Thursday, March 17, 2016

Family holidays - how to avoid the pitfalls

Travel has always held me in its thrall, whether it's been a spur-of-the-moment car ride out to the countryside, or an epic journey across the world that involved tons of logistical planning and saving up for. I've pretty much done all of the above at different times in my life with different family members and while it can be great fun, it can also be nightmarish.

Obviously, traveling with the whole family is a given for many of us. Most of us mothers know what it's like to travel with babies, toddlers, preteens and teens at various stages. It's hard going, of course, making sure that our kids have enough clothing, food, toys, games and medicines to see them through a trip. But there's nothing like seeing the world through the eyes of a child, and discovering new places together with them.

My family is extremely small, and for much of the time, it's been just me and my son, B. Being a firm believer that travel is both education and fun, I've lugged him to places both far and near. We had a great adventure in Egypt and a blast in the amusement capitals of the U.S. and Australia. Trips back in time in Italy and England were equaled by the excitement of big cities like New York and Hong Kong. We got lost many times riding on trains and subways but it didn't matter because at 8 or 10, he didn't know any better and just fell in with my navigation (or lack thereof). Perhaps the most enjoyable and memorable trips for both him and me were the simpler, less hyped up holidays. A visit to a farm in Scotland where he spent much of the time just chasing chickens (we're city folk) stands out. And another trip we made to a nearby hill resort with my mother and sister brings back fond memories.

Of course we fought on these trips, B and I, especially when the hormones started kicking in. Yelling at each other seemed to be a common theme, although now I can't remember what the argument was about. When he turned into a teen and seemed disinclined to accompany me on any of my trips, I decided that perhaps our days traveling together were over. Now that he's grown up and flying everywhere with friends, I am hoping that maybe one day, I can plan a trip with him and his family and see the world all over again with my grandchild, although right now, that's probably more wishful thinking than a reality.

I've long admired my cousins, all eight girls in one family, no boys! They are each other's best friends and often travel together. They always seem to have the best time, never arguing, and even plan out their own family version of "Race around the world" with prizes and all. The times my own family members have traveled together have been less idyllic. The one long trip my sister took with our mother to England ended with both of them threatening to leave the other behind after a few days in each other's company. We've had more successful holidays when we traveled somewhere en masse, perhaps because there were more of us around to mitigate the tension!

Traveling with family can be great, or it can be fraught with all kinds of angst. Here are some of the things I've learned about traveling with family in tow.

1. Be prepared. Especially when traveling with young children, make sure you bring along enough toys, books and snacks to occupy them on long journeys. Pack all the necessary medicines and first aid stuff. You never know when illness or an accident can happen. Research the weather of the places you're going to and pack suitable clothing. Nothing is worse than not having enough warm clothing for youngsters in freezing temperatures.

2. Choose your destination wisely. On paper it might sound like a lot of fun to plan a holiday somewhere exotic where no one's ever been, but perhaps it might be a good idea to get a consensus, as one person's dream city might be someone else's nightmare. My idea of the perfect vacation is somewhere by the beach but the rest of my family hates the sun. One family members adores shopping but as I grow older and need a lot less stuff, I'm beginning to loathe the idea of trudging from store to store. So if a family holiday is on the table, a compromise might need to be negotiated to keep everyone happy.

2. Keep your expectations realistic. Family members are people you've grown up with and probably know you better than anybody else. Being together with the same people on a trip 24/7, especially in a strange country, can be challenging. Habits that don't normally bug you when you go through your daily life are suddenly magnified and can become really irritating. Perhaps it's because they're family that you feel you can let off steam with them. So don't expect a great bonding session with family members when you aren't all that close in your everyday life to begin with anyway. And don't turn small, niggly things that bug you into a big deal.

3. Agree to disagree. It's a good idea (with any traveling companion, not just family) to have a talk before the trip to discuss how you want to spend your time. It's okay not to be joined at the hip at all times - if your interests are different, you can have separate itineraries. I remember when I was in Rome with B - when I wanted to go out shopping, all he wanted to do was hang out in the hotel room and order room service, so we did just that!

4. Look on the bright side. Travel can be stressful, especially when you're trying to cope with different time zones, unfamiliar places and foreign languages. It's good if you can take turns with others in the family to be the voice of reason when things go wrong. Schedules can get mixed up and flights or trains can be missed. Items can be lost or stolen. The weather can turn. The most well laid plans can go awry. Rather than be miserable, play the blame game or take it out on each other, just remember that the trip is meant to be fun. So take a deep breath and remind yourself that you're truly blessed to be having a holiday with your loved ones.

Do share some of your own tips and anecdotes about traveling with family!

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