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Family vacations: Dealing with the unexpected

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Salvaging a family vacation

For all the planning and anticipation, sometimes vacations don't go quite as planned. Maybe it's the weather, the hotel, a stomach virus or any one of a number of things. Sometimes it's things you can control, and sometimes it's things you can't. Sometimes it's simply undue expectations that make a perfectly fine vacation feel not quite perfect. Whatever it is, you may find yourself needing to salvage a family vacation.

Family vacation

Salvaging a family vacation isn't hard, really. It takes a little openness, flexibility, creativity - and a large dose of humor. One family's disaster is another family's adventure, and it's far more fun being on adventure side of the equation!

1Set appropriate expectations

Before you even leave on your family vacation, set appropriate expectations with everyone. No matter how well planned and wonderful the vacation should be and could be, no vacation can be absolutely 100% perfect. As much as everyone needs time away from the daily routine, setting up the vacation as the ultimate vacation for everyone will only lead to disappointment. Whether it's a regional amusement park tour or hanging out at Grandma's beach house or any vacation, make sure everyone knows that, as much as they are looking forward to the time, they must be realistic about it being a family vacation that needs to balance everyone's needs.

As a parent who likely planned the vacation, have some strategies in your back pocket in case things don't go quite as planned - have an idea of plan B...and maybe plan C and D, too.

2Controllable versus uncontrollable

Recognize that there are elements of your family vacation that you will be able to control - and elements that you won't. You can't control the weather and you can't control the size of the crowds at the beach, but you may be able to control when in the day you go to the beach to adapt to the crowds and the weather. Turn that picnic lunch in to a picnic dinner.

Similarly, with things like hotels or cars or flights or any number of things, think about what you can control and act on those things...and try to move past thing you can't control. And talk to your kids in the process to help them move on, too, in spite of any disappointment.

3Regroup and relaunch

Some vacation mishaps require a total regroup and relaunch of the vacation. You may need to launch the vacation in a whole different direction or at a whole different time, but that's okay. It may even lead you in a whole different direction and result in a vacation better than the first you imagined.

For example, if the car breaks down on a driving vacation and your stuck someplace for several days waiting for the repair, don't let the family sulk and do nothing, find the fun and make the best of the situation. You may like this pass-through place more than you imagined.

4Look at the bigger picture

Why do you go on vacation as a family? Is it to go see and do things, or is it, at least in part, to spend time as a family? Most likely, even if the vacation isn't going as planned, you are still spending time as a family. You still have the opportunity to make memories with you kids. Focusing on the bigger picture can help you see that, as much as you wanted to do this, that, or the other thing, being together as a family without the usual daily interruptions, still has value.

5If all else fails

Sometimes, in all your efforts to be resilient and flexible, vacations just don't work. Someone gets sick, or the rain truly never lets up - sometimes you just have to let it go completely, go home and learn to laugh about it later. A sense of humor can go a long way, and help our kids develop an appropriate perspecitive on vacations, too.

Not all vacations are terrific. Some are fine, some are not what we expected, and some are total disasters. Before you even go on vacation, be prepared to make the best of any situation, and even some the most comically mis-fired efforts won't feel like disasters, but adventures.?

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