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Mindful Travel with Families

How to let go and really enjoy your next family trip!
12 steps for the over-planner and their family

My dad never traveled without an itinerary. He had our trips planned down to the second. He mentioned that travel dollars are some of the most precious money we spend. Vacation time some of the most expensive minutes of our lives. He wanted to be sure to get the most out of every minute and had the best of intentions. We went on amazing trips.

But sometimes the planning bugged me. I never really understood why everything had to be planned down to the last detail. Needless to say, I rebelled. I wanted to roam. To linger here or there and see where my travel day would take me.

Both sides of the planning versus free-spirit travel lifestyle has advantages, but there has to be balance. So how do you help your over-planner stop and smell the roses? Here are a few suggestions to keep your travel mindful and spontaneous.

Take a vacation from planning

Letting everyone in the family have a say about the trip takes some planning, of course. But by letting everyone have a say, all the planning is taken out of any one family member’s control. Over-planners like to control things. To help ween your over-planer off calling all the shots, give him or her a vacation from planning and do some of the heavy-lifting yourselves.

Listen to your over-planner’s worst travel fear

Over-planners control because they’re trying to conquer a fear. Dad’s worst fear was wasting time. Showing up to a museum and finding out it was closed. Not being able to do everything he wanted to do with all of us.

Find out what your over-planner’s worst travel fear is and help them overcome it. For instance, maybe he or she likes to plan because it takes their mind off of the real problem––let’s say, a fear of flying. Here’s one thing you can do to help your over-planner stay in the moment in the air, or anywhere.

“Flying can often generate feelings of anxiety. Meditation brings your mind to a quieter, calmer state.” — Melissa Eisler, a meditation teacher in San Diego and author of

Melissa suggests closing your eyes and taking ten very deep breaths then reciting the mantra May we all be happy. May we all feel safe. May we all feel at ease.

The point is to see that the over-planner can’t plan their way out of their fear, but they can manage their feelings in more effective ways.

Call it as you see it

Is the plan too much? Don’t let one person’s idea of a good time ruin the good time. Be honest. Run a planning intervention, coo, or revolt. Sit your over-planner down and let him or her know that, in the words of Dr. Spock, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

It’s tough love, I know. But sometimes this is the only way an over-planner will understand what’s at stake. Better than sitting silent through the over-planned vacation and becoming so  stressed out you need another one. Regardless, vacation pow-wows are always a good idea. The over-planner is invested in the plan. So, be gentle.

Take your over-planner by the hand

When things go wrong in spite of the over-planner’s incredible plan, this is the real low point for the over-planner. So have a sense of humor about it. The over-planner will take it personally. But they don’t have to. This is the most teachable moment for the over-planner.

When you respond to the wrinkle light-heartedly and come up with something even more amazing on a dime, the over-planner will be in awe. Caught in a spontaneous good time, the over-planner might not see the light just yet, but you’ve opened a window to a new way of experiencing the world that they never would have understood otherwise.

Be more mindful

Planners don’t tend to live in the here and now. Instead, they live in the future. That’s where anxiety resides. They aren’t as able to take advantage of the little recommendation you get from a fellow traveler that might lead you to discover something more amazing than you had planned.

They don’t have the ability to appreciate that a sense of adventure is hard to find in many well-thought out plans. Being mindful while you travel means being aware of and taking advantage of the opportunities that come your way.

What it took me a lifetime to learn is why Dad valued time so much. Why he tried to control it. See, it had been taken away from him. He had been a POW in WWII for three-and-a-half years and was literally robbed of time.

So Dad had a very logical reason for wanting to be its master. I believe he earned every minute back because he treated time in a way most of us never do, until it’s too late. He lived life fully with a reverence to time’s precious nature.

Here’s a little cheat sheet for you and your over-planner. You might want to put this in your journal, right by their daily itineraries.

12 steps for the over planner and their family

  1. Admit they are powerless to over-planning
  2. Allowing that spontaneity can restore balance
  3. Make a decision to let others participate in the plan
  4. Don’t take problems with a plan personally
  5. Admit planning has taken over their life
  6. Find out the over-planner’s real issues
  7. Apologize to people you’ve injured with your plan
  8. Be a more mindful traveler
  9. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”
  10. Find another way for over-planners to contribute
  11. Thank the over-planner for the plan, it’s their way of saying “I love you”
  12. Take the over-planner by the hand during a teachable moment and introduce spontaneity

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