations of your perfect honeymoon or family trip, and instead, ready yourself to be pleasantly surprised and flexible. More fun will be had by all!

4. Manage your Job
Most successful employers know that we are better at our jobs when we can leave them for awhile. While it’s tempting to stay connected via email, texts, photos or even phone calls to work, unplug from the people at work and turn toward the people you’re with. After all, it’s your family that will stick around long after that job is over. And if you are self-employed like I am, make a plan to limit the contact you need to have with your business and stick to your plan.

5. We Bring Ourselves with Us
Your son isn’t automatically going to be well behaved just because he’s visiting grandma, and your spouse isn’t miraculously going to be easy going, generous and relaxed just because you’re in a different place. Remember that while your family is pretty much the same wherever they go, so are you. Cut everyone a little slack.

6. Staying with Extended Family
Nothing says “emotional overload” like traveling with your family and staying with even more. Be sure to treat the family you visit with respect, do your share of the extra work you create, and make time to get out from under their feet, and you will probably be invited back!

7. Returning
Some of us appreciate more time at home before the rush back to the normal begins. I know I need time to get some of the laundry done, to make sure there’s enough milk in the refrigerator, and to sort the mail before I go back to work. Others don’t need much re-entry time, eking out as much vacation time as possible. Know your preferences and honor them. That way coming home will be as pleasant as possible.

And in all journeying, safe travels!