Why Are Family Vacations So Stressful? How to Stay Sane

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Family vacations can be stressful. Here’s some expert tips to help you stay sane and have a more enjoyable family holiday.

You may start a family vacation with the most positive intentions, but it doesn’t take much for your vacation plans to go off the rails. Family vacations can turn into family nightmares at the drop of a hat, and there are many reasons why.

Knowing exactly what can cause a family vacation to be stressful can help you prevent these situations. After traveling for over 40 years, and traveling with kids for over 20, we know what can help make trips easier and more enjoyable.

Family vacations are stressful for a variety of reasons: 

  • Money concerns.
  • Physical and mental exhaustion. 
  • Kid-related antics.
  • Unmet expectations. 

Families can stay sane by budgeting, getting some rest and downtime, preparing kids for travel, controlling their expectations, and more.

Stressful vacations may seem unavoidable, but we beg to differ. Planning can make all the difference between an enjoyable holiday and a stressful one.

Read on for more info on why family vacations are stressful, along with useful, actionable tips you can use to stay sane.

Why Are Family Holidays So Stressful? Top 4 Reasons

Wondering why vacations are stressful? We’ve got you covered.

If you’ve ever been on a stressful family vacation, you know that the stress can seem to creep up suddenly and last throughout the break.

There are several reasons why this happens. In this section, we will go over 4 of those reasons. You don’t have tp be miserable on a family vacation.

Stress Over Money

A couple budgeting on table with calculators, pen and paper, and jar with travel money.
Money is a number 1 stressor | Photo” Kitzcorner /depositphotos.com”

Family vacations require considerably more money than a couple’s vacation or solo adventure.

There are more mouths to feed, more plane tickets to buy, more hotel rooms to book, and the list goes on.

When the costs begin to add up, and you discover that your vacation fund is getting slim, stress can start to creep in. 

Stress over money is one of the top reasons why vacations are stressful.

It can be hard to balance every day bills, with saving up for a trip.

Or in the worst cases, you run out of money entirely and have to reach out for money help from the family or pay for sizable purchases on a high-interest credit card. There’s no wonder why you can end up feeling anxious. 

Not only can it cost a small fortune to pay for all of the family member’s expenses, but you have to take time off of work to take the vacation. If your vacation isn’t paid, that brings on more financial pressure. 

With money-related pressures on your mind, it can be hard to  focus on the positive parts of your vacation.

That’s why it’s important to create a budget, and develop a savings plan. More on that later in this article.

⭐️ Grab more ideas on ways to save money on flights for families

Infographic of 5 reasons why family vacations are stressful. Dollar Sign (Money), exhaustion and jet lag, kid antics, unmet holiday expectations, organizing all the details.

Exhaustion Breeds Stress

Family of mom, dad and child tired at airport.
Travel can be exhausting | Photo: “Ischukigor / depositphotos”

No matter how excited you are to arrive at your destination, getting there can be extremely stressful.

Travel delays, waking up early, kids (and parents) off their usual schedules, different time zones, lost luggage. All these can have an impact on energy and patience levels.

In the moment you might even want to scream I HATE FAMILY VACATIONS!

We’ve all been there, at the end of our ropes with travel, and the demands of our kids and/or partners.

Jet-lag is also a real thing. When you’re jet-lagged, you become exhausted, which doesn’t mesh well with travel demands related to lodging, planning activities, and traveling within a country you aren’t familiar with. 

If you have a large family, you may have been tired before you even boarded your flight. Between packing, figuring out what you can / can’t bring on the plane, then booking travel, and getting to the airport on time, you may already feel like you can drop at any moment. 

Anyone who is exhausted might have a short temper and feel anxious. No one is able to handle the same degree of adversity as they would if they were well-rested. 

This is one of the main reasons why vacations are so stressful.

5 pages of free travel planner. Grab it here.

Kid-Related Antics Bring on Stress

Mom looking stessed holding crying toddler
Traveling with kids can be stressful | Photo: “nicoletainescou / depositphotos”

When taking a vacation with children, you can expect a bit of stress, especially if they are not used to traveling far from home.

With totally new experiences, kids’ excitement runs high, and their energy levels run higher. Meltdowns can and do happen.

If you are a family travelling with children under five years old, this can add additional pressures, given children in this age group can be difficult to handle in new situations.

It can be stressful to keep your littles (or teens) entertained on the plane or in the car for hours.

Or to stop your kids from fighting with each other at the waterpark, hotel room, breakfast, or every other moment it can feel like some days. They’re supposed to be grateful for this opportunity, right?!?!?!

Not to mention meltdowns, a parents worst nightmare. Especially when on a plane or train, or enclosed space with many other people staring at you. We’ve all been there.

Any situations with kids in the mix have the potential to be stressful, and you can expect that potential to be more remarkable when you’re on vacation. 

Unmet Expectations Create Stressful Family Vacations

Middle aged woman with an angry face on the beach giving a thimbs down sign, holding watermelon.
Things don’t always turn out as planned on vacations | Photo: “Krakenimages / depositphotos”

You expected your Jamaican getaway to be the picture of perfection, but you feel short changed when you realize that it’s nowhere near perfect. Lofty vacation expectations can stress anyone out. It could even ruin your vacation. 

The same goes for situations where your expectations were not off-base, and you’ve been a victim of false advertisement.

No one wants to stay somewhere that does not live up to the hype, and when you have no other option than to make it work anyway, this can be less than ideal.

But sometimes they do make the best family stories afterwards.

Why is Planning a Vacation so Stressful?

Planning a vacation can be stressful due to financial concerns, plus organizing all the details of accommodations, activities, food, packing lists and making travel arrangements.

Adding extra tasks to an already busy life managing work and/or kids can feel overwhelming, and add to the mental stress of your daily to do lists.

Do you need help planning your next Vacation?

Grab your very own printable Travel Planner (50+ pages each) below, to make planning your next adventure easy & actually fun.

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How to Survive A Family Vacation & Stay Sane

Mom, Dad, young boy of Asian ethnicity looking out side windows of car.
How to stay sane on family vacation.
Stay sane on your Family Holidays Photo by: “kate_sept2004 via canva.com”

Now that you know some of the most substantial family vacation stressors, let’s look at several steps that you can take to stay sane on your family vacation. 

Use these tips for how to enjoy vacation with family, for better, more relaxing and fun adventures with your kids.

Create a Budget and Stick to It

Jar filled with money labelled travel, on a map, with a passpport.
Create a travel budget & stick to it! | Photo: “surasaki / depositphotos”

Since money can be one of the most significant sources of stress on a family vacation, we will first address it. To prevent any money issues on your family vacation, you should create a family travel budget and stick to it. Try our free online travel budget calculator.

How to Create a Family Travel Budget

Creating a budget does not have to be complicated. Read the following steps to find out how to create a no-stress family vacation budget: 

  • Determine the maximum amount that you want to spend. Your maximum amount will be determined by the amount of money you have saved or how much you’re able to save per month for your vacation fund. 
  • Choose a destination that will fit within that budget. If you cannot afford a trip to France or Dubai, choose a more affordable destination. A quick Google search for destinations under a certain dollar amount will give you some good options! Even a camping trip or a weekend trip to a National Park can be a fun option to get away from the everyday grind.
  • Factor in activities and extras. Costs for flights and hotels may be the largest travel expenses in most cases. However, you should also budget for specific activities you want to do and allocate some money towards souvenirs and extras. 
  • Track your budget. Keep track of your budget by using a simple smartphone app like Travel Spend or prepare your budget ahead of time with these easy to use budgeting sheets.
  • Find ways to save money on travel: there are lots of money saving tips that can help decrease the cost of your family holiday. Include these in your planning.

If you prepare a budget and then throw caution to the wind and spend frivolously, you are welcoming stress into your vacation.

So, it’s imperative to stick to the budget to stave off anxiety. Without the pressure of a dwindling bank account, you can free your mind and better enjoy your vacation.

💰 Check out some simple ways to build your family travel fund.

Combat Exhaustion with Naps & Downtime

Take time to nap & relax on your family holiday | Photo: “anyaberkut / depositphotos”

It may seem less than adventurous to nap on your vacation. However, since tired travelers are more prone to crankiness, taking some downtime can recharge your batteries for the next adventures.

If you happen to have a chance to sleep on your flight, that would be ideal, but this is not always possible.

Alternatively, you can nap or have quiet time, after you’ve settled into your hotel room.

If you can get the kids to take a nap, they’ll be less likely to fuss and whine while out on vacation activities. 

Remember, children rely on the adults to regulate their environment and moods. Planning naps, or downtime will give everyone a chance to recharge.

Make sure to take care of yourself on the trip too! Trade off childcare responsibilities when possible, and take down time for yourself, even if it is only in short chunks.

This is an essential tip for how to survive a family vacation.

🏖️ You may also like our Family Beach Vacation Tips.

Prepare Your Children Beforehand

Asian family of three planning a trip with daughter.
Get your kids involved in trip planning | Photo: “Nattakorn / depositphotos”

Many young children tend to act out on vacation in response to their regular routine being thrown out the window. Other children act out due to extreme excitement. 

  • Get them involved in the planning – So they’ll know what to expect, and be more on board with your vacation itinerary, and activities.

  • Talk about expectations: Talk with your children before the vacation about the social behaviour you are looking for, throughout the trip.

  • Prepare them for different situations ahead of time: Prepare them for situations that you may encounter as a family and let them know how you want them to act. You could even do some role playing for different situations, or create a small booklet that shows what will happen each day, so they know what to expect.

  • Keep a regular routine: Try to keep your family to as regular a routine as possible, and bring a comfort item from home they can snuggle with, like a stuffy or small blanket. Kids can find it disorienting to be completely uprooted from their regular routines, activities and home environment.
  • Let them know what will happen that day: You can also give them a verbal rundown of what will happen each day and include them in the decision making. This will calm some children by giving them structure, some control and understanding about the flow of the day.

Most of all try and be patient and understanding. This is new for everyone.

Keep Expectations Under Control

Reality Check ahead street sign in front of a mountainous road.
Avoid unrealistic expectations for your vacations | Photo: “gustavofrazao / deposiphotos”

When going on a vacation with your family, it’s important to keep your expectations under control. This is not to say that you should have no expectations, but making a conscious effort to control them will help you have a more enjoyable trip.

It’s so easy when you have only one special vacation planned every so often to want everything to go perfectly as planned; no meltdowns, no delays, perfect weather, no family hiccups.

S*!t happens! It’s not going to be absolutely amazing every moment.

One of the great things about travel is the unpredictability, and it is often the perfect opportunity to try out being more flexible. 

Your  trip does not have to be perfect, and probably won’t be in every moment. And that’s ok, because there will be some wonderful moments that make it all worthwhile.

Tips to help keep expectations under control

Here are a few tips to help keep your expectations reasonable:

  • Plan only one event a day – Kids get cranky and stressed with too many activities and vastly different routines. Plan less, and enjoy your family vacation more.
  • Share responsibilities between the adults – Divide parenting duties & travel planning, so each adult knows what they are supposed to do. Maybe one parent packs the snacks, daypack and takes the kids for potty breaks, while the other drives, parks the car and pays for activities. Make sure each adult is ok with the division of responsibilities.
  • Prepare your kids for school work expectations – If your childs school or teacher expects them to keep up with homework while you are away, make sure your kids know ahead of time. Schedule short amounts of time during the holiday to complete. Check in with their teacher and school BEFORE you leave, to discuss expectations. Ask if the school considers a family vacation an excused absence, to help you plan as well.
  • Choose age appropriate activities – If you have a variety of age groups, make sure to include activities that are suitable for everyone throughout the trip. 
  • Have age appropriate expectations – A young child may not be able to sit for a long time while the adults enjoy a fancy meal, or take in an educational tour, or do 5 activities a day. Make sure your expectations are reasonable. 
  • Take some down time / quiet time each day – allowing time for decompression and connection with your kids each day can let you know how they are doing. Ask them about their favourite / least favourite things about the day. Give them a snuggle.
  • Feed yourselves regularly – Don’t wait for the “best restaurant” you  just have to try, a 30 minute taxi ride away. Kids (and adults) can get cranky when they are hungry or go wild with too many sweets. Make sure to pack protein rich snacks with you, and eat regularly.
  • Focus on why family vacations are important to your family members – Shift your mind away from what’s gone “wrong”. Instead taking a moment to remember the reasons why you are traveling together can help create a sense of peace and acceptance.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff – You are on vacation. Try and make the best of it, and see if you can turn those lemons into lemonade. See if your family can turn the disappointments, change of plans, hiccups into something positive. Or at least a good family vacation story to tell for years to come.

It’s also crucial not to blow up your kids’ vacation expectations. Kids’ lively imaginations can cause their expectations to easily grow out of proportion leading to disappointment after arrival. 

Being reasonable with your expectations will result in a happier family vacation for everyone. 

Free Family Travel Printables fanned out

Final Thoughts: Travel Tips to Stay Sane on Family Trips

Now you know about several causes of family vacation stress, and you have some tips that you can use to reduce stress. We hope this article is helpful to you in your family travel endeavors. 

Do you have any favourite tips for enjoying a stress free family vacation? Let us know in the comments below, or connect with us on social media. We’d love to hear from you!

Related Family Vacation Articles:

Parents with two young kids looking at map on top of an oceanside hill.
Family on the beach raising their hands. Brilliant & super useful travel tips with kids, how to stay sane on holidays.

Why Are Family Vacations So Stressful? How to Stay Sane

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  1. Totally love this write up! Vacations with kids are hard, and rarely feel like a vacation. I love the idea of naps and only planning one activity a day. Such great advice.

  2. Such great tips. Our kids are done with naps now, but when we had babies, we would just plan on “nap time” and one of us going back to the room (or all of us for some down time). Having it scheduled in was great so we didn’t feel like we were missing anything!

    1. As I get older, I feel like I need to schedule naps myself. LOL. Great tip to schedule them, so you didn’t miss out on anything!

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