So many times during my usual days, I take little breaks and imagine that I am on vacation. Of course, the vacation that I am taking in my mind has me napping in some beautiful setting, and having wonderful things to occupy my days like spa appointments and leisurely, delicious meals enjoyed in restaurants.
The reality of my vacations, however, is usually far different than these visions. My real-life vacations are typically taken with my family, including my young twins. As is typical when one has children, much effort goes into to making sure that the family vacation is working for them, that they are eating and sleeping enough to function in a strange setting, and that the "fun" that is planned fits their definition of a good time.
I also want to make sure that my husband is getting something out of our time away, so we make sure that there is always a chance for him to enjoy himself, as well. He does the same for me, so that we strike a good balance for the whole family. However, these times are different from the days when I was single and could do what I wanted, when I wanted with my time off.
Don't get me wrong, these vacations are great. However, they are also a great deal of work. Regardless of how long the vacation has been planned, there is always a last-minute rush to make sure everyone has what he or she needs for the journey.
Right before and during a family vacation, sleep is often sacrificed due to bedtimes being pushed back by evening activities or the inability to sleep soundly in strange places. Vacation climates are often warmer or colder than we are used to and we are often compelled to spend more time outside than we normally would. Stress, lack of sleep and temperature extremes can all combine to make our multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms more noticeable.
One of my goals of a family vacation is to not let my MS become a hindrance to my good time or the fun that my family is having. I have some tips that I would like to offer to ensure this does not happen:
Plan an Appropriate Vacation
Let's face it, there are certain vacations that will not work for everyone. As for myself, I am acutely aware that a summertime beach vacation is just not a good idea for me, as I have MS-related heat intolerance. I also know that, while I do enjoy having fun in a big city, taking my young twins to a place like New York City would cause me nothing but stress, as my cognitive dysfunction makes crowded, busy situations nerve-wracking when I am responsible for others.
My family has chosen to spend time in the summers in a cool mountain setting, renting the same house year after year. We all know what to expect and enjoy different aspects of the place. Find something that works for your family.
Make It a Team Effort
When I was growing up, "vacation" meant that my mom was doing all of her usual housework in a rental house while the rest of us had fun. Make sure that everyone participates in the planning, preparation and various duties that have to be performed during a vacation. It goes without saying that cooking responsibilities should be shared, for instance, but even if every meal is eaten at a restaurant, spread around the task of choosing when and where to eat.
Schedule Rest Times
How many times have you come back from a vacation needing a rest? Make sure that you schedule times to nap, if that is what you do at home to make it to the end of the day. If you usually turn in early at home, at least make sure to alternate early nights with later nights during your vacation. While it may seem like a shame to be "wasting time" resting, keeping your energy levels stable will allow you to enjoy yourself more.
Set Realistic Expectations
Look hard at what you are planning and what your family thinks is going to happen during the vacation. If you are picturing lazy days in front of a fireplace and your family is expecting you to be keeping up with them on the slopes, you need to have a discussion before you go, so that no one is feeling guilty and/or disappointed when they are supposed to be having fun. Go as far as to outline your daily schedule. Remember, you can always change it later, but at least everyone has an idea of what their days might consist of.
Family vacations can be wonderful, but do not underestimate the amount of work involved in ensuring that a vacation goes smoothly. If the whole family has a similar vision of what the vacation will be like and pitches in to make the vacation go as planned, there is a high likelihood that everyone will have a good time and that stress and fatigue will not play a role in making MS symptoms worse.