How to get the most enjoyment out of your family vacation

The keys: leave expectations, social media and, most of all, work at home. Just take a vacation.

We are the in middle of family vacation season.

Kids and parents look forward to their holiday travels — to the San Juans, the Cascades, the coast, Eastern Washington, or visiting family in distant states.

Some families have yearly vacation spots. When our kids were growing up, we went to the same town on Cape Cod in Massachusetts every year. We all anticipated our two weeks at the ocean with excitement. And when we arrived, our daughters wanted to do everything they did “last year.” Children love predictability and repetition. Even teenagers, who love to be snarky, want to go to the same miniature golf course. After all, they’re still kids.

It’s hard not to let anticipation get the better of us. Kids and parents can still get sick, whether they are camping in the Cascades or hanging out at home. Younger children can have bad nights, when they’re awake and crying every few hours. On one trip to Cape Cod, both girls brought along several thousand head lice to the beach. We spent hours at the local laundromat washing everything they touched and combing out their thick hair. Yuck!

Long car trips can be a challenge for some children. My youngest daughter got carsick on windy roads. She wanted to stop and go to the bathroom every 30 minutes! Easily bored, she wanted to know when we would get there 20 minutes after we took off in the car. On plane trips, her ability to stay in one place lasted about 45 minutes. I spent hours walking up and down the aisle with her while she happily greeted all of the passengers. It was an adventure.

So how can we make family travel and vacations more enjoyable?

Leave your expectations at home. Anticipation can bring disappointment. On Cape Cod, it can rain for a week in the summer. Some years those low pressure systems just seemed to hang out and settle over our vacation house. My oldest daughter was usually up at 5 a.m., whether she was at the beach or at home. Of course, we were all excited about our trip, but I kept my expectations in check. I knew that there would be some lovely moments — but I also know there would be some unexpected unpleasant ones too. My goal: to be in the moment and to be fully present.

Leave work at work. Every year this gets harder. Somehow, big corporations think that we should be available, accessible and responsive 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Your text message notifications from work don’t stop when you’re at the beach. Your work email still keeps rolling in, like the waves at the ocean. These were not problems for me when I had young children — cell phones weren’t commercially available and email wasn’t a thing. But it sure is now.

Tell your boss that you won’t be available. Your “out of office” email message can say that you won’t have access to email. If there’s an emergency, they can call you. But telephone calls are “old school.” You probably won’t get any. Protecting family time is far more important than anything else. Your family will be annoyed with you if you are working all the time when you’re supposed to be hanging out with them.

Leave social media, video games and devices at home. OK, I’m good with a device in the car to keep little hands and eyes occupied. But spending precious family time with little eyes glued to “Daniel the Tiger” (or “Tigee” as my granddaughters love to say) isn’t a vacation. Let everyone take a break from scrolling through Instagram photos and Facebook feeds.

In other words, take a vacation. You won’t regret it.

Paul Schoenfeld is a psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at

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