How to Have the Worst Family Vacation Ever

Posted September 10, 2015 by


It's a nearly impossible mission: Put multiple generations in unfamiliar surroundings and expect everyone to have a great time the whole time. But against all odds, family vacations often yield joy and lasting memories. The pitfalls are deep and many, however. So we're sharing with you the top family vacation mistakes we won't be making again. Learn from our blunders, dear readers, and thrive on your next family trip. Your children, parents, aunts, and nephews will thank you.

Mistake # 1: You Eat Questionable Food

What's worse than food poisoning? Being one of four people in a hotel room with food poisoning. Even if you're a hardcore street-foodist who thinks of the occasional food-borne illness as a hazard of the game, you do not want to get into a single-bathroom battle with your nearest and dearest. Some of the risky foods to avoid while traveling include tap water in certain places, anything surrounded by flies, and food that's been sitting out but hasn't been kept either piping hot or nice and cold.

Mistake # 2: You Don't Meet Everyone's Basic Needs

Vacation is not the time to start skipping naps if your toddler still needs them. Nor is it the time to power through meal times because you don't want to pull over the car for a break. Travel creates situations of novel stress, and in order to capitalize on the novelty and minimize the stress, kids and adults need to get enough sleep and eat good food. Laying the foundation for a great vacation means keeping everyone well-fed, hydrated, and rested as much of the time as possible.

RELATED: Tips for Traveling With Kids

Mistake # 3: You're Inflexible

Love to be disappointed? Then you should definitely head into a family vacation with a rigid plan of what should happen every day. From youngest to oldest, everyone on your trip is going to have a different travel style, and not everyone is going to appreciate being marched around day after day as you tell them what to look at and where to eat. Create room for spontaneity and make everyone happier.

Mistake # 4: You Forget That You're on Vacation, Too

We can call this one planner syndrome. When you, as the primary planner, have put your heart and soul into a vacation, it's all too easy to forget to actually be there and experience things rather than monitoring everyone else's joy level and thinking ahead to the logistics of the next activity. If you're going to continue to wear the planning hat (and let's face it, you probably are), at least make it a beach hat and create room to enjoy the vacation you've spent so many hours preparing for.

RELATED: 7 Mistakes That Will Make You Miss Your Flight

Mistake # 5: You Spend All Your Time Together

Deny it if you will, but we know better: No matter how much you love your family, you don't want to spend every minute of every day with them. Everyone needs a little down time, so build some into each day and give everyone time to recharge.

And don't make every activity all-hands. If a few people really want to head to the beach and the rest of the group is ready to climb a volcano, respect everybody's version of vacation. You'll get to come back together and the end of the day and share stories.

Mistake # 6: You Don't Get a Big Enough Place

More room tends to be more expensive, but you're already investing in the vacation, so it's likely worth investing a bit more to make it a good trip. Avoiding cramming everyone into a single bedroom is nice, but the real key to a comfortable stay is having a common area that's separate from sleeping spaces. Because you know what doesn't feel like vacation? Lying in a darkened room three hours before your usual bedtime because you're trying to let the kids sleep. Or camping out on the hotel bathroom floor with a book until you're tired enough to sleep.

If a hotel suite is too pricey, consider a vacation rental. Not only do they offer more space, but they often come with handy amenities like grills and washing machines.

RELATED: 8 Things You Need to Pack for Your Vacation Rental

Mistake # 7: You Make Age-Inappropriate Choices

It's not that there aren't family-friendly activities in Las Vegas. It's that adults in Vegas tend to want to enjoy the less kid-friendly charms of the city.

When you're choosing a family vacation, think hard about the destination. Weigh activity options and any physical demands against the ages of those in your travel group. This goes both ways—make sure to be realistic about the physical limitations of older family members before booking that fourth-floor walkup vacation rental or taking off to a steep hillside city.

Mistake # 8: You Set Yourself Up for Servitude

Finding yourself saddled with the same responsibilities you have at home can be the perfect recipe for stewing resentment. Instead of defaulting to the roles you have at home—which likely reflect work schedules and after-school activities—shake it up and give every able family member a chance to pitch in. After all, you're all on vacation, right? Dividing and conquering chores like meal prep and laundry will go a long way toward giving everyone equal leisure time.

RELATED: Tips for Traveling With Kids

Mistake # 9: You Don't Involve Others in the Planning

According to a Wyndham Rewards study, 53 percent of kids think they could plan a vacation better than their parents. For many travelers—but not all, we admit— planning is part of the fun. In fact, according to every travel happiness survey we've ever seen, the delicious anticipation of a trip is a huge part of the overall enjoyment.

When you get the whole family involved in planning, you end up with an itinerary that reflects what people actually want to do, not just what you think they should do. There's pride in ownership, too: Kids tend to be more patient doing what other people want when they know they'll get a turn.

Mistake # 10: You Don't Stay Connected

Picture it: You're in Rome, it's 97 degrees, and your cousin was supposed to meet you in front of the Colosseum 45 minutes ago. She didn't get an international plan on her phone, so you've got no way of contacting her. Feel the creeping irritation? Let that feeling ease any reservations you have about being pushy in the planning stages about making sure everyone in the group finds a way to stay connected.

Help them prepare their cell phones for the trip, or suggest a carrier such as T-Mobile that offers free international data (for texting) and free Wi-Fi calling abroad. If you happen to be related to a quorum of Luddites and you'll all be in fairly close proximity, consider walkie talkies. Will you look a little weird? Yes, but it will be worth it.

RELATED: How to Spot Your Ideal Travel Companion

Mistake # 11: You Rent the Wrong Vehicle or Home

If you're traveling with a large family group, don't automatically opt for one large vehicle. Two smaller cars give you more flexibility and allow for different schedules and interests. Similarly, if you're opting for a vacation rental but kids have different sleep schedules, it's not a bad idea to consider renting two neighboring smaller units.

—Christine Sarkis

More from SmarterTravel:

Christine Sarkis has gone on family vacations as a daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, cousin, aunt, and parent. Follow her on Twitter@ChristineSarkis and Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.

Read the original story: How to Have the Worst Family Vacation Ever by Christine Sarkis, who is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel.

(Photo: Thinkstock/Creatas)

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