The One Thing You're Bringing Along on Your Family Travel that You'll Wish You Weren't

It doesn’t matter who you are and where you are going.

There is one thing that we all bring with us when we travel … something you didn’t even know you packed, and it can derail your family’s travel experience.

EXPECTATIONS. This incredibly common feature of the human experience affects much of our day-to-day, and it’s even more influential when we travel.

Ask yourself this:

How do you decide what to pack for travel? You probably perform some mental calculations about what the weather will be like, how much you enjoy clean underwear, and other critical considerations, and you pack accordingly.

The things you pack -- the long-sleeved tops, the sunblock, or even that novel you’ve been dying to dig into -- are examples of expectations: assumptions we have about how things will go and how we will feel when they happen. And that’s the thing about expectations: they’re with you whether you realize it or not, and being aware of them can make the difference between being joyfully present in your travel and feeling betrayed by it.

Author Anne Lamott reminds us that “expectations are resentments under construction.” When we don’t share our needs and wishes with others, they remain submerged like icebergs until the moment our experience does not match what we had pictured, and disappointment (or resentment) ensues. We blame ourselves, we blame others, and a good time is not had by all.

Imagine that your child’s most fervent wish during your travels is to find the perfect seashell. As for you, you’ve heard all kinds of good buzz about this amazing food truck that only shows up in this one neighborhood for one day a week, and you’ll be bummed if you miss it. If I don’t miss my guess, you’ll be sure to arrange your plans to include some beach time and showing up to that neighborhood. But what if only one of you spoke your expectations aloud to the whole group? What if you’re wandering back and forth along the beach, waiting for your kiddo to stumble upon the right shell, and all you can think is “The food truck probably left 20 minutes ago.” Resentment City, right? At this point, our feelings may best be expressed by the plain-spoken character Lydia, played by Jeanne Tripplehorn in Sliding Doors (1998):

“Gerry, I'm a woman! We don't say what we WANT! But we reserve the right to get pissed off if we don't get it. That's what makes us so fascinating! And not a little bit scary.”

How to Unpack That Baggage

I’m not suggesting that Lydia’s wisdom applies only to the ladies, nor do I believe that simply stating our expectations for all to hear means that our needs and wishes will be 100% realized. If it did, I’d be writing to you from an expansive lodge on the Patagonian steppe. But being clear about those expectations creates awareness for everyone involved, and makes it a whole lot easier for them to help you get to the things you each want. And the best time to do it is before you travel. Frantic 11th-hour revelations of things you wanted to do but didn’t announce almost never end well, or at least without a good deal of stress.

So today, I’m going to let you in on an easy way to make the hunt for expectations a natural part of planning your family travel.

Just download this free “Unpacking Expectations” printable, which includes a version for younger kids, and a separate version for older kids and grown ups.

When you are in the planning stages of your family travel, hand everybody a copy of the printable, and ask them to take some time and fill in their answers. As with anything, younger children may require a bit of assistance. Once each person has had time to uncover their needs and wants, let everyone share their results in a family meeting. It will give you the opportunity to discuss which expectations are realistic, and how to build the must-do items into your plans. Wave goodbye to a bunch of future resentments, and the best part? With all of those expectations unpacked, you’ll have so much more room for clean underwear!