Expectations for Family Vacations: Fantasy vs. Reality


Do your family vacations sometimes fall short of your vision of warm, laughter-filled, family moments?  It’s the expectation that gets us every time.  How do you picture your vacation? Is it the family talking enthusiastically around the campfire or hiking a mountain? Perhaps we dream about swimming and body surfing at the beach or going museum hopping in an urban area. Or maybe you are attempting a European vacation.  Don’t we picture the perfect sunset, wonderful food, and deeply connected family time?  As Emmie candidly writes in her blog, Family Vacation from Hell: Putting a Positive Spin on Things: “Oh, wait! That wasn’t OUR vacation!”

On family vacations, things can go wrong pretty quickly and unexpectedly — so what you can do about it?  For instance, let’s say your plane is delayed for three hours in an airport where almost all the shops and restaurants are closed.  Everyone is hungry, bored and frustrated.  Regardless of the children’s or adults’ ages, what is the contingency plan?  I recommend traveling with carry on snacks, games and a change of clothes in case three hours turns into an overnight.  Books that can be read aloud are also a great way to pass the time.  During a torrential rain storm on a camping trip with my children that sent streams of water through the tent, we kept out feet and sleeping bags up on the thin foam pads while I read aloud for hours until the rain stopped. It was a very exciting story! We all actually enjoyed it –especially after we dried out the tent.

Parents have often contacted the parent coaching team from a hotel room. The kids are cranky and start fighting.  They’re worried about hotel management knocking on their door.  Debbie Pincus says that “It’s absolutely possible to have a peaceful summer, and you do that by taking control of how you want things to go. You have control—even if the only thing you have control over is yourself.  It’s not dependent on how your kids are—it’s how you decide to be.”

So work on your response. Instead of waiting for complaints from hotel guests, structure family time so siblings and parents have some time alone.  Send one child to the hotel gym alone or with a parent, depending on the age.  Or have one child check out the brochures in the lobby and come up with an activity the family could do. Make up a scavenger hunt for teams and have a prize for the winner. (A pack of gum or the choice of a restaurant for the next meal) Another great article on our site that you can read about kids fighting during the summer is Sibling Fighting: 5 Ways to Teach Your Kids to Get Along by Kim Abraham LMSW and Marney Studaker-Cordner LMSW.

If you’re renting a house or traveling, have everyone agree ahead of time on what they will be responsible for. While traveling, children can have a sibling they stay with, for example. You might also split up meal preparations when renting or camping, so everyone gets a break. It can be fun planning meals that the kids can make themselves.  Even a five-year-old can make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  Someone can air out sleeping bags and hang up wet suits and towels.  The point is, we’re all responsible for the outcome of family vacations.

Even when you remove the daily demands of family life and relax the rules, there are still going to be accidents, angry moments, and possibly tears: for the parents or children.  Expect them, plan for them, and keep your sense of humor. Try and plan for the unexpected.  Remember, some of the most famous works of art were mistakes the artist went with. So loosen your expectations, bring a stain removal stick and when you get lost, enjoy the view.


Holly Fields has worked with children with emotional and physical disabilities for more than 15 years in the home, at school, and in rehabilitation settings, as well as therapeutic riding programs. She was with Legacy Publishing Company as a 1-on-1 Coach for two years. Holly has a Masters Degree in Special Education. She has two adult children, two rescue dogs and one cat.

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