vacation family feud - how not to stress out

Why We Stress Out on Vacation

Fighting on vacation is more common than you think. You’ve spent weeks, sometimes months, anticipating your dream vacation and end up disappointed with your family or friends.


Don’t worry or let that stop you from trying again. Once you understand why it occurs, you can take the necessary steps to keep it from happening.

1. Arguments between partners or friends often occur because of miscommunication or a difference in expectations. If one traveler is responsible for the bulk of the planning, they often have certain activities or an agenda in mind. They may have gone so far as to create an itinerary. Steering the rest of the group based on the plan can be stressful and depends on participant cooperation. A disagreement with the plan can cause disappointment and lead to a dispute.

Vacations are not a break from decision-making. Does everyone want to sleep in? Does everyone agree on where, what, or when to eat? Meals can go both ways: 1) you have an idea of what each meal will be, but someone becomes contrary, or 2) there is no plan to give everyone a say, resulting in too many opinions, wasting valuable vacation time trying to decide. The stress of keeping everyone happy and expecting to have a good time can result in conflict.

2. While you’ve looked forward to time away from home, vacations disrupt your normal routine. For some people, especially children, this can be a problem. The initial adrenaline rush of vacation excitement can give way to anxiety over the unknown or unfamiliar. A few days of not eating on schedule, not getting your exercise, or getting more physical activity than you’re used to can all take a toll. Trying to squeeze memorable moments into every minute can also lead to exhaustion and put everyone on edge.

3. You’ve looked forward to spending quality time with your partner, family, or friends until you realize that you’ve had too much togetherness. Not planning for or not expressing your need for solitude might induce a quarrel if someone pushes the wrong button. Some personalities thrive off constant interaction while others are drained by it. Friction arises when one type does not understand or acknowledge the other.

As a teacher and a mother, managing expectations was my job, as was planning our family vacations. One vacation, however, ended in the perfect storm of vacation stress. We agreed to embark on a week-long Disney cruise with great anticipation. With the kids getting older and busier, I looked forward to our first cruise and not having to make all the plans. As the week progressed, we were having a great time, with a good balance of activity and rest.

Usually, I would semi-coordinate our outfit colors, like khaki shorts and blue tops, and spend our last evening doing a couple loads of laundry. Arriving home with clean clothes made unpacking a more pleasant chore and reentry to the real world more bearable. I was delighted to learn that the ship had self-laundry on every other floor. My husband, Ray, was a fan of this routine, as well, which started on our honeymoon.

We laid out our clothes for the next day, got the kids in their PJs, and I headed out hurriedly with our dirty clothes. Disney had delivered a notice that our checked luggage needed to be placed outside our door by 9:30 p.m., which was unexpected and going to be tight. Ray was to get the kids in bed and then join me to help fold. With the clothes in dryers, I thought I was on schedule. At 8:30 p.m., however, the clothes were still damp, and Ray had not arrived. After another thirty minutes, I tossed the unfolded, semi-damp clothes in a plastic bag and returned to our room.

Laying down with the kids, I found Ray asleep on the bed. He startled when I woke him, while sternly expressing my dismay at the poor performing dryers and his lack of follow through. Exhausted from trying to be the perfect Dad all week, he did not react well to my scolding. We managed to get packed and the checked bags in the hallway on time, but not without unkind interaction. Our dreamy vacation had unraveled in the final minutes due to impractical expectations, exhaustion, and a week without any downtime. Thankfully, we recovered quickly and have enjoyed many happy vacations since.

If any of these scenarios resonate with you, here are some suggestions to try before your next trip:

First, understand the main purpose of your vacation. Spending time together, getting a break from work and daily activities, embarking on an adventure, or visiting a place you’d like to know more about are all great reasons to get away.

By planning together and working as a team, you can manage expectations at home in an environment where you’re familiar with negotiating. Create a detailed itinerary, if necessary, so that everyone is on the same page. Again, make sure the itinerary has been agreed upon by all parties in advance. Often disputes arise from unrealistic expectations, that can be avoided with a detailed, well-communicated plan.

Minimize the routine disruptions as much as possible. Pay particular attention to the travelers that are most affected by the unfamiliar, and don’t push them too hard. Try to balance activities with downtime and stick to a meal routine as much as possible. Cruises are popular for many reasons and should be considered for anyone who prefers a stress-free schedule.

Give each other the freedom to spend some time away from the family or group. Walk away when you feel exhausted, stressed, or disappointed. Take some time to reflect on the enjoyable parts of the vacation, making sure to emphasize those times on future vacations.

Remember to relax and renew, so that when your trip is over, you do not need a vacation from your vacation.

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