Our Family Trips Are Nightmares From Hell. Please Advise!

Dear Sober Dad,

We have three children—two boys, twelve and nine, and a six-year-old girl. My husband is big on family trips. Typically, the kids fight, and then John and I fight, and the trips are miserable. What do you think?

Eliza R., Baltimore, Maryland


Dear Eliza,

Sober Dad feels your pain. Some of the least happy moments in his life have occurred on family trips, where he has found himself paying handsomely for the privilege of being in the midst of stress-filled encounters in small, confined spaces, far from home, his regular AA meetings, and the refrigerator.

Kids definitely need experience traveling. It broadens them. It gives them a sense that the world is bigger than the route between home and school. They learn new things.

But at what cost?

Some families travel well, and some don’t.

I don’t believe in imposing a 1950s-like “togetherness” on children and parents who, truth be told, don’t enjoy each other’s company 24/7/365.

Show me a camp that has a bunk for boys who are nine and twelve years old and a six-year-old girl as well.

If camp owners, who are presumably more experienced with children because they deal with so many of them compared to the average parent, don’t put these groupings together, then why do we?

If the maturity level in your family is such that overnight travel doesn’t work, then restrict your voyages to day trips until things change. Why pay thousands and thousands of dollars for you—and them—to be miserable?

Day trips are the “training wheels” for many families, preparing them for extended vacations.

It always amuses Sober Dad when he’s in the airport with his family and someone says, “Are you going on a vacation?”

To which he always replies, “My idea of a vacation is when I am traveling alone.”

Pardon Sober Dad’s cynicism, but he has been in far too many unhappy hotel rooms to encourage family travel for families who don’t yet travel well.

Aside from day trips, the one type of travel Sober Dad enthusiastically endorses for families are cruises. Sober Dad and his family have had great experiences on Disney cruises, where there are plenty of activities for children that do not require the constant oversight of parents, and where safety is a priority.

It doesn’t have to be Disney; many cruises do an excellent job with kids. Check with other parents or TripAdvisor before you book.

On a cruise, you get the best of both worlds—you get a vacation with your children, and you also get a vacation from your children.