family travel

Five Tips For A (Mostly) Stress Free Family Vacation

famiy vacay.JPG

Growing up, my family vacationed with my grandparents in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for one week every summer. My memories of these trips include endless days of running between the beach and hotel pool, playing shuffleboard with my grandfather, eating crab legs dipped in so much garlic butter I'm surprised my arteries are still in tact...and side glances exchanged between my parents. These glances--or the occasional eye roll--happened when my grandfather, who was not one to mince words, said something off-putting to my father or when my grandma tried to tell my mom how to do something or when the dinner conversation turned to a taboo subject. 

As an adolescent, I pictured my future family vacationing with MY parents one day...minus the side glances, eye rolling and awkward conversations. As an adult, I'm pleased to say that my vision has (mostly) come true. My husband, children and I vacation with my parents, brother and sister-in-law for a week every summer. And while my dad is not sharp tongued with my husband and my mom is not critical of my parenting, these trips are not without their potential relational pitfalls.

Yet after three years of vacationing together, my family is beginning to master the art of togetherness. Our vacation on Lake Michigan just came to a close. Last night, we sat down for a little post-vacation debrief (see tip #5) and came up with a few reasons why this year was our best family vacation to date. Here are our five tips for a MOSTLY stress-free family vacation: 

Tip #1: Set expectations for your family vacation before you leave

My parents, brother and I lead very different lives. My brother and sister-in-law live a child-free, car-free life in Los Angeles. My parents are empty nesters in Central Wisconsin; and my husband and I are 10 years of marriage and two young kids in to life in a tiny beach town on the California coast. Much like our lives, our ideas about what "vacation" means are different. 

Before we went on our most recent trip, we talked about what each of us wanted our vacation to look like. If you have the luxury of living in the same town as your extended family, this is probably best done in person. For us, this conversation took place through phone and email. 

Here are some questions to ask in order to set vacation expectations appropriately: 

  1. What would make this a great vacation for you? 
  2. What are some things you really want to do/visit/see/experience on this vacation? 
  3. Is there anything you DON'T want to do on this vacation? 
  4. How much do you want to out and do things and how much do you want to rest and relax (on a beach, at a campsite, etc)? 
  5. Do you want to do everything together or will there be time for people to go do things by themselves or with just one or two others? 

Tip #2: Resolve to let it go 

If you're entertaining the idea of vacationing with extended family, your relationship with them is probably decent. But regardless of how well your family gets along, there are always some topics you shouldn't discuss with them; and at some point during your vacation, there may be something said to incite those aforementioned side glances or eye rolls or--even worse--a disagreement. 

Resolve NOW to let it go THEN. 

Change the subject. Ignore the comment. Take a deep breath. Nothing good can come from starting a heated debate or argument with a person you're going to have to spend time with for the next few days. Life is too short to be in conflict with people you love. Repeat after me: I'd rather be in relationship with my family than be right. 

Tip #3: Make a schedule for each day of vacation

In certain vacation scenarios (cruises, guided tours, backpacking, etc) your daily schedule is pre-determined. In many cases, however, you and your family have an endless number of things you could do each day...and just as many opinions about which thing to choose. Talking through the possibilities and creating a schedule in advance gets everyone on the same page--and eliminates (most) conflict. 

Here are a few questions to ask when putting together daily vacation schedules: 

  1. What places/restaurants/activities are in close proximity to each other and make sense to do in the same day? 
  2. Are we allowing a reasonable amount of time for and between each activity? 
  3. Who will be going to and participating in each activity? 
  4. Do we need to make reservations or purchase tickets in advance? 

Pro tip: My family and I found it best to review and firm up the daily schedule for the next day at dinner each night. This puts everyone on the same page for the upcoming day and, again, eliminates (most) potential conflict. 

Tip #4: Make sure everyone has an equal say 

Remember that list of things to do/go/see/visit that you and your family made prior to the vacation? Go back to that list when you make your daily schedule and make sure everyone is checking things off their vacation bucket list. That way, no one gets to the end of the week and feels like they only did things that everyone else wanted to do. 

Tip #5: Do a post-family vacation check-in

If these vacations are going to become an annual tradition, it's good to sit down shortly after the trip has ended and discuss what went well and what you'd like to do differently next year. Because my family is scattered around the US, we don't usually get together in person again until the holidays, so post-vacation debriefing happens on the last day of vacation or via phone or email. 

Pro tip: Make sure someone writes down the takeaways. I have two small children and virtually no memory these days, so it's highly likely that by this time next year, I won't remember what everyone loved--or hated--about our trip. 


Even as I write this, I know that some of you will read this post with incredible sadness. Perhaps one or both of your parents are no longer living or your relationship with them is beyond repair due to circumstances out of your control. My heart aches for you. 

I also realize that some of you are reading this and thinking: "I could NEVER go on vacation with my family. I can barely stand to be in the same room with them for five minutes." I get it. Family relationships can be hard and complicated. Maybe you just need to make it through dinner before you start planning a week of togetherness. 

If you ARE fortunate enough to have a solid relationship with your extended family, but you've never gone on a vacation all together, there's no time like the present to get one on the books. And if you do take regular family vacations, leave YOUR TIPS in the comments section below! 


stress free famiy vacation.JPG

How To Pack Strategically--And On Trend--For Summer Vacations

Packing For Family Vacation.jpg

Ah, summer vacation. For some, the term conjures up endless days of relaxation, reading, doing whatever you want in the sun or beside a body of water. For others, it simply means a break from your normal routine. If you're a parent, summer vacation might also mean a little bit of stress...especially when it comes to packing. 

For the next two months on This Is Thirty Four, we'll be talking about time and possessions. If you're like me, when heading out on a trip with your kids, you tend to throw half of all you possess into your suitcase; and once you reach your destination, you don't even use a lot of what you packed...and you hate all your outfits.  

This summer, my family will spend three of the next five weeks living out of suitcases. Our kids are still young and require a lot of cargo: clothes, snacks, toys, books, car seats, etc. So, in order to cut down on the baggage my family is taking on flights and road trips, I'm getting strategic about the way I pack for myself on our family vacations. Not only am I taking fewer items in my suitcase, but I'm also excited to wear the outfits I've chosen.  

Below are three steps for packing strategically--and on trend--for a summer vacation, interspersed with actual outfits I'll be wearing on my trip to Lake Michigan this week. Warning: These steps will require some effort to implement. So, don't start packing late at night or an hour before you have to leave. If you already know where you're headed, you can start implementing some of these steps RIGHT NOW. 

Outfit one.jpg

Step 1: Analyze your vacation before you begin packing

Here are a few questions that I asked myself before packing for our week-long trip to Lake Michigan: 

What types of activities will we be doing?

What types of clothes and shoes will these activities require?

Who will be going on these various activities?

What will the weather be like while you're there? 

(Pro tip: If you use a day planner, you can write out the answers to these questions in there and use it to make your packing list.) 

During our trip to Lake Michigan this week, our whole family (my parents, brother and sister-in-law included) will be hiking, going to the lake, getting ice cream and doing a lot of putt-putt and other kid-friendly activities. We rented a cabin, so we'll probably eat most of our meals in; but Russ and I might be able to sneak away for a date one night. The weather is supposed to be in the high 70s and low 80s with decent humidity. 

Armed with the aforementioned info, I packed mostly shorts, tank tops and sandals in my suitcase. I included one romper...because rompers are basically socially acceptable pajamas...and a cute, cotton dress for a potential date night. All my clothes are kid-friendly...because hikes mean dirt and ice cream means sticky hands...and my shoes are comfortable and won't get ruined if caught in a late afternoon rain storm. 

Lake Michigan Outfit three.jpg

Step 2: Visualize your outfits

I consider myself a fairly stylish person, and I have a decent number of clothes in my closet. But every morning--and consequently every time I pack for vacation--I think the same thoughts many of you probably think: What am I going to wear? I hate all my clothes.

The truth is, I have a lot of cute things to wear--and so do you. We just need some outfit inspiration. My go-to places to get inspired? and Pinterest.

If you're not familiar with the app, it's basically where fashion bloggers go to show off their outfits and link to the clothes they are wearing so you can buy those items from their affiliate links. It's dangerous for your wallet, but it's a WEALTH of outfit ideas. 

If you're trying to avoid spending money, like me, you might want to try Pinterest. There are a ton of fashion bloggers to follow on there, OR you can simply search for the type of outfits you're looking for. While I'm no fashion blogger, I do have a Summer Style inspiration board that I refer to often. 

As you're saving on or pinning on Pinterest, try to find outfits that have similar color schemes, styles and even incorporate some of the same basic elements (ex: a white tank top, denim shorts, etc). This will make step three much easier.

(Pro-tip: Only save or pin outfits that are similar to pieces you already have in your closet. The idea behind step two isn't to save money on new clothes, it's to find new ways to wear what you already have!)

Once you've saved some outfits on or pinned them to a Pinterest board, go to your closet and set the pieces that you think you might want to pack aside. It's ok if it's a huge pile, we'll whittle it down to a carry on in step three. 

Outfit number two.jpg

Step 3: Only pack pieces that can be worn more than once, in different ways

This is the key. This is how you go from a mound of clothes that will never fit into the overhead bin, to an easy to manage carry-on. First, sort through the clothes you set aside after you got inspired in step two. Then, create outfits that incorporate similar pieces. I packed all four of the outfits in this post in my suitcase for Lake Michigan this week. You'll see the same shoes, denim vest and shorts in multiple photos. Finally, put away any clothes that can't be worn more than one way...unless it's a romper...ALWAYS. PACK. A ROMPER; and put the remaining items in your suitcase. 

(Pro tip: If you still have too much stuff, go back to step two. It might be helpful to lay the outfits for each day out on the floor side-by-side, so you can see how everything works together.) 


Lake Michigan Outfit Four.jpg

I hope this post is as helpful as it was fun for me to put together. None of the clothes in this post are linked because most of them are way too old to still be in stores. BUT, if you see an outfit or a piece of clothing you like and want me to try to find something similar for you, just send me a message! I love helping people find cute clothes and feel more confident in their own skin. 

Happy summer, friends! We'll return to our regularly scheduled (and a bit more introspective) content next week!