Summertime, and the living is easy . . . for everyone but you, it seems. Relatives are flying in on Sunday, and you’ve got a "to-do" list that nearly reaches the floor.

You don’t recall exactly when or how, but somewhere along the way you signed up for the double-whammy: providing five-star bed and breakfast accommodation for a gaggle of relatives for several days, then acting as their guide for a whirl-wind sight-seeing trip. Since the group is touring your home province, you’re automatically qualified.

Soon, you find yourself leading a convoy of extended family along an unfamiliar multi-lane highway – driving faster than you’ve ever driven before in your life – while your sister-in-law peppers you with questions. What is the average take-home pay here, anyway? Isn’t this where they filmed The Incredible Hulk? What’s the nightlife like?

Distracted, you miss the exit. One car follows you, but the third vehicle veers onto the off-ramp then disappears. Ironically, it’s the group who didn’t want to go to the zoo in the first place. They’ll be upset about having to wait on the roadside yet again . . .

This is a vacation, you think. So when does the fun start?

A sight-seeing vacation with extended family – though you love them all – can quickly make you feel over-extended. If there’s just such a trip in your near future, these survival tips will help you plan a tour that runs smoothly and leaves you feeling a little less frazzled.

Travel light

You want your family to have a wonderful vacation, of course, but a "heart check" may reveal that you want much more from their visit than that. Maybe you’re also hoping to win your family’s affirmation and approval. Perhaps you want them to conclude that you weren’t crazy to move here, after all . . . that your kids are terrific . . . and that you’re bringing them up just right. That’s a lot of emotional baggage to haul along with you, and the weight of it will rapidly wear you out.

Determine that your goal is not to impress others, but to have a great time with your family. They already suspect that you are less than perfect. Pay attention, and you’ll soon learn that their lives are less than perfect, too. A great vacation starts when you leave personal baggage behind.

Get everyone on board

Helping your group agree on an itinerary may be a challenge, especially if nothing has been planned in advance. Recognize that this process may take some time, and plan accordingly. A gentle reminder that your priority is to have fun as a family may smooth negotiations. To help each member of the party "buy in" to the program, allow everyone to choose one activity – even if it’s just the lunch stop – and try to incorporate it in the itinerary.

Some will find the planning process easier if they feel they are making an informed decision. Check your hotel’s lobby for brochures on local attractions and stop in at tourist info centres – nothing beats local knowledge. If you’ve already done some online research, provide a summary of each proposed destination, plus a map that gives your visitors an idea of driving times between stops. Later, your guests will be less inclined to tarry at an appealing locale if they understand the distance still to be travelled.

Schedule departure times

If you have small children, you already have a realistic idea of how many attractions your tour group can hope to visit in one day – probably not more than three. For others in the party, however, this reality may be a big surprise. Careful planning can help ensure everyone has a satisfying experience.

The key is to design an itinerary that allows the kids, and less-energetic folk, to linger at a fun, relaxing location for the whole afternoon, if necessary, while the let’s-see-everything-in-three-hours crowd rushes off to complete their packed itinerary. After all, there’s no rule that says you have to stick together all day. Plan instead to re-connect over supper. If you’re a truly great host, you’ll have head-ache painkillers available for the run-around group when they arrive.

Distribute "gel" packs

Don’t leave home without one! These useful kits help your group "gel" together, so you don’t waste time trying to reconnect with "lost" family members. Basic supplies should include notepaper and pens for writing down addresses for hotels and other destinations, plus cellphone numbers for other members in the group. Visitors from overseas may appreciate a few Canadian quarters for emergency calls from a pay phone. Alternatively, provide your phone card number with instructions on how to use it.

If your group is travelling in several vehicles, include pennants or sparkly cheer leader pom-poms to attach to each car’s radio antenna – they’ll help you keep track of your convoy on a crowded highway. Add an up-to-date street map for each driver if you’re touring a city or large town. One or two inexpensive watches are handy, too; lend them to members of the group who, inexplicably, don’t wear a watch, and seldom make it back to the meeting point on time. They’ll also remind you to check that others have set their watches to local time. If few relatives have cellphones, consider buying or borrowing small walkie-talkies. Although their range is limited, they have the advantage of allowing everyone to listen-in on the same conversation. Plus, they’ll entertain the kids for ages!

There’s no way around it – acting as a tour guide is stressful. Above all, try to stay relaxed and you’ll help others to do the same. Don’t be afraid to delegate responsibilities or ask for help when you need it. And if anyone should ask, say yes, you do accept tips!

Catherine Wilson is an associate editor at Focus on the Family Canada.

© 2009 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.  

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