Your twenties brings a lot of milestones: your first tax return, your first attempt at a dinner party that doesn't use paper plates, your first possibly non-disastrous relationship — and your first adult vacations with your parents. They don't make Hallmark cards for that one, but they really should. Getting through a holiday with one's family without any drama should at the very least snag you some kind of Adulthood Award. You Have Leveled Up To Semi-Viable Grown-Up! Ding ding ding!
Unfortunately, as basically anybody who's not from a disgustingly functional family will recognize, vacations with adult kids can be just as hilariously fraught as ones with hyperactive toddlers. From saturated fat-fuelled tantrums at Disneyland you move into a world of fighting over the check, hangovers with your mother, attempting to tell your father he's put the luggage rack on backward without causing an explosion, and other happy wonders. There be dragons, mate.
As a member of a family unit that could best be described as "violently eccentric," I know what I'm talking about. My Australian parents and my England-resident self, rather than visiting each other at home, generally just meet halfway somewhere, where we eat, buy bad fridge magnets, have fights about how early I get up (9 a.m.) versus how early they do (5 a.m.), and basically willfully misunderstand each other for a week. However, we've managed not to murder one another yet, which I consider a diplomatic success on par with Camp David.
Here are nine tips to keep you sane on your own family trip.
1. Research where you're going.
Turning up in a place with no idea what it's like or what there is to do is a recipe for disaster, and also a guaranteed way to get your mother to yell at you for not contributing. Preferably, everybody should do their own research, but it's wise to check that every travel destination has things that will interest all of you. At the very least, have a strong idea of what you want to do while you're there, and a handle on the local restaurants, entertainment, and transport system will always come in useful — grab some apps to help out. Also, don't be an jerk and take them somewhere they'll hate just because you've always wanted to go.
2. Make your own space.
Unless you are a supremely laid-back individual (I am not), you'll likely get testy if you and your parents are in the same place all the time. Ideally, you should have separate sleeping places, or at the very least a room to yourself where you can retreat for private time. Adulthood means an increased premium on privacy. Don't worry, they'll probably get sick of you too.
3. Know what they're expecting.
A simple "So, what are you looking forward to?" can save you approximately fourteen headaches down the line when you realize they just wanted to go see some charming medieval architecture and you've been dragging them out hiking every day. Don't assume anything; your dad might have a newfound enthusiasm for vintage glassware, your mother may have discovered mountain biking, who knows. If they have specific goals — particularly if they say they want to do a lot of cultural things, but what they really mean is "sit by the pool" — make sure you know it, and that they know what you want.
4. Spend (some) time apart.
Family time is great! Bonding! Making lovely new memories to rub in relatives' faces at Christmas! But one of the greatest things in adult holiday-making has to be not engulfing each other with your presence 24/7. You're an adult and can therefore be trusted to wander off on your own (hopefully); they've got their own itinerary that won't get them into trouble (hopefully). Manage this tactfully, but separating for part of the time (say, every afternoon) and then getting back together to talk about what you've done is actually a pretty relaxing routine.
5. Know your teenage triggers.
Everybody has their things. It might be bickering over a map, or asking when you're having babies, or insisting that you wear a hat "because you burn so easily, honey, why haven't you put enough sunscreen on?" — and suddenly you're 14 again, sulky, defensive, monosyllabic, and squirming with angst. Try to pick up on these before they come hurtling at you, and try to ignore the temptation to return to old patterns of behavior. We don't always have to be kids around our parents, even if they sometimes consciously prefer us that way.
6. Keep everybody on the same page.
This is a planning thing. Everybody needs to be kept in the loop (unless they cause substantially less havoc if they're left out). Adult family members should all share booking details, itineraries, and deposits. Don't dictate — if you're not an expert on a certain thing, like restaurants, let another family member who knows what's up do the planning — and be open about division of labor. If you're all up to speed, nobody can complain about being left out or not knowing what's going on.
7. Compromise on itinerary.
So you love browsing local markets, but your parents want to spend all their time in vineyards. It's not insurmountable: try to accommodate as many of your different wants as possible, but be open-minded and prepared to compromise, particularly if (sorry) you're not the one paying. An ideal family holiday is one where you blend everybody's hit-lists and spend a decent amount of time on each. Don't just say "No" to an unreasonable request, either; always have a back-up. "Oh, you want to do a 6-hour tour of Brutalist architecture? How about this 2-hour one, and then we can go to the zoo? Or perhaps you can do it on your own and we'll meet for dinner?"
8. Keep things positive.
You are on holiday. You are meant to be having a good time together. Try to remember this and keep an upbeat frame of mind; ignore the bickering, tease your parents, be enthusiastic about new experiences, have a sense of humor about the inevitable disasters, and try to be blasé about any idiotic mistakes. (Unless they do something that gets them arrested, thrown out of the country, and/or severely injured. Then, be mad.)
9. Make sure you're having fun.
If you've decided to prove to your parents that you're Very Grown Up and Totally Capable by running around planning everything, that's a very worthy goal, but do try to chill out at some point. Sharing downtime with your parents on an equal footing is a new stage in your relationship; so pour some wine, chat about the bizarre phenomenon of the selfie stick, and relaaaaaax.
Image: Skydance Productions