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How to Survive Visiting Family During the Holidays

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Visiting family during the holiday season can be a wonderful way to enjoy treasured traditions and catch up with far-flung loved ones. But you may be nervous about cramped sleeping quarters, squeezing in quality time with everyone, and staying sane on someone else’s turf. Traveling with kids during this busy time of year can add stress, too. Whether you’re traveling for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah or the New Year, make sure your trip is as fun and carefree as possible with these six tips for visiting family and friends during the holidays!

Visiting family during the holidays

Visiting family during the holidays (Photo credit: Wavebreakmedia, Depositphotos.com)

1. Enjoy the benefits of staying with loved ones.

Staying with family or friends can offer a sleigh-full of benefits. Being a houseguest makes it easy to engage in holiday activities like cookie baking and tree trimming. It also gives easy access to gift wrapping necessities and a kitchen for food preparation and storage. You may even be treated to some home-cooked holiday meals during your stay.

Plus, after children are tucked in for the night, parents are free to chat, watch Christmas movies, or play board games with hosts. When traveling with kids, all the better if your hosts are eager (or at least willing) to help out with childcare duties. Most grandparents and other doting relatives are happy to babysit while you duck out for gift shopping or a much-needed night on the town. Whenever I stayed at my folks’ house when my children were little, my mom outdid the best nanny. She helped with putting my kids down for naps, preparing meals, and she even did our laundry!

Family Christmas dinner

Home-cooked holiday meal (Photo credit: monkeybusiness, Depositphotos.com)

2. Consider booking other accommodations instead.

There are reasons to consider NOT staying with relatives during the holidays. For example, there may not be a guest room for at your in-laws’ home. Having your own space may also be the best way to keep arguments to a minimum and your family’s schedule on track. In that case, choose a convenient middle ground between far-spread family members to cut down drive-times. Lodging near eateries and amusements or a hotel with amenities (like an indoor pool) may increase the fun factor of your trip. Staying in a hotel can make your visit seem more vacation-like too. After all, your Aunt Emily doesn’t offer room service, daily towel changes, or chocolates on your pillow. Another option is to book a vacation home, or do like my family has done, and participate in a home exchange.

Hotel lobby decorated for the holidays

Hotel lobby decorated for the holidays (Photo credit: ovchinnikovfoto, Depositphotos.com)

3. Plan a holiday gathering.

In the many years since my husband and I moved away from the Midwest, we have slowly pared down our list of must-see people during visits home. If you’re traveling to a place where you have a lot of family and friends, a casual party makes a festive way to get everyone together. Book an evening at an affordable restaurant or ask a close friend or relative to host a potluck party. A group holiday gathering enables you to squeeze in seeing lots of people at once and frees up your schedule.

Hanukkah party tablescape

A holiday gathering for Hanukkah (Photo credit: urban_light, Depositphotos.com)

4. Make your schedule known.

During one family visit, my mother-in-law broke into tears when she learned my husband and I – and most importantly, our children – were booked for brunch at my sister’s house for our last few hours in town. We eventually convinced her and grandpa to join us for pancakes and playtime, but not without more tears for her and guilty feelings for us. Since then, I’ve learned to make our schedule clear before our trip. I send out a group email in advance to our family members detailing our daily activities — making clear which events are open to joiners.

If you spell out which days will be spent with whom, then you ensure quality time with everyone on your must-see list, set appropriate expectations, and decrease guilt-trips significantly. This is especially true during the holiday season. When visiting more than one set of grandparents, make sure to explain which nights of Hanukkah will be spent with which family members, or with whom you’ll be celebrating Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Christmas calendar

Make your holiday schedule known (Photo credit: dvoevnore, Depositphotos.com)

5. Safety-proof your temporary housing.

A Christmas tree laden with glass bulbs, tinsel, and strings of beads makes a beautiful holiday tradition. But it can also pose a hazard to young children. If traveling with a baby or toddler, ask your hosts to encircle the tree with a safety gate or to place the tree in a room separate from where your child will be exploring. Likewise, holiday candles and other decorations should be kept far out of grasp. You may also want to pack some outlet covers and hide away grandma’s delicate collection of Hummel figurines.

Long-treasured items saved by well-meaning grandparents can be dangerous for your child as well. The highchair at my mom’s house, for example, is over 40 years old, with no belt or leg divider to keep a baby from slipping out. Even more dangerous are old cribs, in which little arms, legs and (heaven forbid) heads can get stuck. This can lead to serious injury or even death. Many old cribs were painted with lead-based paint, too. To avoid such hazards, rent highchairs, cribs, and other items from a baby gear rental company.

Babies with Christmas decorations

Watch babies closely near holiday decorations (Photo credit: anatols, Depositphotos.com)

6. Schedule down time.

There is such thing as too much together time. Constant social visits will stress out even the most easygoing parents and children. Be sure to schedule some down time when visiting family and friends for the holidays. Sneak away from the hubbub for a stroll to see holiday lights. Or, head to a local gym to work off all of those gingerbread cookies and candy canes. You might even want to book a spa day as a gift to yourself! Making room for relaxation will minimize meltdowns and enable everyone to be at their best.

A solo walk in the snow away from the holiday hubbub

A solo walk away from the holiday hubbub (Photo credit: praewa_koreashopping@hotmail.com, Depositphotos.com)

Save these tips for visiting family during the holidays.

Want to save your sanity while visiting family this holiday season? Be sure to save these tips! Just pin the image below to Pinterest. We hope you’ll follow Travel Mamas on Pinterest while you’re at it.

6 Sanity Saving Tips for Visiting Family During the Holidays

To make the most of your holiday travels, check out our travel sleep tips and our advice for getting through airport security with kids!

When visiting family and friends, do you prefer to stay as a house guest or do you like to rent a hotel room? Let us know in the comments below!

About Colleen Lanin

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of TravelMamas.com. As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show, NBCNews.com, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

Comments
  1. Wow, this is a list of great tips that span a variety of needs. Wonderful job and thanks for putting it together!

  2. Jessica Collazo says

    I was in desperate need of this lol 😆…. I try to stay with love ones but I like to pay for accommodations instead. I know that having people over is a struggle. So I prefer doing that as a way to be considerate. Plus I have a toddler…

    • Colleen Lanin says

      I hear you about visiting friends with a toddler — that can just make things more stressful! But if visiting family…they can help you with your little one!

  3. Matt Taylor says

    Great tips!! haha if holiday movies have taught me anything and real life experiences, definitely need a plan to survive the holidays around family! lol

    • Colleen Lanin says

      Ha! Holiday movies do tend to make all of the stresses of family visits during the holidays look hilarious. If only family tensions felt hilarious in real life! 😂

  4. It actually kind of makes me sad when I hear stories of people dreading going to visit family for the holidays. I love it. This time of year always gets me super excited. It’s not stress-inducing at all.

  5. I love to stay with family when I can. Even if it’s cramped or a little uncomfortable, I enjoy the extra time.

  6. I love that you touched on the positives of staying with relatives or at a hotel. I prefer relatives if possible, myself.

  7. These are great tips. Always good to have the option of staying with family also good to have a plan so that any drama can be avoided.

  8. Excellent suggestions! I find down time to be particularly important. Even when I’m visiting my favorite people, I still need a break to decompress and unwind.

  9. Ntensibe Edgar Michael says

    Hehe….alright Colleen! I will keep these tips and more in mind.

  10. katrina Kroeplin says

    great tips. it def can be stressful. i try to limit my extended time with family around the holidays.

  11. Fatima Torres says

    We love family gatherings during the holiday season. Such a great time to connect with everyone.

  12. Great post. I learnt a lot after reading it. Keep writing and keep sharing your knowledge!

  13. There are some really good tips here for sure. Especially the one about booking your own accomodations.

    • Colleen Lanin says

      Melanie – Thanks! I know there are lots of advantages to staying with friends and relatives, but I usually sleep much better when we have our own place.

  14. I am the family holiday planner. I am coming up with a Christmas Eve brinner as we speak!

  15. My partner wants to go to his parents house, but I have work the day before and after Christmas. I’ve bought all the Christmas presents for our son, and my mother has a 30-year-old tradition on Christmas Eve, that I found out yesterday I have to miss because he wants to travel. I’ll have to get off work, drive five hours, spend Christmas at his parents, then drive five hours so I can work the next day. What do I do about all the presents? What do I tell my son about Santa?

    • Colleen Lanin says

      Hi Amber – Oh what a Christmas pickle! I would definitely NOT tell your son anything about Santa. I would probably load up wrapped presents in the car in a big covered box or black garbage bag the night before your journey. Then you can bring them into your in-laws’ house while your son is distracted with something else. Otherwise, you could have him open presents from Santa on Christmas morning before driving to your in-laws’ house (or on Christmas Eve). He will still have presents to open from other relatives there. I’m sure. Is there any way your in-laws could travel to your house instead this year? All of the travel between work shifts sounds awfully stressful. I hope you can find a solution that works for everyone! Happy holidays!

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