A great white shark eating a human arm in the ocean. Family vacations can be tragic, and this article is about tips for surviving them. Illustration by Everette Cogswell.

Picture it: you’re sitting at a table surrounded by family, your aunt sitting next to you, and across from you is your grandpa. All of a sudden your older sibling brings up the most embarrassing story possible from your childhood; maybe it was getting braces and crying in pain for a week straight, or that one time you were jumping on a trampoline and launched off of it, face straight on the ground with dirt up your nose. The sound of your family’s laughter echoes from all around. From awkward political conversations at the dinner table with grandparents and that one uncle whose views are different from everyone else, to a random stranger hitting on your grandma when you’re just trying to take a nice stroll down the street, most of us have experienced something awkward happening on a family vacation. Because this shared experience can be troublesome, here are my top five tips for surviving a family vacation.

Tip 1: Take a Walk

Are you getting overwhelmed by the number of people at a big family reunion and needing a break? Try taking a walk. This is something that I personally have done many times. Between trying to remember everyone’s names in my large, extended family and the screaming children weaving through people’s legs, it can become a bit much for everyone. Sometimes it can be hard to find a space to take a deep breath. I have tried many different hiding places to get a little bit of relaxation during family reunion trips, and most of them have failed. Including one tragic prolonged bathroom trip; I was sitting innocently on the floor, playing games on my phone, when someone burst in and vomited in the toilet. I had to fly home with a stomach bug. Because of these events, I have come to the final decision that it is better to just go on a nice little stroll; maybe throw some frolicking in.

Tip 2: Meditate 

Now, meditation is somewhat of a sticky topic. I don’t meditate in the crunchy TikTok parent way. Maybe that would work for you, but I definitely can’t manage that much time alone in my brain; I mean meditating in the way of taking time for yourself. You can get so hung up on things when you are traveling with family. Even if you’ve planned activities out for the whole week with no wiggle room, I bet you could manage to squeeze in a few minutes to lay in bed and think, just not about anything serious, of course. If a full on meditation session works well for you, definitely do it; no judgment. But it’s also perfectly okay to just take a few minutes to pause. 

Tip 3: Pet the Animals 

This is one of my favorite ways to keep busy during family visits. If there are any animals around, pet them, play with them, or throw that ball over and over again. Sometimes it feels nice to do something slightly productive while the adults catch up from not seeing each other for five years. I find that petting and playing with any animals that are around can settle any reunion-induced anxiety I may have. However, this doesn’t mean that you should let birds loose, or let a snake wrap itself around you. Just throw the ball for a dog, or scratch a cat’s head. Nothing too big. Displace any pent-up energy you may have onto them. 

Tip 4: Put in Headphones

Long-winded stories; you know the ones where it takes the speaker 20 minutes just to explain the backstory? I have a hard time with these. There have been a few occasions where I will literally just stop listening and put in headphones. I do it in the nicest way possible, and only when there are other people to listen to the story. I highly suggest blasting some SZA or Steve Lacy to drown out the outside world. This also works when in a pinch, and in need of a break. If you can’t take a walk like tip #1, you can always put in headphones and blast your Florida-born and raised great aunt’s views on education away. 

Tip 5: Pick Up an Actual Paper Book

When you are using your phone for entertainment, it can be easy for people to interrupt. I find that if I pick up an actual paper book and start reading, people tend to leave me alone. Adults never want to interrupt going “old school” and stopping with the screenager actions, even though they themselves are often even worse with their own screen time. I like doing this in airports especially, because people always look at you like you’re such an intellectual. Another benefit to reading paper books is that you can embrace your inner main character, and try to become the mysterious person of other people’s fantasies. Be the airport crush that you’ve always dreamed of. 

There are many other ways to survive a family vacation, but these tips might lessen the effort you have to put into escaping. Be sure to use them with caution, as it would make the trip much more awkward if one of these tips backfired and started a family feud. Take my advice, or not, it’s truly up to you; but if you do, understand that I am not liable for any negative results. 

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