We are traveling, someone is hungry and cranky and gets snappy, maybe someone rented a van that was too small for all the people and luggage. Maybe someone has planned too much in a day. Maybe someone completely misread the map and now we need to back track a 1/2 mile to get to our destination, on already exhausted feet. (Not that ANY of these things has EVER happened to us or were my fault!) How do we re group as a family and go on to enjoy the rest of the trip when these things happen?
I recently read an essay in the Boston Globe called Turn It Around by Mary Rae. She was recalling a time when her now grown daughter was a toddler and after a particularly trying day they decided "hit an imaginary reset button and got our day back on track". I loved this essay, because this is the exact terminology my own family has used for years when we are having a difficult moment during our travels. Families can often squabble, and sometimes these squabbles can simmer for hours or even days. Traveling often puts people out of their comfort zone even more. Frustrations or a run of bad travel luck (think cancelled planes or bad weather) can cause a family to fracture while on vacation. But unlike at home, each day, each moment traveling in another place is special and was an investment both in time and money to get there! Losing even an hour to grumpiness or arguing can feel like too big a price to pay.
When our own family starts to come unglued while traveling, we have developed what we call the "family reset button". After a bad patch, we've all learned to try to get past the bad stuff (usually after a good meal when we can think more clearly!) When the girls were little we would all stand around like a family of cartoon super heroes about to "change" into our alter egos and literally push a spot on our stomachs to "reset" our cranky family dynamic. No one needed to get into detailed apologies (or worse blaming), no one needed to feel bad for being the one that brought down the group mood with their bad moment. It was understood that we would all go back to the place where we would be positive and supportive of one another. In a way we really did become those super heroes, saving our own vacation from negativity and beyond!!
Preventing Family Melt Downs
Of course, even better than rescuing a vacation from family squabbles, is preventing the melt downs in the first place! Here are some tips we might have learned the hard way about how to prevent inevitable stress and and rifts that can happen while traveling with anyone!
1. Get everyone's opinion: I usually do the trip planning, but no matter who I travel with, I always find out the 1 or 2 must "do's" for each person. Planning an itinerary that meets everyone's dreams for the destination goes a long way to getting everyone to be more tolerant of the other family members choices! My husband and daughter love forts, but our oldest daughter and I only tolerate trooping around old walls that we can barely imagine were once a building because we know that they will tolerate our lingering over a favorite piece in the art museum.
2.Go your own way: When dealing with divergent interests or goals or a large group, don't hesitate to communicate in advance about the ability of different members of the party doing different things at the same time. Sometimes this might be because the youngest can't go zip lining, but the oldest ones don't want to miss it! We traveled with one of my favorite cousins and her husband to celebrate our anniversaries. We wanted to spend some time together, but it was also really important for each couple to include lots of couple time to focus on the very person we were celebrating the anniversary with and ensure there were would be many more anniversaries!
3. Feed and water the crew regularly: There is little that will torpedo a mood and group dynamic quicker than hunger or dehydration. It's so important to hydrate while on vacation, even in cold places where the dry air and wearing heavy clothing in and out of heated buildings can cause dehydration almost as easily as the hot sun! We always carry pocket snacks and water with us when touring. And we have learned to recognize when someone is flagging (especially the oldest and youngest in the party) and know if it's time to take a break in a cafe or even stop at the corner store for a snack!
4. Try to remind everyone to be on the "same team" even when speed bumps appear: If you have ever watched "Amazing Race", CBS's reality travel show, you will see the teams that work the best are those that have learned to work together, don't blame each other, know and trust in each other's strengths and try to work as a team to over come the planned adversity. Sometimes when we travel it can feel like some Amazing Race producer has secretly planned speed bumps and detours! While that may not be true, when all of us try to work together to realize that sometimes "stuff happens" and that the best way to move past it is to not blame, or snipe, but to rely on each person's best skills to get us out of the situation. In our case, it might be me using my social skills for chatting up a gate agent to get information about a flight delay, or Jeff taking over the navigation if we've got lost and my trusting his sense of direction! Once while in Budapest, 4 of us were at an intersection wondering which way to go to get back to a Struedal place we had seen earlier. I knew the other 3 were far better navigators than I so I didn't even offer an opinion at a four way intersection, trusting their better navigation skills. Unfortunately, all 3 of them pointed in separate directions! We all had a good laugh and then tried one and then another direction till we found what we were looking for!
If we don't succeed in remembering to be on the same team, (and we often don't!) well, then you might see us all standing in a circle at the airport pressing our "reset buttons" !