It’s easy to want too much from your summer family vacation. With stats indicating that the average American worker only has two to three weeks off each year, it’s easy to expect too much fun, too much relaxation, too much family time and too much great weather. And given that expectations for vacation can be high, it’s natural that disappointments may be great when expectations are not met. 

I listen to complaints from returning vacationers about everything from disagreements between parents, to how much downtime was available, to how much time was spent with extended families and friends. Here are eight ways to make things go smoothly during your family vacation this summer.

1. Be realistic about expectations. One vacation is not going to fit everyone’s needs at all times. Parents should expect a certain amount of complaining from kids while sightseeing, especially if kids are younger than teenagers — and older kids may not want to go to the zoo or playground. Remember that if parents minimize their reactions to complaints, kids are less likely to complain.

2. Plan an agenda that meets each family member’s needs some of the time. Traveling with teens and tweens can be overwhelming if parents try to placate every person’s needs at all times. Parents should be flexible with plans and allow everyone to participate in some aspects of the decision making.

3. Budget in advance. Having a planned budget avoids being financially stressed out during vacation time. Plan for extra expenditures of 10 to 20 percent of the budget, just to be safe.

4. Expect the unexpected. Parents’ reactions to their own disappointments throughout vacation can set the tone for others. Maybe the hotel isn’t what was expected or the food at the all-inclusive resort is less than optimal; parents and families need to learn to enjoy their imperfect getaway, and use their sense of humor to rally through annoyances.

5. Co-parent effectively. Effective co-parenting can mean the difference between fighting and fun for everyone. Make a pact in advance to support each other in the interest of the family. Maybe mom wants a night with her novel or dad wants a round of golf. Parents can model teamwork and get their individual needs met.

6. During multi-family vacations, be prepared for differences in parenting styles. What happens when two well-intentioned families get together for a fun vacation and the parenting rules in each family are worlds apart? The best strategy is for parents to talk with their children beforehand and let them know that there may be differences in rules and management styles.

7. During blended family vacations, be aware that spending time with stepchildren can be fun and lighthearted. Focus on activities and not relationships.

8. The annual family vacation comes with much anticipation, although mishaps do happen. Maybe the weather is bad. Maybe the kids complain about being away from their friends. Maybe the kids are always on devices and if this is the case, take the tech away. Or maybe the car breaks down. A typical family vacation, much like life, has its ups and downs. Parents who hope for the best time ever, and are able to roll with the reality, teach their children a great life lesson: how one reacts to life’s disappointments matters more than even being on a vacation.


Dr. Kate Roberts is a licensed child and school psychologist and family therapist on the North Shore. Ask a question or make a comment at

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