10 Very Idiosyncratic Tips for Having Fun on a Family Vacation

Gretchen Rubin
March 4, 2016

Was it Jerry Seinfeld who said, "There's no such thing as fun for the whole family?"

I disagree, but I've hit on certain tips that do help keep things fun. I'm not sure they're universally helpful, but they've helped me.

As always, the first step is to follow the Eighth Commandment, "Identify the problem." I didn't understand why I was so crabby until I zeroed in on my gnawing hunger. If you're feeling crabby instead of playful, push yourself to put your finger on what's bugging you. Just because you're on "vacation" doesn't mean that everything is automatically fun. Pay attention to when you're having fun, or not, and adjust accordingly.

Everyone will have more fun when everyone is having fun, so this isn't selfish!

1. I posted Monday about my epiphany about making sure that I don't allow myself to get too hungry. Never again will I travel without a bag of almonds, dried cherries, etc. I anticipate my next challenge will be: how do I stop myself from eating the entire bag the first day?

2. Although kids and grandparents beg, "Just this once," "They don't seem tired," or "Everyone can sleep late in the morning," I do everything humanly possible to make sure my kids get the usual amount of sleep. Also, myself. Along the same lines...

3. I recognize my kids' limits. They are cheerful and cooperative—until we keep them at the table too long, mess with their schedules too much, let them skip putting on sunscreen, make them walk too far, let them get too hot or too cold, or make them anxious or uncomfortable. In the midst of fun, it can be hard to say, "Enough!" but it's a key to keeping things pleasant.

4. Some people view vacation as an escape from daily burdens—in particular, exercising. No! Exercise is energizing, cheering, and promotes sleep and relaxation. Vacation is an opportunity to do more exercising, not cut it out. Recently, when I had jet lag, I noticed that exercise helped me adjust both coming and going.

5. Make time for something that's fun for ME. The more people who are vacationing together, the more everyone needs to be accommodating. That's as it should be—to a point. I make sure that I have time to do what I truly enjoy (i.e., lying around reading—right now, I'm reading Karen Armstrong's Buddha). All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, and all sandcastles and tales of Harry Potter adventures, as nice as they are, makes Gretchen a dull girl.

6. At home, we go for months without opening the medicine cabinet, but in four days of vacation, we've used Lanacane, Neosporin, Kank-A, Advil, and Band-Aids (both regular and Hello Kitty style). I used to have long debates with myself about what we'd actually use—now I throw a tube of everything into a plastic bag, just in case.

7. I allow myself to overpack. This wouldn't work if we were hiking or doing lots of moving around, but I finally realized that, for a short trip to one place, it's faster and easier to overpack than to try to plan out carefully what to take. It's a luxury just to toss in a bunch of stuff, but when I can, I do.

8. I've come up with a speed rule: for every person beyond the first two people, add ten minutes to the time it takes to accomplish any action; for every child, add twenty. Even just with four adults and two children, it can take forever for us to get from Point A to Point B. But that's okay, I remind myself, this is vacation, there's no rush! This tip takes me back to Tip 1—I realized that one reason I was often impatient and annoyed was that I was so hungry that any delay in getting to lunch or dinner made me frantic.

You can read the rest of this article (and so much more) at Gretchen's website.  

Originally published in 2010 

From the Parents

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