The year is long and stressful. From juggling all the responsibilities of your workplace to keeping up with housework, running the kids to and from activities, balancing your social life and partaking in the pressures of holidays, back-to-school shopping and major events, sometimes it can feel like you never get a moment to slow down and relax. Between rushed minivan runs and cold cups of coffee on the overtime desk, you find yourself daydreaming about how it would feel to have a break from everything, to let go of all your stress for a little while.
It’s time for a vacation, isn’t it?
Unfortunately, when those one or two weeks of PTO finally roll around sometime in the summer, the stress of planning and preparing for an ambitious trip can mix with the pressures of everyday life. When you finally make it to your destination, it can be hard to let go of all the lingering worries and workload waiting at home. You have enough to deal with the rest of the year — stress shouldn’t creep into your time off and make your vacation impossible to enjoy.
So how can you plan a stress-free family vacation and balance togetherness, relaxation and fun while leaving life’s pressures behind? Whether it’s a week or a weekend away, here’s how to unwind on vacation, while recharging and enjoying time with your family.
No one can concentrate on relaxing and enjoying themselves when they’re constantly crunching numbers, moving around money and cutting corners to keep track of every transaction during their supposedly stress-free vacation. Operating on an everyday spending budget that’s much too tight because you splurged on a luxury cruise or a trip overseas can have the opposite effect on your attempt to get away — instead, you’ll be too busy worrying about how to feed everyone economically and what activities aren’t astronomical in cost.
On the flip side, throwing caution to the wind and deciding to dive into the most expensive vacation possible — shrugging off both the high price of booking and the racked-up expenses of daily activities — can cause you to spiral into a panic when your bank account is in the red upon your arrival back home.
To avoid even more stress after your vacation, but still make sure the trip lives up to your expectations, choose a destination that doesn’t break your budget. Snorkeling in the Caribbean, skiing in a mountain resort or touring Europe might sound like just the getaway you need. However, if you can’t realistically take such a big financial hit, indulging in an affordable week relaxing on the beach can be even more enjoyable long-term — because you won’t need to worry about every penny.
Nothing amplifies the stress of everyday cares and concerns like being unprepared for a trip at the last minute. The week’s just ended, you have a multi-hour drive ahead of you in the morning, the kids are clamoring for dinner and none of your bags are packed. On top of it all, you realize you have a big pile of dirty laundry waiting for you downstairs. Wait, did you forget to stop the mail? Did you make plans to pay any bills that might come due while you’re gone?
Vacation might be for decompressing and letting go, but for that to happen, you need to get your life in order first. We know — you already have so much to handle in the office, with the kids and in your household, so why should planning a vacation add even more stress to your routine? But leaving all the trip preparation until the last minute puts so much more pressure on you than planning ahead, and letting important tasks go unfinished or unattended can weigh on you while you’re away.
Spending the night before your trip cramming everyone’s suitcases and frantically dashing around to get everything done will get your vacation off to a bad start. You’ll be frazzled, forgetful, exhausted and maybe a bit resentful — and you’ll probably leave something essential at home. A sour mood is no way to get everyone into a stress-free vibe. Plus, you won’t be able to let yourself relax on a comfy beach chair when you’re thinking about the stack of unpaid bills, unfinished chores and overlooked errands that await you at home.
During the week before you leave, get everything organized and ready for your time away. Make a list of everything you’ll need on the trip, and pack at least three days ahead of time. Pick up the house, pay the bills, recruit the neighbor to watch your dog or water your plants and make sure to organize your responsibilities ahead of time. Getting all that extra work done early will make you feel so much better when you have nothing to worry about while you’re away.
Always keep your budget in mind when it comes to choosing your vacation destination — it will give you so much more freedom to relax and do more during your trip. But as far as your hotel or activities, you don’t have to be so rigid in your spending that it takes away enjoyment or opportunities to reward yourself for all your hard work during the rest of the year. This is your vacation, after all, so don’t be afraid to make the most of it.
If you’re on the fence about dropping that extra dough on a hotel suite with a separate room for the kids, instead of a single motel room where you’ll all be crammed together for seven days, do it. If you’re not sure about whether to invest a little more in dinner at that special seafood place you’ve been eyeing since last summer, go for it one evening. Try something you’ve never thought about before, like parasailing, kayaking or a morning at the spa. You can be smart about spending, but let yourself loosen up the purse strings a little so you can relax a lot.
Do you ever feel like you see half the world through the lens of your phone screen? Whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or even Snapchat, it seems like everyone else is always having the time of their lives, being insanely active or chilling like they have no cares in the world.
Your friends from high school are hoofing it on the Appalachian Trail for months at a time, your roommate from college is enjoying a honeymoon in Italy and your relatives are off exploring the globe on business trips — and it feels like you’re doing nothing but trying to keep everything afloat here at home.
With so much action on social media, jealousy, restlessness, anticipation and a fear of missing out can prompt you to try to compensate for what you think you’ve been missing by planning a trip that feels like what you should do, instead of what you really want. Suddenly, you’re hiking a steep mountain or sitting on a flight halfway across the country, revved for the photo ops and the feeling that you’re finally partaking in everyone else’s fun — when you realize you’d be much more relaxed just taking a stroll on the sand and hearing the ocean.
When you’re finally cashing in those hard-earned PTO days for vacation time, don’t think about what others are doing, or what you think will look good to the rest of the world. This is your time to unwind with the ones you love, and sometimes the best places for a relaxing, stress-free family vacation are standby locations with sentimental value — the boardwalk you visited a kid, or a wide beach where you can enjoy an open sky. Don’t worry about what will seem glamorous to others. Instead, think about what feels luxuriously right for you.
When you know you’re getting away for a while, you might feel a little nagging guilt in the back of your mind about what you’re not doing. Your coworkers might have to take on a little extra work to make up for your absence, and maybe you’re worried you’ll fall behind when you return to the office. You might even think you don’t deserve to take a break and enjoy yourself when others are working so hard or can’t afford to do the same. Unfortunately, 9 percent of Americans even neglect to take a vacation because they’re afraid their employers will disapprove.
Let the guilt go. You do your best all year to work hard at your job, keep your household in order, provide for your kids and keep everyone’s schedules functional. You deserve this time off, and you won’t be able to enjoy a relaxing vacation with your family unless you accept that and let yourself revel in it.
Just like you don’t want to procrastinate when it comes to packing and preparing before you leave on your vacation, don’t just drop your bags when you get there and push off the necessity of settling in until mid-week. Yes, you’re living out of a suitcase, but that shouldn’t mean grabbing clothing straight out of the bag when you need it, dumping it on the floor when you’re done and having to frequently drop by the car to pick up things you’ve left in the trunk. Especially when kids are involved, disorganization is a bad plan for beginning your trip.
To avoid the confusion and scramble of rifling around in suitcases and under seats when you need sunscreen or a swimsuit, unpack your things and acclimate to your rental space as soon as you check in. We know the kids will want to hit the pool or search for sand crabs the second they pile out of the car, but let them know the fun will come as soon as you settle into your vacation home.
Unpack each suitcase, organize your clothing in the hotel drawers and closet, put all your toiletries in the bathroom, store the bags away and organize essentials where you know you can find them. Having your space all set up before you dive into the vacation will put you at ease and set the groundwork for relaxation.
Family vacations are all about togetherness, but sometimes all that exposure to each other 24/7 can lead to tension or arguments if you overdo it. It’s great to get in as much quality time with the kids as possible, but make sure you take time for your spouse — or yourself — as well. One of the best tips for how to enjoy time with your family on vacation is creating a balance. That can mean breaking your days into activities you all do together, as well as those that provide a little space for everyone.
For example, maybe you can make mornings pool time. After breakfast together, your kids can have fun splashing in the water while you and your spouse relax in lounge chairs nearby, snatching some time to talk or indulging in some reading or resting. Maybe one of you can supervise the kids, while the other spends some time at the spa or hits the exercise room. You can all enjoy alternately relaxing and playing on the beach together, but maybe you can take turns building sand castles, swimming and going on walks to give each other a little downtime.
Make sure your kids get in some downtime, too. They may seem like they’re ready to just go nonstop, but it’s important to encourage them to slow down now and then by watching a movie together or enjoying a nice dinner out. When everyone experiences a healthy balance of active time, time together, time for themselves and time to decompress, you’ll have the most relaxing, rejuvenating vacation you can remember.
Remember how we mentioned downtime is important? Keep this in the forefront of your mind during your family vacation. Families with athletes, activity-lovers or younger kids sometimes feel the need to cram their vacations full of back-to-back activities to make sure everyone is well-occupied and sleeps soundly each night. But what might seem energizing for your kids can be exhausting for you, and they might not like the endless excitement as much as you think.
If every day of your trip consists of constant activity, from the pool to the beach to bike riding to kayaking to boat rides, rethink. It’s OK to enjoy new experiences and want to treat the family to fun, but space out your activities to make room for rest and recharging in between. Everyone will enjoy the experience more when they’re well-rested and in good spirits.
If you’re like most of us, it’s hard to tear your mind away from worry and stress, even when your body is somewhere else physically. Whether it’s household problems, work responsibilities, social obligations or family issues, you might be bringing extra baggage along on your vacation, no matter how much you’ve prepared for the time off. But don’t let the stressors from home follow you to a new destination — leave them behind and let them go for now. We know — it’s easier said than done, right?
Being unable to release everyday anxieties while you’re on vacation can make it especially difficult for you to engage in the moment and enjoy your surroundings, so it’s a good reason you might want to incorporate meditation into your routine during the trip.
It doesn’t have to be anything unusual or out of your comfort zone, but find activities that can help your body release tension and your mind release stress. Do some morning yoga, go for a daily jog, spend some time in a spa or hot tub or just close your eyes and take deep breaths as you rest in your lounge chair on the beach. Try not to let your mind drift back to worries. Instead, pay attention to how your body feels in the moment — focus on regulating your breathing, observing your sensory experiences and giving your brain a break.
Listen closely — we know how big of a role your laptop or smartphone plays in your daily life. Whether it’s checking work emails, keeping up with your friends on social media, reading the news or doing research, we all have our addictions when it comes to the Internet. But they should play no part in a restful, relaxing, rejuvenating vacation.
It might not seem too out of the ordinary that 76 percent of Americans admitted to checking email and voicemail while on vacation, but this kind of behavior can take a serious toll on your ability to separate from the stress of regular life. Checking work email or keeping up with social media is addictive by nature, and continuing to indulge in these habits during your vacation takes away time from your family and prevents you from resting mentally.
Unless there’s an emergency or pressing need you must attend to, make it a priority on your family vacation to unplug from Wi-Fi, email, texting, social media and any devices usually attached to your hip. Turn your phone off for designated amounts of time each day while you head out to the beach, and leave the laptops and iPads at home. If it’s a necessity, allot a limited timeframe each day to allow yourself or your kids to use devices. Focus on family time, nurturing your relationships, reducing your stress levels and enjoying the environment you’re in.
When you get busy, your sleep is probably the first thing you sacrifice — especially when kids are part of the equation. While you’re on your vacation, you might be tempted to milk every moment for enjoyment or revel in the freedom to stay up late and break out of your routine, but look at it as an opportunity to grab more of those much-needed Z’s, as well.
If your kids are early risers, ask your spouse to take turns waking up with them so one of you catches an extra hour or two of sleep each day. Maybe your kids will enjoy the lazy mornings as well, and you can all sleep in together. If you’re tired and it’s been a fulfilling day, it’s OK to go to bed early. Give your mind and body the rest they need and crave during your family vacation.
Nothing can be more stressful and discouraging than making the drive home at the end of your vacation to scramble back into your routine the next morning. Not only will you be tired and out-of-sorts at work, but you’ll stress about making good time on the trip back, and a heavy sense of dread will probably trail behind you all the way home.
Instead of partying or playing until the very last moment of your vacation and then switching straight to business mode when it’s time to work again, build in an extra day at the end of the trip to give you time to readjust. Enjoy your week, savor your time and then pack up Saturday and make your leisurely way home, looking at it as part of the vacation experience. Use Sunday to settle back in at home, catch up on responsibilities and rest before facing the world again on Monday.
If you’re still wondering how to reduce stress on vacation, just remember: The most important part of unwinding and relaxing on your family vacation is appreciating the time you spend. While you’re with the ones you love most, sunbathing on the sand, wading in the water, walking the boardwalk or watching the sunset over the bay, do your best to revel in the present and savor the moment. Don’t stress about problems waiting for you back home. Don’t count down how many days you have left. Don’t disappear into thoughts of the future or the past. Enjoy where and when you are now, and you’ll realize how happy you are.
Are you ready to let go of the worries and responsibilities holding you back at home and treat yourself to a stress-free family vacation? There’s no better place to build new experiences and enjoy time with your family than Ocean City, N.J. Picturesque, family-friendly and filled with fun options for shopping, staying, dining, exploring, exercising and events, Ocean City is the perfect setting for family memories in the making. Explore everything it has to offer and plan your vacation today — you’ll be on your way to an experience you won’t forget.