Family travel is wonderful, but it’s not always fresh mangoes and coconuts. Things can get hairy, the family gets tired, hungry, sick, generally cranky. There can certainly be stress, and sometimes it can feel like it’s more stressful than the life you left behind.
The following is my take on three ways to reduce travelling stress. These are not rocket science, but they’re still not easy to follow. I’ll be the first to admit that we fail at these as often as we succeed.
Eat well, and often
This doesn’t mean to eat big piles of fancy cheese or dine only in 5 star restaurants. We’re budget travelers, and vegan on top of that. What I mean is skip the easy option of bags of chips and other junk for the train and bus rides.
Make the extra effort to get raw fruit and vegetables, good stuff. We bought a fifty-cent vegetable peeler so we can take advantage of the 783 000 fruit carts in the streets of the countries we visit. The whole family is perfectly happy to sit on a bench and peel some carrots, carry a bag of cucumbers onto the train, or peel and eat apples at the beach.
We’ve found that eating well translates to behaving well, and Mama and Papa can relax that nobody will get scurvy. Eat often because we’re a family that gets cranky when we’re hungry, and a cranky family is a stressed out family.
Don’t schedule too tightly
In project management there is a thing called float. It’s kind of a buffer in your schedule that you can use in case of an emergency or unexpected delay. Schedule yourself one day per week of float, if you can. We often stop moving for a day or two when we’re feeling stretched too thin.
It’s certainly harder to do on shorter trips, or in a country like India where transportation is often booked solid a week or more in advance. Sometimes you book yourself an extra day and don’t need it, but there’s always things to see. We enjoy spending a day at the park or the library even when we’re at our best.
Float comes in handy when the family spends an entire day taking turns sitting on the toilet. It’s also very useful when everyone is burnt out and at each other’s throats, and you have to go to the park or sit by the water and eat ice cream.
Get some exercise
Everyone knows that kids need regular exercise. Did you know that parents do also? This one’s probably the hardest one to practice regularly. It’s hard enough to get motivated to go to the gym or go for a run when you’re at home. Some people stay in hotels with gyms or pools, that helps. That’s not really in our budget, so we have to find alternatives.
Motivating yourself to get up hours before the rest of your family to go for a run in an unfamiliar place is tough. Especially when you might end up running alongside a garbage canal, or being chased by a pack of street dogs. My wife resorted to running up and down the hotel stairs for 45 minutes in Bangalore. I read Living with a Seal by Jesse Itzler so now I try to do 100 push-ups per day as well as running as often as I can.
It’s hard, but totally worth it for stress reduction (and fitness in general, of course). Strolling through a bazaar saying “No thank you” 17 000 times is easier. Sitting on a train for 6 hours with two little kids is easier. Standing in line at customs juggling passports and colouring books is easier.
This one is my favourite tips to practice. My alarm is set for tomorrow, and I’m off to do some push-ups.
Check out the links below to get some other family travel bloggers’ take on how to reduce stress on family trips: