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Family Travel A to Z: No Expectations

The biggest challenge of any holiday is managing everyone’s expectations. Everyone dreams of a perfect holiday where everything goes to plan and nothing gets in the way of your enjoyment. Unfortunately, real life doesn’t always work that way and it is inevitable that something will go wrong or not meet up to you or your family’s lofty expectations.

This is especially relevant for families with kids with special needs. We have to closely manage our son’s expectations, in particular, so he does not completely meltdown when something does not meet his very specific plans. When we travelled to NZ, the first 24 hours in Auckland were particularly challenging with lost luggage, mis-communication with the car hire booking and no trace of our booking at all for a sailing excursion.

It was tough and everyone was stressed to the max, but we got through that period because we had worked hard to avoid setting expectations in the first place. We were ready for something to go wrong and when it did, we were able to recover and move on.

It’s very handy to have some strategies place to minimise unrealistic expectations – it might even be best to have no expectations on your next family holiday, in order to best manage them.


Family Travel A to Z: No Expectations (Featured) -




Be careful not to promise things you can’t guarantee to deliver

The language you use when talking to your family about your holiday is crucial. When explaining planned excursions or activities, make it clear that these are “planned” and not “guaranteed.” For instance, an outdoor excursion may not be able to go ahead due to bad weather or low numbers. A trip to a theme park might result in a desired ride being closed for unscheduled maintenance. Dinner plans may have to be changed due to conflicting bookings. So many things can (and do) go wrong on holidays. Being careful in the words you use can help manage expectations and reduce upset when something does eventually go awry.

Use a visual itinerary to go through the holiday

This was suggested in my first post in this series on anxiety. A visual itinerary for kids is a must.  as well as helping to calm anxiety, it can also go a long way to manage expectations as well. You can use this to explain behaviours you expect them to display on the trip – for instance, state clearly how you would like your kids to behave on the airplane. Going over each day’s planned activities also gives you the chance to remind them that not everything may go to plan. Use words like “might” rather than “will” when explaining your plans and keep reminding them that even the best laid plans may need to be changed.

Be clear on what you DO know

We can’t guarantee everything but there are some constants when it comes to travel. We all know, for instance, that the in-flight entertainment system on a flight will be interrupted at times by announcements. We also know there will be queues at the airport and that you won’t want to eat all the food included in your meal on the plane. It makes sense to prepare your kids for everything that you do know. This way, their expectations are managed and they feel more comfortable when they do end up in an hour long queue at passport control on the way home.

Have a plan to deal with disappointment

You can’t always anticipate or prevent disappointment due to unmet expectations. Even if you follow all the tips listed here, human nature ensures that you still won’t guarantee an upset-free holiday. So think about ways you can deal with disappointment. Each day, think about a plan B just in case your planned activity or excursion does not go as planned. Is there a go-to activity you can all try instead? Is there a tried and true way to comfort your child? Be prepared and think of some ways that you could practically deal with disappointment if it does come your way.

Focus on the positives

This is often my go-to strategy when things don’t go the way I hope. Instead of dwelling on what has gone wrong, try to re-direct the conversation to focus on everything else that has gone right. Relive the best bits of the holiday so far. Ask your kids what they have most enjoyed. Talk about the things that were not expected to be that good but turned out to be awesome. This won’t work every time but trying to turn the situation around can sometimes help deal with the initial pain of disappointment


Employ a well-timed distraction

If all else fails, use the power of distraction. Maybe you could go to a cafe for a treat if that ride you were all looking forward to unexpectedly breaks down. Perhaps an impromptu indoor picnic in your room could distract from the pain of the cancelled outdoor outing. You will know what distractions will work best for your family but it’s worth having some alternatives up your sleeve in case the worst does happen and you need to employ that well-timed distraction.

Do you have any suggestions for managing expectations on your next family holiday?


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