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Travel How to avoid the pitfalls of a family getaway at the holidays

Diane Labombarbe/istock

Family holiday get-togethers have all of the ingredients necessary for an annual disaster.

All that holiday-song-mandated good cheer is fraught with potential implosions.

Oh look, there’s your Uncle Bob insisting on telling the story of your dad’s most embarrassing moment. And over there, your overachieving cousin has arrived just in time to share her new promotion and outshine the rest of you slackers. And is it even the holidays if your aunt isn’t passive-aggressively critiquing your mother’s baking? (“New recipe this year, Margaret?”)

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And that’s just the family you like.

I get it. For most families, it’s only a matter of time before their Hallmark holiday intentions meet their inevitable Griswold ending. Your dad will retaliate, you’ll point out that your cousin is a showoff, Mom’s smile will crack… Happy Holidays!

No one would blame you for considering an escape that takes you away from the madness and out of range of the family-drama shrapnel that masquerades as after-dinner drinks conversation.

But before you start sourcing that trip to Hawaii, consider this: It’s possible to make things worse.

Travelling over the holidays can have the same effect as throwing gasoline on a fire. If your mother-in-law is already miffed that she’s typically relegated to Boxing Day, imagine her reaction when she hears you’re not coming at all. And, of course, any trip comes with its own hazards that might squash any festive cheer.

But don’t cross a holiday exit off your wish list just yet. While these tips won’t save you in every situation, they’ll set the groundwork for a vacation that offers the temporary escape your family may need.

1. Skip the surprises

One thing you don’t want to pack on this trip? Guilt. Telling your extended family, the one you’ve spent every holiday season with since birth, that you won’t be around this year can be tough. Doing so an hour before you take off is just asking for a holiday-sized helping of drama. Instead, let the family members who might be affected by your family’s absence know as early as you can. There may still be blowback but building in time for it to dissipate before you leave will allow you to enjoy the trip.

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2. Change the traditions

If you’re going to be away, be away. No trying to find a Christmas tree in Fiji or make gingerbread in the hotel microwave. The goal is to do something fresh and different, so leave your home traditions at home. Instead, start new ones! Set the parents against the kids in a quest to find the perfect gingerbread man at local cafés or swap the Christmas PJs for a set of matching Hawaiian shirts.

3. Find your cheer

Remember the reason for the season and dedicate at least a few hours to finding a way to make someone else’s holiday better. Maybe you’ll donate the money you would have used to buy a fresh garland to a shelter that could use the boost. Or you’ll sign up for a holiday litter-pickup on the beach you’re hanging out on. Supporting small, local vendors in your vacation destination can make a big difference to their families and enhance your joy, too.

4. Don’t substitute your stress

There’s no point in running away from the hoopla at home only to stress yourself out over flight delays or weather issues. Preparation can help: Choosing an early-morning flight reduces chances of a delay. Online check-in will reduce airport panic. Having your own snacks for the trip reduces hangry children. Going carry-on-only allows you to skip the baggage-belt wars altogether. If your plans do hit a snag, try to remember that no matter what goes wrong here, it won’t compare to the rage your cousin is feeling at having no one to brag to at home.

5. Do a post-trip family debrief

Holiday travel isn’t for everyone. You may be surprised by how much you miss the family, the traditions and the snow. Or, you may find that being away from the extended family is the best gift of all. Either way, taking the time to debrief with your travel partners once you are home will mean you have plenty of time to either book next year’s getaway or develop survival strategies for next year’s family drama. –

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