A Survival Guide for A Stress Free Christmas While Visiting Family

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You may have dreams of stockings hung by the chimney with care and beaming Hallmark-card moments of family time, but the reality may be different.  Travelling with kids is never easy.  Add in the hoopla over gifts, visiting relatives and too much sweets, your trip just got a lot harder.

There have been very few years where we spend Christmas at home. We usually travel to my parents or my parents-in-law because the rest of our respective families live close to them.  Amidst all the excitement and disturbed schedules, I need to make sure my kids don’t behave like they were raised by wolves in front of the extended family. With all these points in mind, here is my survival guide for a stress free Christmas while visiting family.


Be Prepared For the Journey

For end of year travel with the kids, I am a big fan of the Boy Scout motto:  Be prepared. The Christmas/New Year’s holidays are among the busiest times of the year on the roads and at the airports.  I don’t know how parents survived holiday travel without electronic entertainment.

If you are doing a road trip, I am a big fan of the Native Union charging cable.  At four feet long, the cable easily reaches the back of the car without getting tangled.  In addition, the Native Union charging cable is reinforced with fibre so it doesn’t break like so often happens with Apple cables.

If you are flying, I highly recommend taking portable power. Sure, the flight may be only a few hours which means the kids electronics won’t run out of charge.  But what if the flight is delayed?? Winter weather can be unpredictable. One Christmas, we were on a plane circling New York city for 4 hours.

Luckily, I’ve had my  Mophie Powerstation forever.  I keep the 1x in my handbag because it is pretty lightweight and the kids know it is off limits.  With its two outlets and eight charges, the 8x Mophie Powerstation should last even the longest of flights and delays.

Whether you are in the car or on a plane, good quality headphones will save your sanity.  Of course, there is the concern with little ears and headphones. I’ve found the Puro Sound Labs headphones the best for both volume limits and noise cancellation. We have had cheaper head phones in the past but they always broke. Speaking of damage, the Puro headphones come with a great hardshell case.

Keep all of your chargers and other gear in an electronic travel organiser case. It’s handy for packing up, too. When all the cousins get together and everyone has the same electronics, I know exactly what we brought because I know what pockets I had filled.

how to have a stress free Christmas while visiting family
Tips for having a stress free Christmas when you visit family

Take Good Reading Material

Assuming you don’t want your children to stare at a screen for hours on end, physical books are always a good idea. I know some people allow their children to read on Kindles but I personally prefer the good old-fashioned heft of a paper book.


A stress free Christmas while visiting Family
Escape the present by Losing yourself in a good book.

Besides, people will leave you alone if you are reading a book because it makes you look like you are busy doing something intelligent. They will ask someone else to run to the supermarket to get that one ingredient that’s missing.

Bonus: you can get out of having tedious conversations on how your year has gone.

My husband hides behind his computer for the same reason I retreat behind a book.  Everyone assumes he is doing work because some office in some other time zone is open business. In reality, he is checking BBC Sport.

Cozy Up To The Drinks Cart

Self-medicating with a good holiday drink will keep you jolly and take the edge off when your misguided relatives insist on talking about Brexit or President Trump.  If you have a teetotal family like mine, a good flask comes in handy (or a water bottle filled with vodka for particularly dysfunctional moments).

I definitely don’t advocate drinking and driving (unless you are just the passenger) which does advocate taking an airplane. And, frankly, holiday time at the airport will drive a saint to drink!

Of course, bringing on a liquor-induced calm is much harder to do the younger your child is.  You might want to set up a sober schedule with one of the relatives you like.

In London, it’s perfectly acceptable to take your children to a pub in the United Kingdom! We could make it a family expedition to experience local culture.

Play Board Games

You will need to interact with your family at some point.  How about engaging in some friendly competition with board games?  It limits conversation, includes the kids and passes the time. That’s a win/win/win.  We play some old favourites like Uno, Bananagrams, The London Game and Scrabble.

Of course, there is that old standby Monopoly if you want a game that everyone knows and loves and takes hours to play, forestalling genuine conversation for an extended period of time.

Practice the Art of Calm

Mindfulness is the big trend these days.  It seems to have surpassed deep breathing in helping you to remain calm. I’m sure you’ve heard of adult colouring books which help you attain this joyous state of mindfulness.

I also color with my daughter.  She takes one page and I take the other page.  We have spent many happy hours colouring quietly together. Men aren’t the only ones who can spend time together without conversation.

a stress free christmas while visiting family
Colouring is now the big craze for coping with stress.

My fellow blogger, Suzanne Fluhr, is a zentangle expert who does the most amazing artwork.  Zentangle is the art of  creating intricate patterns on paper to help you meditate and relax.  Her website has a list of books for the beginner who wants to learn to zentangle.  I would love to be able to create such amazing patterns but am thinking the Christmas holidays is not the time to start.

Get Outside

A nice walk outside always does wonders for everyone’s spirits.  Being cooped up inside a house with too many family members for too long is never a good idea.  If nature isn’t your thing, hop in the car and go to your nearest city and check out the Christmas lights.

a stress free Christmas while visiting family
Get outside and do something! Fresh air will clear minds and do the body good.

If it’s cold, wrap up warm and take your sturdy boots. On the plus side of living in England, at the end of every hike there is always a village with a pub and a roaring fire!

Turn That Frown Upside Down

Studies have shown that smiling makes you feel better and makes everyone else around you feel better.

Take silly photos and have your children take silly photos.  Not only will you have a good time but you will make good memories.  In years to come, you won’t remember the petty annoyances but instead will remember you had a good time.  After all, you have photos that prove your memories right.

In true VSCO girl fashion, my daughter loves her Fujifilm Instax Mini which takes cute Instagram like photos.  She can print out the photos to put in her travel journal.  She’s definitely part of the instant gratification generation so this camera works a treat.

I have discovered that I LOVE my Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II which has become my regular everyday camera. It’s lightweight and takes great photos. I use it with the Olympus 14-150mm zoom lens which is perfect for most situations.

After all how will your friends know what a great time you are having if you don’t have photographic evidence showing them so?

Remind Yourself That It Is Not Your Home

When you find yourselves visiting family, you may find their ways as alien as little green men from Mars. For example, I don’t see the point in dressing up for dinner when I am not leaving the house. But why make an issue of it?  Grab yourself a drink (see point above) and let it go.


And, Breathe

If all else fails, remember the famous saying of the Suffi poets:  This too shall pass.


stress free Christmas
You may have dreams of a relaxed vacation over Christmas, but the reality might be different. Traveling with kids isn’t easy! Here it’s the ultimate survival guide for a stress free Christmas when visiting family. #christmas #stressfree #survivalguide #christmasholidays Christmas Market | Christmas Vacation | Christmas Shopping | Christmas Travel | Unique Christmas Experiences

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52 thoughts on “A Survival Guide for A Stress Free Christmas While Visiting Family”

  1. I fully take advantage of going for walks with family get-togethers, especially when we there are kids to occupy our own kids. And great idea with the DIY bar… sometimes that would truly help the situation. Maybe Santa will bring me a flask this year.

  2. Yes, that charging cable is a complete essential for all entertainment, plus I love the mini instagram style camera- what a Clueless re-vamp! Interesting to learn about Zentangle, I have been to some adult colouring in groups and they’re awesome.

  3. My parents travel from Spain to Australia to spend Xmas with me so I’m on the receiving end of visitors – but its always great. And I love your comment about smiling making things better – it’s so true!

    1. Yes, it does! You may not feel it but it makes everyone around you feel better too. A smile is really good for people to smile back at you. Of course, it helps if you smile like you aren’t gritting your teeth.

  4. Since you spend Thanksgiving in the UK, that gives you only one opportunity to explore extended family pathology within 40 days. Here in the US, we get to practice on TG for Christmas. Of course, that gives DT extra time to do or say more outrageous things—triggers for bad behavior in certain families. Thanks for the shout out about Zentangle for which I imagine coloring books could be a gateway drug.

  5. All great advice, especially the breathing and letting go! But I particularly love the idea of silly pics – something which everyone would enjoy and also be great to look back on in the future!

  6. Great idea. I love adult (or kids) coloring books at any time of the year. I personally love the holidays, but my family is pretty sane with get togethers, no crazy drama fighting, or political arguments. This is the first Christmas I’m spending away from them (I’m in Ireland and they’re in Canada) so there’s definitely be no drama thing year (unless I start arguing with myself).

  7. Very good tips thanks for sharing. It is very difficult to keep kids busy while traveling and especially during the Christmas season that everything is busy.I always travel with a good book.

  8. We don’t have children so our holidays are relatively calm but even so the stresses of the season can get to you, stop, breathe, smile gets me through. Love some of your ideas and can totally agree the Olympus cameras are the perfect size for carrying every day with photo quality up there with a DSLR

  9. I’ve found a new way to survive: I escape to India 😀
    Seriously, I know my younger sister would again insist for me to come, I’d say I don’t want as my older sister would find an excuse to fight with me again. And by the end, my younger sister would forget I did everything to avoid my older sister. I’m really better far in India…

    1. yes, escape the family altogether! I have yet to manage that even though I’m a grown adult with children of my own. Just succumb too easily to family pressure.

  10. Haha, I love your tips for reading books! I’m also a big fan of physical books (I just can’t quite get to grips with reading a novel on an iPad or Kindle) and am definitely going to see if this year my avid reading gets me out of household chores 🙂 Love the look of the Fuji polaroid camera too – looks like a great gift!

    1. When you are immersed in something like 2000 years of English history, people are afraid to approach you in case you want to discuss the book 🙂 Something light and fluffy like chick lit, people don’t care if they bother you.

  11. Thats a wonderful list of things to carry while visiting . Ha Ha Ha, Yes if the going gets tough make yourself a strong one! I also see that they are great gift ideas!

  12. I love that you included activities that don’t involve staring at screens. The Fujifilm Instax Mini sounds like something I would have enjoyed immensely as a kid. And for adults who are enduring a lot of stress during the holidays, I love the idea of a flask disguised as a book!

    1. We use our screen time mostly for trying to get somewhere and I’m swamped trying to navigate, or drive etc etc. – then I feel they’ve had enough and they can do something else.

  13. Great list. The book trick is worth the book’s weight in gold and you also get educated!
    Family gatherings are always… let’s call them special. I have the privilege to spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Mumbai, India far away from any blood-relatives. Let’s see how it goes. Maybe I’ll continue this tradition 😀

  14. Love your closing thoughts…”let it go” and “breathe.” These are great ideas to survive the holidays, though I can’t imagine wearing headphones with family….this certainly would be frowned upon 🙂 Nice list with a diversity of ideas!!

    1. We don’t let them wear it at the table or anything. When they are on their iPads though I can’t bear to listen to the dumb you tubers etc that they like to watch.

  15. Noise-cancelling headphones are something I’d love to have.
    But what I’d like most of all is white Christmas – just like the one in your picture – I’d need nothing more then 🙂

    1. OMG, I have bad memories of growing up shovelling snow in New York. A white Christmas is only pretty if you are not the one doing the shovelling. Snow is heavy!!! After we grew up and left home, my parents paid people to shovel snow but my brother and I were free labor when we were home.

    1. I love colouring too. My daughter and I sometimes coordinate our colouring so it’s fun. You get a different scheme than you would have if you’d do it on your own.

    1. Family wouldn’t be family unless they drive you crazy. After all they know you best and know exactly what little thing can send you over the edge. Even now, I know which anecdote will make my brother grit his teeth :-))

  16. I never have an issue going home for the holidays! In fact, I could not welcome the idea more being an expat and not being able to go home for Christmas this year just breaks my heart… I always try bringing books but theres never any down time to read. I do bring my instax camera to EVERY gathering and its a total hit to have all these keepsakes to give away to other family members. Playing games is an excellent idea! I just found Settlers of Catan to be VERY divisive between family members 😛

    1. Oh! I’ll have to look that up! I’ve not heard of that game. We have a competitive family and so anything like that could either be a lot of fun or end in tears.

  17. Great tips! The ‘let it go’ one is so important I think, too many of us get stressed out when things aren’t going exactly as we would like them to; either in our own home or as a guest. Christmas is supposed to be an enjoyable time after all!!

  18. Great list! Luckily, I normally don’t have a stressful Christmas. I don’t have children yet and I don’t have to travel that far for visiting my family. Honestly, I think the preparation of Christmas (buying presents, prepare dinner etc.) is more stressful haha, but at the end it’s indeed all about letting go and just breath. 🙂

    1. You’re lucky! This year we’re going for a few days to NY to see my family and then flying back and going to the south coast of England to see my husband’s family. It’ll be a lot of time on the road.

  19. Travelling during holidays would most likely be the busiest season especially in airports and roads. If you want to go to your hometown with your kids, it would definitely be stressful if they are all cranky. Thank you for sharing your tips, you are right ipads are essential to keep your kids busy. It would be best to save some educational or disney movies on it so they can keep theirselves entertained while waiting. One thing that would be important to bring would be powerbanks since having the power to your phone or ipad would really be terrible especially when you are still in the airport or stuck on the road.

    1. Power banks have been a lifesaver when we’ve been delayed. Everyone is stressed and tired and it is not the time you want kids to be acting up.

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