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10 Secrets for Surviving a Family Vacation

The best-selling author of The Happiness Project reveals 10 must-know secrets for surviving your next family vacation.

WebMD Feature from "Good Housekeeping" Magazine

By Gretchen RubinGood Housekeeping Magazine Logo

Was it Jerry Seinfeld who said, "There's no such thing as fun for the whole family"? I disagree — but family vacations can definitely be a challenge. I've found these 10 strategies help keep that time fun.

1. Make time for your own kind of fun.

I've learned that I need to make time for the activities that I find fun on vacation — which in my case means reading. If I spend my entire day chasing my children with a bottle of sunscreen, or going to a movie about chipmunks, I'm not going to be having a good time. I need some time for my own kind of fun. Along the same lines, sometimes I think, Why am I just lying here, reading, on such a beautiful day? I should be going for a run/playing in the ocean/learning to play tennis. I love to read, and now I let myself read as much as I can get away with, given the realities of a family vacation. Everyone will have more fun when everyone has fun, so it’s not selfish to prioritize some time for yourself.

2. Leave plenty of time to get where you need to be.

Nothing takes the pleasure out of a vacation faster than missing a plane, arriving late to a show, standing in an enormously long line because you arrived at a peak time, or having to keep screaming, "Hurry up! Hurry up!" I've identified a speed rule: When you’re trying to get out the door, for every child, add 20 minutes to the time it would usually take to accomplish any action. (The same applies to slowpoke adults.) Set your departure time with this in mind.

3. Document happy memories.

One of the best ways to make ourselves happy in the present is to recall happy times from the past, so making the effort to take pictures and videos, keep trip books, or gather souvenirs (meaningful ones, not just knick-knacks from a gift shop) will really boost your happiness later. It can feel like a lot of work to haul the camera around or to put together that scrapbook, but in the end, your efforts will help your whole family remember the past more vividly. It’s worth the trouble. After all, when you think of the possessions in your home, aren’t your photographs and mementos among the most prized?

4. Recognize your children's limits... and your own.

My daughters are cheerful and cooperative — until we keep them at the table too long, mess with their schedules too much, let them skip applying bug repellent, make them walk too far, or let them get too hot or too cold. In the midst of fun, it can be hard to say, "Enough!" but it's a key to keeping things pleasant. In particular, although kids and grandparents beg, "Just this once!" or claim, "They don’t seem tired" or "Everyone can sleep late in the morning," I do everything humanly possible to make sure my kids get the usual amount of sleep, and that I do, too. And I make sure not to let anyone get too hungry. Never again will I travel anywhere without a few bags of almonds, raisins, or dry cereal; I learned that the hard way.

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