Resources / For families

Relax! Your summer vacation doesn’t have to be perfect

boy thinking next to suitcase
Anna Gitlin, MSW, LICSW
Anna Gitlin, MSW, LICSW

Apr 7, 2023

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to have a “perfect” summer vacation. Here’s why that’s a myth…and how to give your family a break.

Ideally, a vacation is a break from your daily routine and a blissful reset. In reality? It can come with a lot of baggage, even without an overnight stay. We put pressure on ourselves to spend vacations perfectly, as if boredom, sibling squabbles, lost luggage, and flat tires don’t exist. Family vacations can also feel like a test of our parenting skills, like only “good” parents will be able to pull off “good” vacations. (Not true, by the way.)But any trip or staycation can be messy, boring, stressful, and not even close to what you hoped for — and still be pretty wonderful. Just keep these 5 tips in mind.

1. Come up with a goal 

Before your vacation starts, get clear on what everybody in your family wants to do or see.(Or avoid.) Don’t forget to come up with at least one shared family goal. Keep it realistic. Just getting to your destination safely and without spilling Goldfish crackers in the backseat totally counts. 

2. Build in some flexibility

You may be tempted to cram in as many new activities as you can. But kids, especially young ones, are easily overstimulated. Plan activities that are a good fit for your child’s age, personality, and interests. Then, be prepared to shift gears when you need to. It’s okay to leave Disney World early and just chill at the hotel pool. You’re still spending time together…just not like you originally planned.

3. Find some humor

Bad weather. Canceled flights. Stomach bugs. We’ve all had a vacation where something (or maybe everything) goes wrong. And naturally, you feel disappointed, angry, or let’s be honest, betrayed by the universe. But laughing can help you manage a tough experience. If using humor doesn’t feel right, you can acknowledge your effort (“Well, we tried our best to make the flight”) or admit to your kids that yes, sometimes, things just suck.

4. Don’t give self-care a break

We tend to focus on what we want to do on vacation, but ask yourself: how do you want to feel?  For instance, if your goal is to relax, maybe you suggest low-key activities your family can all do together. If you’re craving alone time, can you ask someone you trust to care for your child an hour each day? Vacations require a lot of extra juggling. Make sure you don’t reach the end more exhausted than when you started. 

5. Revisit a not-great vacation

Instead of wishing a bad trip or staycation never happened, talk about it with your family. There may be an opportunity to reframe how it went and realize that not every moment was a complete disaster. That beach vacation you thought was ruined by a thunderstorm? Maybe your child was psyched to see lightning strikes off the coast. And if no one in your family can think of anything they enjoyed? Remind each other that this is only one vacation. Next time will be better — even if it’s not exactly what you planned.