Family vacations offer unique opportunities for bonding time and memories to last a lifetime. These special trips sometimes involve only the family members in your household; they might also include immediate or blended family who live close by, and/or extended family members who live farther away and don’t see each other often. The idealized concept of vacationing together with family is alluring, but in reality, “family vacations” can mean something different to everyone, and they are a lot more complicated than the happy images on the website suggest. Fact is, you should probably expect conflicts to come up during your family vacation. Why? Consider your family members, and everyone’s normal at-home environments & schedules. Now add in concentrated periods of time together; unfamiliar locations; less personal space; out-of-whack routines; the excitement factor of vacation activities; and possibly family members who don’t know each other well, and it starts to make more sense.
As you prepare for your family’s upcoming vacation, it’s important to acknowledge that the potential for conflict exists. A good approach is to: (1) use some advance and on-site planning to help reduce the potential for conflict, and (2) discuss / agree in advance on how to resolve vacation-time conflicts if they come up. With clear communication, a little planning, and some conflict resolution strategies, you can help create a positive, affirming and FUN vacation experience for all!
Note: this blog doesn’t identify any of the underlying reasons why some people or situations might be more prone to conflict, nor any therapeutic strategies that might be used to address this issue. The blog merely offers tactical approaches for reducing the potential for conflict during a family vacation, and for addressing conflict if / when it arises. For anyone needing affirming and validating support with conflict or healing with any issue, please click here or email us at email@example.com.
Family Vacation Planning Tips to Help Avoid Conflict
What’s the Plan? Together with the other paying adults, decide on the destination and the budget; and agree to payment details before anything gets booked. Once parameters are confirmed, share info with the rest of the family to get input and set expectations.
Do the Research. No one likes unmet expectations or sad surprises. To avoid stress and conflict, never assume; confirm every feature, amenity, attraction and activity that’s important to you. Thoroughly research your hotel / rental, ground transportation and activities before you book. Check official websites, read reviews, send emails, talk to friends. Engage with reviews & references, and make phone calls to get your questions answered.
Accommodations Matter. These days, the options range from full-service hotels and themed resorts, to private home rentals. Consider:
- How many bedrooms / how much personal & shared space you need
- Booking a spare bedroom to help keep the peace
- If there are individuals who’ll need dedicated private space to recharge
- Space for kids to be kids (indoor & outdoor options, e.g. game room, in-rental space, hotel pool etc.)
- Logistics, such as a need for first floor bedrooms, elevators, cribs, etc.
Be sure to communicate the rules regarding purchases of in-room snacks & room service with kids and teens when you arrive, and that everyone is respectful of the space to avoid costly damage charges.
Ground Transportation Matters, Too. Booking a rental car / van with adequate personal space for your group (and your luggage!) will increase comfort and help reduce conflict. It should be easy for everyone to get in and out of, especially if you’ll be taking day trips often. Creative seating arrangements can also help minimize conflict. For example, a non-driving adult can sit in row 2 or 3 for access to younger kids; to reduce conflict between siblings; to give a teenager time in the front seat; or to encourage engagement between family members who don’t see each other often
Don’t “Overplan”. Your vacation is about making memories, so be sure to balance the excitement and adventure with rest and relaxation. Agree on time for breaks, so family members can do what they want for a few hours. This allows young children and tired adults to nap, gives teens time to spend exploring, and helps facilitate a casual “dinner in” or evening time with everyone.
Vary the Activities. Keep everyone’s interests and capabilities in mind, and plan a variety of experiences so there’s something for all. You don’t have to do everything together, either. One adult can take some of the kids for an activity while others do something different, or do nothing at all.
About That Cell Phone… Most adults complain it’s the teens who are constantly on their devices, but these days, even Grandma is plugged-in. Phones weaken in-person connections and stymie communication, but banning devices outright is unrealistic and can lead to sulky kids (and adults). Instead, consider setting a few basic ground rules around phones during meals and/or other designated times, and let the rest go. Just make sure your rules are well communicated in advance and that they apply to everyone.
Don’t Rush. When we’re short on time, we get stressed and don’t make our best decisions. Be sure to allow ample time to get where you’re going, especially if reservations or set event times are involved. Double-check your tickets, keep them in a safe place & be sure to bring them along on event day. Use vehicle GPS and map apps not only for directions, but also to pre-plot the time needed for your next day’s itinerary. Stay flexible along the way, and keep a cool head if you get lost or schedule changes are needed.
Expect Problems. No matter how carefully you plan, the trip will never be exactly as you imagine. Things like a flat tire, bad weather, sickness / injury, even a cranky kid can derail activities and force a plan B. If this happens, keep cool; consider the alternate possibilities; and remember that sometimes these last-minute changes end up being the highlight of the vacation!
Tips to Help Resolve Vacation Conflicts & Disagreements
Set Ground Rules. It’s a good idea to agree how to disagree during the vacation, in advance. Setting some ground rules (that apply to everyone) can help resolve issues respectfully and keep disagreements from escalating. If you use this tool, be sure to prominently post the ground rules in a common area of your hotel / rental, and review the info together at the beginning of your vacation. Here are some suggested guidelines to consider:
- Stay calm
- Stay on topic
- Be objective
- Model good behavior
- Be a good listener
- Be respectful
- Use “I-statements”
- Ask questions if you don’t understand
- Offer suggestions when you disagree
- Focus on the present and what you would like to happen today
Employing guidelines can give kids agency / help them feel more confident about expressing themselves. And when you or one of the other adults is the one who’s upset, it’s an opportunity to show kids how to cope with negative emotions in the moment.
Don’t Blame. When something goes wrong, it’s a common response to blame someone else. But that never solves the problem or helps things get back on track, and it often leads to hurt feelings. Especially during a vacation, a better approach is to focus on what you can do NOW to solve the problem. And if someone is at fault, it’s important to treat them with love, respect and patience. Take a deep breath, and pause / reflect for a moment if needed.
One Things & Do-Overs. These two tools are especially helpful for for resolving conflicts when younger family members are with you on the vacation:
- One Thing: agree that everyone may voice one big ‘complaint’ per day (their “one thing”), that the family will then try to resolve together
- Do-Over: both / all people in a conflict may agree to a free “do-over” for all; to start the situation again, before the disagreement or eruption happened, and handle it differently
Compromise. Sometimes, a good solution to a vacation conflict can be found in compromise, where each side makes concessions to reach a resolution that’s acceptable to both. In compromise, no one person “wins” everything; all involved experience some wins and some losses. Compromising can help you: (1) reach a resolution faster, (2) reduce tension and hostility between the parties, and (3) preserve the harmony and energy in your environment. But compromising can also limit the number of possible creative solutions, leading to resolutions that are “good enough” so the focus can return to more important or pressing matters.
Take Time Apart. Taking a lil time away from the group is another way for adult / older teen family members to manage the big feelings that sometimes come up on vacation, and it can be a healthy tool for addressing conflict. If it’s a minor issue, it’s sometimes better to take a deep breath and let it go. But if someone is in the midst of a difficult disagreement, needs some time to process something that happened earlier, or just “isn’t feeling it”, they shouldn’t feel guilty about making a split for a few hours. Here are things to keep in mind:
- Don’t leave in a huff
- Be upfront, clear, unapologetic, and kind
- Do let the group know when to expect you back
- Do attend core activities if possible, but only if you can do so with a positive attitude
- Be mindful of commitments you made beforehand (watching the kids, etc.) and arrange for another responsible family member to step in
- If you’re present for other family members’ disagreements, you might kindly suggest this tactic to them
We hope these tips and strategies help you pre-empt and avoid conflict on your next family vacation, and address / reduce any conflict that comes up during the trip. Creating a plan that: (1) takes family members’ needs and preferences into account, and (2) keeps the lines of communication open are keys to a successful family vacation! And along the way, adopting thoughtful conflict resolution strategies helps kids learn important social skills; helps adults model good behavior, and helps everyone be mindful, respectful and patient in managing their relationships.
IntraSpectrum Counseling is Chicago’s leading psychotherapy practice dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community, and we strive to provide the highest quality mental health care for multicultural, kink, polyamorous, and intersectional issues. For anyone needing affirming and validating support with conflict or healing with any issue, please click here or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.