Peaceful Family Roadtrips - Tips for a Fight-Free Vacation

Filed under: Just For Moms, Work Life, Resources

Every summer when our boys were young, we loaded them in the car before dawn and took off for our annual family vacation in Colorado. And every summer on departure day I was in a bad mood. Why? Well, for weeks I'd been planning the trip -- researching accommodations, making reservations, gathering and packing the kids' clothing and gear, arranging for the mail to be stopped, dogs to be fed, and plants to be watered, planning en-route snacks and menus, and creating games and activities to occupy the kids during the trip. And what did Bill do? He worked until the last minute, threw his clothes and fishing gear in the car and jumped behind the wheel, ready for a relaxing vacation.

Believe me, I was not a happy camper, which tainted Bill's attitude and spoiled more than a few vacations. And I regret those years. You see, as I began to look at my role in our family from the perspective of a manager, I realized that a good manager -- of a business or a family -- understands the importance of educating team members. I had expected Bill to read my mind, to instinctively know all that preparing for a trip entails and what he could do to help -- and that's just not fair.

Instead of continuing to finger-point and stew over unmet expectations, we carved out time to discuss how we could work more as a team. Together we created planning sheets and checklists, and divvied vacation prep tasks. That year marked the end of our unpleasant vacation routine. In hopes of helping you avoid vacation altercations, I share the guidelines that can make your vacations a lot more fun.

Car Games

    Do you drive the minivan with the DVD player or without? If you're taking a car trip this summer and constantly telling your kids to "watch the corn grow" or seriously limit road screen time like you do at home, check out these great resources to get those car trip kids engaged and happy. Preparing a bag of tricks ahead of time beats having them stare blankly at SpongeBob for hours.

    jmwests/Flickr

    Foil Art and Cooties
    Moms MiniVan offers a host of fantastic ideas when the road-going gets rough. Foil Art easily kills a hundred miles for any princess or prince. Then fold together and decorate Cootie Catchers for an instant seventh-grade flashback – pick a color, pick a number, he loves me, he loves me not.

    Bev Sklar

    License Plate Hunt
    Print out this license plate map and pass out the crayons. Kids love spotting license plates on the road. If you're missing obscure states, head to Disneyworld and forage the parking lot. You may finally learn those state and capitals, too.

    superfem/Flickr

    Arts and Crafts
    Color Wonder brand markers, coloring books and sheets are a magical road trip invention. Our family loves passing around a Color Wonder blank sheet, taking turns adding our artistic inspiration to the picture. Artistic gender differences are priceless.

    Crayola

    On-The-Go Games
    Moms MiniVan has a printable Battleship game, but if your kids prefer sinking a real plastic ship, try this travel version or pick from tons of offerings at Board Game Central.

    unclesgames.com

1. If an apology is in order, offer one. If you expected your spouse to know exactly what you wanted him to do or if you spewed criticism because you thought his attempt at teamwork was subpar, start there. Ask for his forgiveness -- even if you feel 90 percent of the problem was his. Taking care of your 10 percent will go a long way toward tearing down any walls of resentment that have built up over time and paving the way for better vacations.

2. Don't wait until the last minute to prepare. Talk through details together and create a plan. Set your departure date and work back. Discuss how and who will research, follow through with actions -- make reservations, print boarding passes or service the car and fill it up with gas, gather children's gear, and such.

3. Scour the Internet for coupons and travel discounts. There are lots of family travel deals out there (at least one upside of the down economy). Research which theme parks and local restaurants at your destination have coupons and kids' menus.

4. Give yourself permission to relax. A vacation won't change your life in a week, but it can be refreshing if you let it be. Don't fall prey to free-floating guilt that says you should be working or doing something more useful, or that you shouldn't be having such a good time

5. Don't overplan. Do less than you think you can during the trip so that no one comes home exhausted. Schedule alone time for family members who need it.

6. Don't miss Part 2. Next week I will write about how to reduce backseat bickering and keep kids occupied on a road trip.

Whatever your family does this summer, remember: calamity and confusion happen. Tires go flat, flights are cancelled, and kids throw up when you're least prepared. Rise to the circumstances. In addition to the memories being made, you're passing on something even more important than a flawless vacation: the life skills your children absorb when you adroitly field whatever challenges pop up. And it's easier to do so with grace when you and your spouse are already getting along.

Have you and your spouse had vacation conflicts? How have you worked things out?

Kathy Peel was first called America's Family Manager by Oprah. She is the author of twenty books that have sold more than 2 million copies. Her Family Manager System helps families work together as a team to make home a happy, organized place.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.