Family Travel Hacks: When Things Don’t Go as Planned

As a family we love to travel. For the past few years, we have enjoyed a road trip in the spring and a holiday abroad in the fall. Most recently, we spent two weeks in New England exploring our nation’s history and many of the iconic landmarks.

Over the years, our style of travel has evolved. Yes, much of this is due to the fact that the kids are getting older and we no longer have to worry about diaper bags, strollers, and carseats. There have also been many minor changes that we have made along the way that have made a huge difference in how we get along and how smoothly things come together.

Arguments & Frustrations

We’ve all heard family travel horror stories. You likely have a few tales of woe and angst to share yourself. Who doesn’t? Noting spoils a vacation day faster than arguments and spats about little things that we often have no control over.

Family Travel Hacks: Vacation Debriefs for When Things Don't Go As Planned @EvaVarga.netA Day in Manhattan

We enjoyed good weather on most of our days – many were overcast but only one day brought rainfall. We were in Manhattan on this wet Monday and our plan for the day was to spend the morning at the Natural History Museum and then walk through Central Park to the Guggenheim where we would spend the afternoon.

We had pre-purchased tickets via CityPASS and as it was a Monday, we envisioned exploring the museums at our leisure. We often travel in September when most children are in school and have thereby become accustomed to this luxury. My daughter, the budding artist, had been particularly looking forward to seeing the Guggenheim Museum as she had previously visited Peggy Guggenheim’s collection in Venice.

The rain, as it turned out, changed the plans of many other in the city that day. We arrived at the steps of the Natural History Museum before they opened and very quickly, as the rain intensified, the crowd on the steps grew. Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait long before the doors opened and we funneled into the galleries. We soon came to realize, however, that with so many people it was difficult to really see the exhibits at a comfortable pace.

We saw what we could and then headed over to the Guggenheim. A special event closed off much of Central Park and thus we were forced to circle around the perimeter – extending our walk much farther than anticipated. When we reached Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic building, we were soaked. Frustrations rose – we were all very hungry – and tempers began to flare. We quickly grabbed a bite to eat from a street vendor and proceeded indoors.

Huge crowds were here as well and to make it worse, the spiral gallery was closed due to changing exhibits. We were thereby confined to one temporary exhibit, But a Storm Is Blowing from Paradise.  We even opted to skip Maurizio Cattelan’s gold toilet as there was a two hour wait.

Family Travel Hacks: Vacation Debriefs for When Things Don't Go As Planned @EvaVarga.netWhat are Vacation Debriefs? 

One of the most effective tools we use to improve how well we connect with one another is the family debrief. When we are home, this generally is a short conversation at the dinner table whereupon we each share what we are grateful for and give kudos to another for their support and our inspiration.

Daily Vacation Debriefs

When we are traveling, our debrief is more in-depth. In addition to expressing our gratitude, we also discuss a series of questions. Here’s a peak into our responses over dinner that evening in Manhattan.

What did you like most about the day?

  • Unanimous agreement: Natural History Museum

What did you like the least about the day?

  • Jeffrey: The crowds
  • Geneva: The crowds – I wanted to sketch the wooly mammoth skeleton at the Natural History Museum but I couldn’t.
  • Eva: The crowds
  • Patrick: The Guggenheim – I was disappointed. There wasn’t much to see and the temporary exhibit we did see was just too weird for my taste.

What could we have done together to make it a better day?

  • Jeffrey: I wish we had brought snacks
  • Geneva: We should have checked the museum websites
  • Eva: We could have communicated better
  • Patrick: Let’s try an impromptu huddles next time things go awry rather than plowing forward with our plan. We may want to make a change.

Holiday Wrap-up

In addition to our daily debrief in the evening, we also wrap-up our family holiday with a more extensive debrief. This conversation typically takes place during our flight layover.

  • What’s the highlight of trip?
  • What’s most surprising about the trip?
  • If you were to recommend this trip to others, what words of advice would you offer?
  • Where would you most like to go next? 

Strengthening Family Bonds

We have all come to look forward to these family debriefs. My daughter says,

“They really help us to connect better with one another. We learn what things make each of us frustrated. We help each other find strategies to overcome these frustrations and we learn to let things go. We can then focus on the fun and better enjoy the experience.”

Looking Forward

This post is part of a series entitled Family Travel Hacks whereby I will be sharing tips and tricks we have learned over the years for successful family travel. You’ll find ideas for:

  • trip planning
  • packing
  • airports
  • car rentals
  • improving communication

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About Eva Varga

Eva is passionate about education. She has extensive experience in both formal and informal settings. She presently homeschools her two young children, teaches professional development courses through the Heritage Institute, and writes a middle level secular science curriculum called Science Logic. In addition to her work in education, she is an athlete, competing in Masters swimming events and marathons. In her spare time she enjoys reading, traveling, learning new languages, and above all spending time with her family. ♥

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