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“Adventures are to the adventurous.”  Benjamin Disrael

What is the Secret to Better Family Vacations?

On a recent trip to Disney World™ in Orlando, navigating the crowds, waiting in hour long lines to jump on a 90 second ride, I observed an interesting phenomenon – the happiest place on Earth was filled with miserable people.

There were people lamenting the cost of park admission – a two day park hopper pass weighed in at a hefty $1600 for six of us, people complaining about the lines, parents scolding their children who were jacked up on sugar and quite a few joyless faces. For a place that is supposed to bring people of all ages immense joy, it seemed that a tremendous overwhelm, claustrophobia and sheer irritation had robbed many of the bliss that for some would be a vacation of a lifetime.

In adding up the cost, a total of $3200 on park tickets alone, airfare of approximately $6000, and hotels and meals another $6000, it became quite clear that our trip to Bali two years ago had cost almost the same amount. Knowing that we were here, and deciding to make the best of it, my mission became to find as many balanced moments as possible during the trip and pulling out the strategies that I teach my students. Going to Disney™ should be something that brings a family joy; if we are there anyway, having made a decision to embark on this adventure, then choosing to allow ourselves to become irritated by long-lines, crowds and expenses is not an option because it negates the entire vacation.

Tips for better family vacations…

With this in mind, whether you are headed to the zoo, a theme park, or even to Europe – here are 7 balanced living strategies to bring more bliss to your next family vacation:

1. Minimalism – one of the fastest ways to get out of balance on any vacation is to try to do everything. I observed a parent once, in the British Museum, declare to their glassy-eyed children, ‘let’s see everything today!.’ The British Museum has over eight million objects. It would be impossible to fully appreciate a small fraction of that let alone take it all in.

Whether you are on a European vacation or a trip to the Magic Kingdom, trying to do everything will only serve to create exhaustion, overwhelm and inherently a lack of appreciation. Before leaving for your trip use the doyenne of fabulosity – GOOGLE – to research your destination. Work with your family and have them narrow their ‘must-do’ list to three items each. If you have a large family then you might choose one or two items per person.

We did this on our recent Orlando trip. Avery had to ride the Hulk coaster at Universal – Go Girl! That was not on my list! AJ wanted to go to Super Hero Island. Emery wanted to go to the Cat In The Hat section and visit the bookstore. Sarai wanted to visit Hogwarts. We assured the kids that we could do all of those things and that everything else was a bonus.

Be an advance planner. Look at city and park maps. Plot out how to easily get from one thing to another; knowing the fastest route in advance. Minimalism is the best technique. Non minimalists run around like crazy trying to see everything yet not really seeing anything whereas minimalists are much more in balance knowing that the mind and body can only truly internalize a few experiences in one day.

alarm clock2. Go Early – this may sound like common sense however when you get to a destination you soon realize, as the hoards swell mid-morning, that most people are not early to get going. We like to get to our venue early before the lines are too long. By the time the throngs of people are showing up, we have ridden the rides, seen the art, or visited the historic site. As the lines build we are enjoying a mid-morning snack with the sense that even if we stopped now, we have already gotten a lot in.

3. Embrace Technology – Disney™ has a new app that allows you to book up to three fast passes online. You can switch times and cancel with ease from your Smart Phone. Skip the one hour wait for the Thunder Mountain Railroad and fast pass your way with a smirk on your face. It is so good.

4. It’s Worth the Money – depending on your destination, you may have the option to spend a little, or a lot more, extra to have a private guide who has line privileges or as in the case at Universal Studios, purchase VIP tickets that allow you to go into special lines on certain attractions. At our visit to Universal these VIP tickets allowed us to get in all of the specifics. We actually enjoyed our park visit more here than any of the other parks because whether Emery wanted to ride One Fish, Blue Fish or the kids wanted to go on Flight of the Hippogriff, we did not have to wait more than five to ten minutes.

Universal Express Pass Link

Always check with your hotel concierge to see what they can arrange for you on their end.

5. Go Late – now I know what you are thinking – this is contradictory to what I said earlier and you are right. By going late, I mean going really late as in an hour before the attraction closes. On a trip to Rome, I wanted to visit the Colesseum. The lines were two hours long during the day and the temperatures were soaring. Instead of spending extra money to pay a guide as I was already with a friend from the area, we decided to go one hour before close. We walked right in and were treated to a much cooler, less crowded, beautiful experience.

In Disney™, they sometimes have extended  “magic” hours. When we were there, the park was open until midnight. My eighteen year old, and her friend, went to the park and rode all of their favorite rides with no line. Going late can definitely pay.

bottled-water6. Fuel and Hydrate Accordingly – filling up on nachos, soda, hot dogs and funnel cakes may sound yummy however all of the extra carbs and sugar will rapidly mess with your blood sugar causing some emotional highs and lows. Think about the last time you saw a toddler screaming on the floor having a tantrum – that is your brain, and your children’s’ brains on sugar.

My background is in health and nutrition so this is a passionate subject. We carry healthy snacks with us wherever we go and instead of dolling out junk to the kids, we let them split something. At Epcot, three of them split a beignet as opposed to allowing them each to have one. They chased it with good old-fashioned water and we did that midday as opposed to the evening when we would be trying to put them to sleep. The mentality that ‘we are on vacation so that means eat whatever we want,’ will take you out of balance. Have your treat but limit the portion and be respectful of the timing.

Getting dehydrated is easy in hot climates. By the time a headache sets in, it is already well under way. A good rule of thumb is 500 mL of water every 60-90 minutes. If you, or your kids, are dehydrated there will not be many balanced moments – I can assure you of that.

7. It’s All Perfect – due to mechanical issues we were stuck in the Orlando Airport for 10 hours. We had already returned the rental car and frankly leaving the airport during a rainstorm seemed far from appealing. On top of that we were waiting for updates on when our departing flight would go.

Delays happen during travel and unlike the woman on our flight who started muttering profanity quite loudly, you have to say, ‘it’s all perfect – how do I make the best of this?

Chris and I pulled out our planners and got organized. Sarai worked on her summer journal. Emery and I read stories. The kids ran some laps – literally – of their own volition. AJ played Minecraft and again, to point number six, they had snacks that included brown rice, carrot sticks and tuna. Thankfully, there was an Expresspa™ right there and with the graciousness of my husband, I did take advantage of that.

Know that things do happen for a reason and when it comes to mechanical problems – better on the ground than in the air!

Lastly – family vacations can be a time of many great memories. Do not sully your investment by getting out of balance. Make a decision to truly enjoy your vacation, go with the flow, prepare in advance and know, at the end of the day…there is always wine!

Susan Sly is a Balanced Living Strategist.  She has appeared in Rise of the Entrepreneur, on ABC Family Television, Lifetime Television and more.  She is the author of The Have It All Woman and the upcoming book – Organize Your Life.  Susan, and her husband, Chris, are the parents of five children.  Susan is available for speaking and media appearances.  Visit





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