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His idea of a great vacation was playing golf. She wanted to unwind by the pool each day. By the end of the week, she was mad because they hadn't spent enough time together.

Vacation conflict isn't unusual, said therapist Cynthia McKenna. Expectations are high and so is the stress, which gets packed along with the toothpaste but might be more difficult to deal with in a boxy hotel room.

He snores. You're tired. The pool's closed and the kids want to rent a movie they've already seen twice.

The pressure's on. You worked long hours to get this time off, spent weeks planning it and could have paid off a car for what this is costing you.

You'd better have a good time.

"We put a lot on the vacation, hoping it's going to be this fabulous thing," McKenna said.

Compromise goes a long way toward making it memorable, in a good way, she said.

Gina Fritz of Normal knows all about that. She and her husband, Rich, have headed to Branson, Mo., the past 13 summers with friends. She only missed the trip once, when she was eight months pregnant.

In August, they'll top off the tank and head out again with their three kids, just minutes after the final swim meet of the season.

Although the 14 families, from as far as Colorado, blend well, there are times when there's a need for a little space.

"You kind of learn when families are having moments and you back off," Fritz said. "What's interesting too is the kids - they're the ones who throw a monkey wrench into it as they grow older."

What helps is a menu of activities that keep the tweens and teens boating, swimming and posing (at their parents' insistence) every year, in front of a big fish at a lodge.

But they also realize, she said, that "everybody doesn't have to do everything together."

That's a realistic approach, said McKenna, a Texas-based licensed professional counselor and Episcopal priest who has led workshops throughout the country on how to communicate, get more out of relationships and reduce stress.

The first step in planning a vacation should be to talk about what everybody wants to do when they get there, she said.

And the Fritz family did that when they were planning an East Coast trip with another family, asking the kids to make a list of what they wanted to see and then comparing them for matches.

Vacation plans can go awry, like the year the family pulled into their Missouri resort and found one of their girls had a 102-degree temperature.

"I spent quite a few days in the cabin pouting," Gina Fritz said. "But what can you do?"

Vacations can be tough for those who like to be in control, the therapist said. Luggage is lost, connections are missed, directions don't make any sense.

"There's a lot about a vacation you can't control. The hotel might look great on the Internet and be a dog when you get there."

At home, you can walk off stress by pulling weeds, running to a coffeehouse or being distracted by the kids. But a hotel room doesn't offer the same options, which can lead to bottled frustration.

Talk about what's bothering you and give yourself a time out, McKenna suggests.

"If you hold it in and you're mad on days one, two and three, by day four, it's not fun for anyone."

Just a lack of a daily routine can throw you off too.

"I like to go to bed at 9 and have my coffee in a certain way and when I'm traveling, I may not have those choices so I can be off center without meaning to be," she said.

Whether you take the laptop along depends on your comfort level without it. If you'll be more stressed if you're not connected to e-mail, pack it. Just keep in mind what it might cost you, she said.

A hospital administrator told her he spent way too much time poking through his BlackBerry in Disney World.

"All I could think of was this poor man and his poor wife and kids. They were on the rides and he was sitting there looking at his BlackBerry."

Robin and Sean Poston of Normal will leave in July for a weeklong vacation with two other families. Last year, they caravanned to New Jersey, using walkie-talkies to communicate bathroom breaks. The kids had to ride with their parents, but other than that, there were few rules. What really helps, she said, is not having a schedule.

"We had ideas of what we wanted to do but none of us were hard and set in our ways. Some of us are early risers, some are late risers. You just have to be relaxed about it, you can't be stubborn."

At the end of a vacation, we may feel exhausted. That's normal too, McKenna said.

"We do too much. Because it's vacation, you want to get everything you can out of the day. And we're tired of being around people, tuning into feelings, communicating, taking care of the kids."

We also know what's ahead of us, with work, laundry, mail, picking up the dog, facing an empty fridge. But it still feels good to walk through the door.

"There's a reason for that," she said. "You're entering what's known, safe and predictable."

Just what we thought we wanted to get away from.


Before you pack …

Vacations are a time to relax and unwind but they also can be stressful. Here are some ways to make the time away more enjoyable:

• Ask everybody involved what they want out of the vacation. Compromise but also make sure each family member gets to do something he or she really wants to do.

• Describe it in concrete terms for younger kids, such as "we have two travel days and four days at the beach."

• Build in one or more days of down time. You don't have to get to every attraction and you shouldn't try.

• Being spontaneous is good, but doing a little pre-planning lets you know what's available at your destination and what you need to pack.

• Pack a cooler for the kids, but remember that adults need treats too. Throw in some flavored iced teas, bottled coffee drinks and Perrier.

• Take books on CD to help pass the time or an iPod so you can listen to music or books that might not interest the kids.

• If you really want to break away from work, leave the laptop and BlackBerry at home and challenge yourself not to check voicemail.

• Develop a budget and stick to it. Habits don't change on vacation; if you tend to overspend at home, you'll do the same on vacation. Give kids an allowance so they can make their own buying decisions and aren't always asking for money.

• Ask older kids to help plan the route and navigate. If they're interested in nature, get a wildlife guide for the area you're visiting.

• Plan ahead for regular bathroom breaks and include them in your schedule.

• Talk about where you want to eat; some may want to go to McDonald's because the food tastes like home; others may want to poke around town and dine with the locals. Alternate.

• If you're a single parent who doesn't usually have the kids for the summer, expect an adjustment period. Patience might grow thin and that's normal. It's OK to say you're feeling a little frustrated and need an adult timeout.

• Expect to be tired at the end of each day; you're out of your routine, which takes more energy.

• You don't have to do everything together. If you're feeling the need for some alone time, take it.

• Have realistic expectations about romance. Some couples think their problems will disappear in a romantic spot. That's not likely, and if a lack of intimacy is an issue at home because of time or lack of energy, it's likely to be an issue on vacation too.

• If you think it'd be fun to travel with friends or relatives, test the waters on a long weekend. Family issues don't go away and may become exaggerated. If you don't want to hear your parents bickering, take separate trips.

• At the end of each day, talk about what you saw and experienced. Have the kids write in a journal or on a laptop. Include things that didn't go perfectly, like getting lost or mom dropping her iced tea on the sidewalk.

• Expect things to go wrong; there's a lot you can't control on vacation.

• Give yourself a day at home at the end to catch up on laundry, mail and grocery shopping.

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