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Business News/ Mint-lounge / Features/  How to survive a family holiday

How to survive a family holiday

Making sure that the terms 'fun' and 'dysfunctional' are never more than a summer vacation apart

There’s nothing more wonderful than a summer vacation with your family. Photo: iStockphotoPremium
There’s nothing more wonderful than a summer vacation with your family. Photo: iStockphoto

When we were kids, summer vacations meant a road trip to somewhere. Part of the excitement was because the trips somehow invariably began the day before school had actually given out. I always assumed it was because my parents wanted to squeeze some extra days into our trip, but I realise now it was probably them trying to slyly take off before we got home from school. Because there’s nothing more wonderful than a summer vacation with your family; unless it is coming back home from the same vacation, happy in the knowledge that you don’t have to do it again till the next year.

Every summer, in the ultimate re-enactment of the triumph of hope over experience, families across the world go through the annual vacation cycle. You’re probably in phase 1 right now—feverish excitement and planning accompanied by cheery optimism regarding the state of your bank balance and the length of time the entire family can be together 24X7 before gunfire breaks out.

Phase 2 is the actual holiday itself—carefree fun-filled times as you de-stress and recharge your batteries while your nearest and dearest frolic nearby. Sometimes this blissful state can last for a whole day before you realise that the warm glow you feel spreading gradually is probably caused by your hard earned money on fire, burning a hole in your pocket even as you breathe. (While inhaling is included with the hotel tariff and breakfast, exhaling on holiday is an optional extra and is charged as such.) Meanwhile, your tiny hotel room is incandescent with hostility because war has been declared between the kids, and trained negotiators in full body armour are required to broker the peace between them.

Phase 3 is the return home. By a process that trained scientists call magic (scientific term, “magic") the money that has disappeared from your bank account post vacation transforms miraculously to fat and clings lovingly to your body. This ensures that the memories from the holiday last a lifetime. Amnesia about every other part of the holiday can now descend and envelop everyone for another year, till the whole cycle can begin again.

If that describes your summer vacations somewhat, then you know that blissful as they are, they can be improved. From primary data gathered at various holiday spots all over the world over the years, I have compiled these planning and packing hacks to help you maximise enjoyment during the actual vacation. (Anyone who wishes to fund more such research could stuff some cash in an envelope and mail it to me.)

1. Be sure to use one of the sites that have sprung up that can book flight tickets, hotels, rental cars etc online. Earlier you had to depend on travel agents to do this but now thanks to the marvels of modern technology, you’re sorted. Why pay a trained professional to do what you can do so brilliantly and easily, ie. screw it all up? And that too for free?

In other booking-related tips: Going to places in high season is killing.The best time to go on vacation to avoid huge hordes of tourists and eye gougingly expensive rates is 1994. Be sure to factor that in.

2. Packing. Obviously, to some extent, this is dependent on where you are headed to and what your plans are. So if you’re going to a nature reserve, a bottle opener is absolutely essential. Lying in wait for animals that never ever show up and yet mysteriously, according to the rangers, have just that minute passed by that spot (“those right there are fresh pug marks") is very thirsty work.

In fact I would say that because everything on holiday is thirsty work, a bottle opener should be like the American Express card, you should never leave home without it. But other than that, here are some basics that you should pack, to have a holiday to remember.

A. A whole menu of Parental Threats. It’s an established fact that travelling with children is like traveling with a herd of wild goats—they have sweet squishy faces, but they can head butt each other to a pulp at a minute’s notice. In order to prevent exactly this and other things that might be outside the skill range of most wild goats (like squirting all of your perfume into their sibling’s belly button) you need to have a range of things you can threaten your kids with.

(While no self respecting parent would ever step outside their home without some nifty ones handy, as a public service I have some suggestions to add to the list. Read below.)

B. Chargers for all the devices that you are carrying. Chargers are terribly important not just to ensure the devices work but because the most effective threats (see point above) tend to be charger related. Threatening to pull the plug works like a charm every time. The only hitch is of course that the kids could choose to issue the exact same threat in a different context to you a few years later, but you will have to live with that risk.

The other secret upside with having so many chargers is that if the need were to arise you would have enough cables to whip out and build a suspension bridge. Vacations are often ruined because the holiday makers weren’t alert enough to carry bridge making supplies and now, there’s no fear of it ever happening to you.

You’re welcome.

C. Devices. Do not underestimate the sheer number of devices that are essential for all of you to be able to truly appreciate the culture, the ambience, the sights and each other while on vacation. I know several families who made the mistake of going on vacation without every single device they own, and they are barely on speaking terms now. It’s also one of the most heartwarming images of any vacation that you will remember forever—your family sitting around, all staring lovingly at the faces of their cellphones.

In addition, since devices take up all of everyone’s attention span, (which is on average that of a smallish avocado,) it is now possible to travel anywhere in the world without actually seeing anything. If you limit the time spent on these devices to a strict 14 hours a day, you can actually cut out the need to go anywhere at all.

D. A washing machine. I know you’re thinking, this I can’t do! It’s so hard to find the correct electrical sockets for the appliances one carries on vacations! But for washing machines, make that effort. Since the cost of doing laundry in most hotels is now equivalent to the GDP of a South American country (or the loans that Vijay Mallya has decamped with) just totting up the savings in laundry bills by carrying your own washing machine could fund a few extra vacations.

E. A bathroom locator app. Children with bladders the size of the Caspian Sea at home start peeing for India the minute they are out on the road. The need to use the bathroom is always inversely proportional to the actual distance from any facility and its level of cleanliness.

If travelling with kids under 12, book yourself on a guided tour of bathroom facilities to the place you are going to anyway. These cut out the pretence that parents have that they are going to see or do anything other than escort their kids on a never ending bathroom pilgrimage. If a few places of interest to the adults pop up in the vicinity of the loos the kids are being escorted to, its an added bonus (“at our next rest room stop, across the park and in the far distance you can see Buckingham Palace—a giant palace with 792 bathrooms..").

F. A sense of humour. (If not easily available in your town, replace with a sense of resignation.) No matter how feverishly you plan and how posh the place you’re going to, unplanned unposh things will ambush you on holiday. Your children will either not eat the local food declaring that it tastes of roofing material, or eat it and fall violently ill. The rupee which started at a historic all time low when you planned your holiday will fall into an abyss soon after, from which all your determined drinking will not rouse it. Holidays in India will be ruined by too many locals and those abroad by too many foreigners.

It’s ok, go with the flow, this is exactly what you spend all year fantasising about.

Follow these planning and packing tips and your holiday will go off with only 60-70 hitches. And while you might think that your annual family holiday is about rest, recreation and bonding, always remember that it’s actually about making sure that the terms fun and dysfunctional are never more than a summer vacation apart.

Vatsala Mamgain is a contributor to Lounge’s Hunger Games blog.

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Published: 21 Mar 2016, 04:30 PM IST
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