Family vacations: how to survive them with your sanity intact

Whenever my parents said “We’re going on vacation!”, my first thought was always “Who else is coming?”. Growing up in a close-knit family with an equally close-knit extended family, the term “family vacation” almost always meant going with at least 20 other aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends of various ages, personalities, and preferences. With at least one outing every summer since I turned 12, I’ve learned a few tricks along the way that made the trip less of a hassle. As they say, you can choose your friends but not your family.


1. Do your homework. Research your destination before you leave and schedule visits to places everyone in the group can appreciate. Your accommodations should also be carefully considered. How close is it to the places you want to see? Do they give volume discounts? Are children under a certain age free? Does the hotel have childcare services? Will there be things to do in case someone in the group wants to stay in? Again: research, research, research. Google is your friend.

2. If you don’t find places and activities for everyone, compromise. Give the kids their theme park today but Mom gets her art museum tomorrow. On our last trip to Florida, my siblings and I raced around the Walt Disney and Universal Studios theme parks while my mother sat on the benches. To make up for it, we dutifully carried her shopping bags as she let loose inside the outlet malls.

3. When all else fails, schedule some alone time. You don’t have to go everywhere as a group. During a recent trip to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, our group was composed of four families with ages ranging from 5 to 50. The kiddies splashed around in the hotel pool, the teenage girls hit the mall, and my parents and I visited a wildlife park. Everyone won.

4. Set a budget. At the start of your trip, give children a set amount of money for souvenirs and tell them that they’re responsible for how they spend it. This will help teach them how to manage their money and get them off your back when they see something that they “just have to have”.

5. Pack sensibly. Pack versatile, easy to wash, and wrinkle-resistant clothes. Take into account the shopping you’ll be doing at your destination. My first trip abroad was a month-long tour of the United States when I was 12. We left with two large suitcases that my father had to wrestle by himself as my brother and I were too small to help. By the time we came back, he had to contend with an additional four huge boxes full of stuff we had bought.

6. Get to the airport early. Everything – from security checks to checking in to boarding – takes a lot longer with more people to move, especially if you have children with you. If you’re taking a budget airline with no fixed seating, paying a little extra for priority boarding will be worth it, as it gives the young ones time to settle down before the other passengers board.

7. Do a head count! Though leaving your child at home ala “Home Alone” isn’t likely to happen, a bored child wandering away while you’re haggling in a crowded market is. Have children carry IDs with their name, your name, contact information, and the name of your hotel on them. If your hotel has a shuttle service, make sure that the kids know how to use it.

8. If you want to eat together, make reservations beforehand. The last family trip to Boracay, Philippines involved 51 people so reservations were a must if we wanted to eat out anywhere.

9. Have fun. You’re with people you love. Whatever it is, it can’t be that bad. 🙂

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