#704: Planning family trips when there is one difficult traveler who complains about all of the plans.

Hi Captain!

I’m going to be going on a vacation with my family soon. We are visiting multiple countries in Europe. I have planned every detail of the entire vacation because I plan all the complicated travel that our family does. No one else knows how to internet and I’ve been on a lot of trips by myself and have a lot of experience with them.

The problem is my mom. My mom does not really like to go out, let alone go on expensive trips, but she’s going anyways because of the family culture and I already know she’s going to complain about everything. (She’s done it before, on other trips I planned.) I feel bad for her- we suggested to her that she stay home several times, but she refused- but I also feel very attacked and unhappy when she starts to criticize the things that I spent so much time researching so that everyone would enjoy them. When we went to Vegas she pitched a fit because she wanted to see ‘a show’ but didn’t want to go to any of the shows we offered to take her to. She does this- picks something, decides that she wants it, bullies everyone into going with her or sulks when people don’t want the same thing, or sees how expensive it is and decides she doesn’t want it after all. I tend to plan things very carefully, so it’s really annoying when she just decides to go off on some improbable side path. Now that we’re going to Europe, I don’t trust her not to decide that she wants to go to some random city in Italy and then sulk when it turns out that we can’t do that because we already booked our hotels.

I’ve already tried asking her in advance if there was anything she wanted, and her initial suggestions were impossible (I want to go from Paris to Madrid by train- and I want it to take three hours!) When I explained why that wasn’t really doable, she sulked and now refuses to give me any input at all. I put a lot of effort into planning these trips and I really want people to enjoy them. Do you have any advice on getting her to complain less or for helping me feel less anxious and attacked when she does complain? I know on a surface level that these complaints aren’t always directed at me, but I still feel very unhappy when I hear them.

Best,

Harried Planner

Dear Harried,

It sounds like you and your mom are wildly incompatible as travel companions. Her behavior while on the trips sounds really unfun, and I don’t envy you that. It sucks to put a lot of work into something and then feel so unappreciated.

I don’t know if this will save the upcoming trip if it’s coming up immediately, but I’m reading a few things in how you describe your plans that may be affecting how some of this goes.

You write “I have planned every detail of the entire vacation because I plan all the complicated travel that our family does.

That sounds to me like every activity and meal on every day is planned, and that maybe you all do every single thing together. Consider that your plans need more down time and more optional events within the structure of the family trip, and see what happens when you lock in a few shared events (things that involve extra transport, reservations, or advance ticketing) but leave some of the days looser for people to peel off alone or in smaller groups. That way your mom can have more autonomy in what she does when she’s on the trip, and you can also get breaks from hanging out with her and from being the tour guide. “Mom, I’m going to the Rodin Museum and Sculpture Garden tomorrow. If you want to come along, I want to leave by 9:30 a.m., so meet me downstairs. If not, here’s the guidebook and the map, we’ll all catch up at dinnertime. Byeeeeeeeeee.

No one else in my family knows how to internet…

Consider that there are other vectors for learning about an area and planning trips (like guidebooks), and other ways than “Do you have any input?/No wait, your input is wrong” for asking for input in advance.

For example, in a recent thread commenters correctly sang the praises of offering limited options. Once you’ve carved out a timeframe in a certain city, use email or a secret Facebook group to ask EVERYONE for the things they most want to see, do, and eat while they are there. You can choose a set of options that you think will work best and offer them up as a poll and/or ask people to rank them in terms of preference/priority. This might get your mom’s input in a constructive and controlled way that is also public to other people in the traveling group, and it might also clue people in to just how much work goes into the planning. “Here are three restaurants that are close to our hotel in Prague, which sounds best to you for our first night there?” “The second day, do you want to go to the Toy Museum or the Strahov?“I thought we might want to get opera tickets one of the nights we’re there. Are you in our out, and if you’re in, The Cunning Little Vixen or The Bartered Bride?” Put a deadline on each request for input.

If your family is used to you just quietly handling everything and then presenting them with an itinerary at the end, this may seem weird to them and they may give you a lot of “Whatever sounds good to me!” That’s fine, but poke your mom a little bit to get her to choose one of the options. You want her on the record. If she starts picking a fight about it, may I suggest total bluntness? “Mom, I love planning family trips, but I really hate traveling with you sometimes. It hurts my feelings when you won’t contribute during the planning stages and then crap all over my plans when we’re underway. If what I do isn’t working for you, what do you think would work better? In a perfect world, how do you want this process to go?

I have a friend who is great at planning group travel, and this is what she does. She will throw sets of dates and places out, and once people have agreed on a thing she will start narrowing down the details. Her big rule is, at the early stages of planning a trip you are allowed to not express an opinion, but if you choose not to offer suggestions or input when she asks, you don’t get to complain later. I think that if you can set up a really active and constructive way of getting your mom’s input, it won’t necessarily prevent her complaints but it gives you more room to walk away and go drink wine in a quiet cafe with your book knowing that you did what you could.

In the end she’s gonna do what she’s gonna do, and you’re gonna feel how you’re gonna feel. My next best suggestion is for you to appoint a buffer to manage your mom during disputes while you’re actually on the trip. You’re not a paid tour guide (those people more than earn their pay and their tips, believe), and I think it would help you if someone had your back if your mom, as you say, “pitches a fit.” Buffering can take the form of speaking up on your behalf, like, “Hey, Harried asked us for input way in advance about what the plan was for today. You don’t have to come with us, but it’s not cool to pick a fight about it at the last minute,” or it can take the form of getting either her or you out of the immediate area when trouble is brewing. Do you have a sibling or other family member who can say, “Mom, if you don’t want to go to the Louvre, that’s okay, come shopping with me instead?” Surely someone in the group has interests that are more compatible with hers, and this doesn’t even have to be presented as a problem. As a seasoned traveler, you can always flee the drama and read books all night in a quiet cafe where they can’t find you if you need a break.

287 comments
  1. Manattee said:

    I love the suggestions for limited option choices and also opt out events – those have worked well for me when planning things for groups of people.

    I wonder if it might also help things with your mom if you have a few days where nothing at all is on the itinerary, not even an optional event, and that on at least one of those days you prepare yourself to go along with whatever she might come up with, even if it’s just hanging out?

    If she’s much more of a spontaneous person, then telling her that the only way she can have input into the holiday is to plan something way in advance is basically telling her she doesn’t get to have input. Some room for structured spontaneity might help her feel a bit more like it’s her holiday too but without you feeling stressed that everything is unscheduled.

    • Flora said:

      As someone who hates to plan, this. When I travel I might plan a couple of outings (plays, concerts, meetups with people I know) in a week and have a list of a few sightseeing targets or restaurants I definitely want to hit, but I leave everything else up to serendipity. Harried sounds like she means well, but I think I’d have trouble traveling with her too.

      • sorcharei said:

        I agree. I love travel and have done a fair bit of it, but planned to the minute, highly choreographed trips freak me out. If the LW is planning for her own style of travel without regard for people who prefer spontaneity, down time, and alone time, then I would also be unhappy on such trips. Being asked months in advance for input, having that input shot down, and then being presented with a fixed schedule is my idea of a nightmare trip. The larger the group I am travelng with, the more critical the downtime and flexibility becomes, because large groups of people, even people I love and like, exhaust me.

        If “planning every detail” doesn’t take into account different styles of travel, different needs for flexibility, and different levels of comfort with group activities, then the trip is being planned to cater to one style of travel, and not other, equally legitimate styles of travel.

        The mom’s behavior sounds very frustrating, but if it’s growing out of legitimate frustration that these trips are planned down to the minute and in lock step, then maybe relaxing the regimentation would help. Offering structured ways to provide input in advance as well as “open days” during the trip could provide mom and the other travelers with more control over what happens.

        • Jane said:

          I like to *research* my trips very carefully so that I can plan the things that are important to me with a fair amount of attention to detail (example: museums that require advance tickets or have a limited capacity.) But I also find that I am far more cheerful about being spontaneous if I’ve oriented myself fairly well and have a good idea of my options.

          That being said, for the most part I DO NOT LIKE travel that is planned for me by someone else without a great deal of in-built flexibility. Sometimes I get tired! Sometimes I want to stop and paint something and that’s the end of my exploration for the day! Sometimes I have anxiety and need to sit in a coffee shop for a few hours. . . ! (Don’t even want to tell you how often that last one happens.)

          I once went on a lovely three-day retreat thingy that was part of workshop, planned by a group of experts in subjects closely related to my field. That being said, it was fairly tightly planned, and it just. . . aggravated me. Due to my own clumsiness, I ended up injuring myself the first night and needing to go the hospital to get stitches. This was my excuse to not go out to do the next day of touring (I didn’t want to pull out the stitches on my thigh,) but the real reason was that I was grumpy and wanted a break.

          • Cactus said:

            Seriously. Traveling with my family can be a pain in the neck for this very reason. My mom means well, but she overschedules everything, and sometimes if we’re at a cool park in an unfamiliar city, all I really want to do is find a bench or a spot of grass and take pictures, write poetry, or read, not walk walk walk walk, turn around, hurry and do the next thing.

          • therufs said:

            Near the end of a very long and very planned trip with about 60 other travelers, as politely as I could, I handed my receiver and earphone back to our tour guide and started towards a historical site in a distant suburb that a friend had told me about. I got horribly lost, ended up walking probably 7 or 8 miles, and didn’t make it back until late into the night, and I think it was hands down one of the best days of my trip.

        • unagi said:

          It does seem likely that a different degree of spontaneity, whether in travel or in life, might at the root of much of Harried’s trouble with Mom. May I suggest something further along those lines? You can plan a trip to the minute for -yourself-, Harried, but still leave some room for others not to do the same, or to do so slightly differently.

          For instance, “Wednesday is open day (I will be walking 5 miles along the river, then spending 4h in this museum. Uncle Edmond will be exploring the bookstores in this other neighborhood. Anyone who wishes to is welcome to join one or the other.). We can meet for dinner at Bon Appetit Cafe 1/2 mile from the hotel if people are enclined (review here:…).” Then you can also offer options according to different tastes or energy levels, if you like to plan and you think that’d add to your fun (or even offer alternatives that you reject for one reason or another, a ferry ride if you get seasick for instance).

          The Internet excuse doesn’t fly here. You need to assign some reading ahead of these trips, in fact ahead of your planning. Every public library has European guide books. And these days every one of them has an online catalog. Log in to local ones for your major trip participants, and assign reading accordingly. You can finish up the research online, with more recent updates, maybe reliable reviews, or actual reservations. But you hogging the pleasurable research on the pretext of it being online only is as inappropriate as them refusing to look online at all.

          Also, I have trouble traveling with ONE person, even a person I love dearly, and need some apart days even then. Blood ties are absolutely no guarantee of travel compatibility. I really think that any group must allow for people to split off either alone or in smaller more compatible groups for any common endeavor to be successful.. This is not a failing of the planner, this is reflecting human nature and its lovely, infinite variability :-). Let go a bit Harried, and I think you will also enjoy yourself more..

    • Dizzy said:

      I know this wasn’t covered, but I wonder if Mom has some energy/health problems? For me, I loooove going out and doing stuff, but I can’t do a full day of High Energy Intensive Sightseeing. (Thanks depression, really appreciate that). So if I’m out and about at 8am, by about noon I’m going to have a bad case of mind fog and foot hurting. I have to schedule a nap if I’m doing a full day of stuff. This doesn’t excuse Mom’s super jerk behavior but it might explain it. Maybe LW would be better off with a flexible itinerary?

      I love the Captain’s idea of soliciting feedback, and I would suggest using Survey Monkey! You can send an email link to everyone going with you and plan out events by location. So, if question 1 is “What should we do in Prague?” Your answers might be 1) Go to a museum 2) Go to an amazing restaurant 3) See a show 4) Other (please specify). Then do that for everything. Plus, you can make it so they can check off multiple answers. Plus, Survey Monkey will tally things up for you so you don’t have to do anything. Therefore, “I see everyone wanted to go a restaurant and a museum–time to find some! But no one wanted to see a show, so we’ll scratch that.” It gives everyone more input and makes it easier for LW to plan, plus if Mom didn’t answer your Survey Monkey, well, I guess she doesn’t care. She doesn’t get to bitch later.

      • slythwolf said:

        I’m not sure what exactly causes it, whether it’s related to my inattentive-type ADHD or something else, but I tend to get a little hysterical when I’m overstimulated. Too much going on in one day overwhelms me and makes me shut down, which, if people are trying to tell me I have to keep doing the things, makes me shouty. I have behaved like the LW’s mom on some overscheduled trips in the past.

      • Scarlett said:

        Survey Monkey is great! However, the the LW specifically says they do the planning because the rest of the group do not “know how to internet”. Assuming that isn’t over-stating it, they really need to find need mechanisms they can use that are not online. (If they do indeed know how to use the internet and have access, but just don’t use it to do the indepth research the LW does, that’s a different story entirely).

        • I took “don’t know how to internet” to mean that the relatives don’t know how to do in-depth research online, not that they have no internet access at all and are incapable of using basic things like email. But it’s not really clear from the letter. If they really have no internet access, then it’s probably best for LW to do these conversations by phone or in person.

      • Yes, this! I love to travel, but it’s difficult, painful and exhausting for me if I overdo it. I need to build in a lot more downtime than most people need.

        LW, if your mother is feeling like this, you and the others might not even know it, as she may feel embarrassed about not being able to keep up and doesn’t want you to know. But if you can build in some of the flexibility that the Captain suggested, where there are days when nothing’s on the agenda or days when stuff is on the agenda but it’s optional, and she spends much of that time back at the hotel resting, she may really need the recharge. Even if she spends it doing something different from you but which doesn’t *look* less intense, she may be resting — sometimes there’s a subtle type of recharge needed and certain activities are OK and others not.

        In any case, leaving that spontaneity room is a wise idea. Even if this isn’t her problem, it’ll help; and if it *is* the problem, it’ll probably make an enormous difference to her enjoyment of the trip (which could, in turn, make her easier to tolerate).

  2. I like the Captain’s ideas and I like the simple but effective idea that if she doesn’t want to do a particular activity then she doesn’t have to. But if she’s insisting on coming because family culture, then I wonder if your family culture might be a bit like mine, LW. In my family, nobody does anything unless everyone does it. Hell, they even have to have breakfast together round the table every. single. day regardless of individual commitments (if one person has to leave early for work or something, then everyone gets up early. Nightmare). Doing different activities whilst on a trip or opting out would never, ever be acceptable in my family.

    So LW if your family is anything like that, then I think the fairest way would be to sit down with each person and a guidebook and get everyone to pick one or two things (depending on how much time you have). You can then do your meticulous planning, which I can tell you love (I do too) around those activities. If they won’t choose because they expect you to do it, then as Cap says, limited options work wonders.

    If she raises a stink even after that, then you and everyone else will be able to point out gently that “we all got the chance to pick activities and this is what X wanted to do. Tomorrow we’re doing Y, because you wanted to.”

    • Copcher said:

      Yeah, if that’s what the family culture is like then this is likely really useful (if maybe time consuming) advice. I would still echo Manattee’s comment above, though, to have some time with nothing planned. If someone sat me down with a guidebook ahead of time and asked me what I wanted to do in a city, I wouldn’t suggest sitting around and spending time to myself, but after a few days of family travel, I think I would need time to do just that. Without that time, I would probably get cranky and unhappy with all of the plans without being able to really explain why.

    • ” I wonder if your family culture might be a bit like mine, LW. In my family, nobody does anything unless everyone does it. Hell, they even have to have breakfast together round the table every. single. day ”

      I am so grateful to my brother and SIL for having three small children. Because this is in general my family culture on camping trips, but the wee ones (and SIL, who grew up in a much less tight-knit / enmeshed / whatever family) seem to have changed the game.

      There was initial grumbling. And then Mom realized she had permission not to go on a 10-mile hike if her knees were bothering her, but to grab a much-needed nap. And then Aunt realized that she didn’t need everyone to learn how to kayak in order to enjoy kayaking. And then I could manage the amount of time I spent around my father. (And I didn’t have to rely on rainy weather to cadge some unstructured time.)

      We still mostly do meals together, and we still prioritize activities that everyone can comfortably do. But I am so relieved that SIL and the kids helped show that there are other ways to do things.

  3. LDN Layabout said:

    LW, I definitely know those feels. I’m a planner. I love being a planner. I have spreadsheets for trips in autumn 2016 already.

    My friends love that I’m a planner, because my groups really need someone there to do research, logistics and on occasion, just make a bloody decision.

    So when someone complains, after being asked TEN MILLION TIMES, it feels personal. Like it’s you being criticised. You should have done better. Why didn’t you plan better, so everyone could be happy?

    The Captain’s advice is very good especially re: EVERYONE MUST ALWAYS BE TOGETHER AND DO THE SAME THINGS.

    But it may also come down to the fact that you will never make your mother happy. She doesn’t enjoy these trips, but she insists on going. That’s not something you can fix, no matter how much you indulge her.

    I have a friend (let’s call her J) like that, we were group planning a trip, plans fell through due to various responsibilities and I managed to cobble together a shorter trip in a short time period. We had about three full days at the destination:

    Day 1: Spent doing a trip J wanted to do.
    Day 2: Spent in a location J wanted to go to (which was very incovenient for another member of the party)
    Day 3: Everyone chilled out.

    For the next several months J complained about various aspects of the trip and how controlling I was. So when the time came for the trip to be repeated this year, I dropped the rope. Surprise surprise, the trip hasn’t happened (and J blew her top about me going on holiday with other members of the group)

    There are people who will never be happy and it’s not your job to make them so ❤ You clearly make other people happy. You plan complex trips for you loved ones and you've got one serial complainer vs. a number of satisfied people?
    Keep reminding yourself of those moments. If you keep a travel journal, write those moments down. They don't have to be big ones. Stumbling across a cafe with really good pastries, some hilarious graffiti, someone's face when they see some art they love, a compliment about an activity that really enjoyed. Every time the whining begins, remember all the good that outweighs it.

    • yogibeaty said:

      Yep, this times 100. After the last couple of trips where I was begged to organize for everyone (“you are so good at it!”),and had it turn out no so nicely, I decided that I was going to “organize” as follows: “Here’s where I’m going, with my nuclears. You are welcome to join us, do something else, or ask me for recommendations. But this is where >I’mI’m< doing. Now, how can I help you have a great time?" Cue rampant accusatory finger-pointing about my selfishness and unwillingness to be a team player.

      Ah, family. Wouldn't be here without them, and neither would my therapist.

      • muse142 said:

        “Ah, family. Wouldn’t be here without them, and neither would my therapist.”

        LOVE THIS. SO MUCH. Might borrow it. ^_^

        • LW 704 said:

          God, the therapist comment is so real.

          Thank you. I’m going to make a word document with all the encouraging stuff people said and keep it with me on the trip so I can remember that I did my best and her being a jerk isn’t about me. Like, I know that on an intellectual level, but it’s hard to make it stick when someone is yelling in your ear that it’s your fault the weather isn’t better.

          I love my mom, but God, she should not go on these trips.

      • LDN Layabout said:

        Yeah, if people don’t appreciate the work you’re putting in (yes, even though I love doing it, it’s work. That’s why being a travel agent is a job) it’s time to stop co-operating with them. Thankfully the majority of my friends are either grateful for my skills or they’re also planners who love to collaborate.

  4. Cypress said:

    LW, I could just be totally missing something in your letter here, so feel free to just roll your eyes and keep on readin’ if so, but have you told your mom in clear plain language how much her complaining makes you feel attacked and anxious? I would start with that, if so. Clearly no guarantees that that’s going to, you know, actually stop her from unreasonably complaining, and it’s probably ridiculous of me to wonder if she’s even aware of how she upsets you when she does this (because how do people who do this not know how upsetting it is?), but if nothing else, it would give you somewhere to start a conversation from.

  5. (Sorry if this posts like five times, trying to sort out my login!)

    This is not a direct criticism of you, but I get the feeling would haaaaaate going on trips with you, because I like making and changing plans based on how I’m feeling when I’m there, which is not something you can plan ahead for. For example, this:

    I don’t trust her not to decide that she wants to go to some random city in Italy and then sulk when it turns out that we can’t do that because we already booked our hotels.

    What you mean is, you already booked your hotels, right? Because you feel more comfortable having everything planned in advance? Like, there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not because this is objectively the best way to have a vacation, it’s because you like organising everything ahead of time. I would also be really cross if I was in Italy (Italy!!!) and wanted to go on a spontaneous day trip somewhere that sounded cool, but my family member, who planned everything while saying things like No one else knows how to internet and I’ve been on a lot of trips by myself and have a lot of experience with them, vetoed it because she’d already made bookings at some hotel I didn’t even look at.

    This: I tend to plan things very carefully, so it’s really annoying when she just decides to go off on some improbable side path.

    could just as equally be phrased from the other side as, “I like to decide what I’m doing based on what I’m feeling that day, so it’s really annoying when she makes my vacation feel like I’m a fifth-grader being herded through a school trip.” Improbable side paths are awesome! They’re where interesting things happen! It feels like your letter is characterising yourself as a Good and Wise Trip Planner and your mom as an Unwise Trip N00b, but it sounds to me like she does know what she wants – she wants to be able to make spontaneous decisions on the trip. That’s totally valid. It is okay to answer “The second day, do you want to go to the Toy Museum or the Strahov?” with ‘Hell if I know three months ahead of time, I’ll see which one I feel like on the second day.’

    tl;dr I agree with Cap’s advice about making more space for her autonomy and spontaneous decisions.

    • Spontaneity Lover said:

      What you mean is, you already booked your hotels, right? Because you feel more comfortable having everything planned in advance? Like, there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not because this is objectively the best way to have a vacation, it’s because you like organising everything ahead of time. I would also be really cross if I was in Italy (Italy!!!) and wanted to go on a spontaneous day trip somewhere that sounded cool, but my family member, who planned everything while saying things like No one else knows how to internet and I’ve been on a lot of trips by myself and have a lot of experience with them, vetoed it because she’d already made bookings at some hotel I didn’t even look at.

      Oh my god, me toooooo. LW sounds like my sister, and my sister and I just cannot vacation together, at all, even though we’ve each individually gone on successful group vacations with other family members or with our own set of friends. But put the two of us together and di.sas.ter. LW, please just consider that your family, or at least your mother, just has a different vacation style than you. It’s also possible (and I speak from experience here) that somehow your family have gotten the idea that they’re not allowed to question you or ask for more flexibility, and they do not see your planning everything as the gracious gift that it is, but are having their own feelings about it (“stifled,” “overscheduled,” “run-down,” “this is a f***ing vacation not bootcamp” were all things I thought about my sister before we cleared the air).

    • ZeldasCrown said:

      I was likewise reading the letter and inwardly feeling stressed thinking about having to go on a trip with a strict timeline, where there’s no flexibility. When I travel, I like to have the hotels booked and plans for how I’m going between locations (if I’m going to be in multiple cities), but to leave what I’m specifically doing each day to decide that day. Yes, I like to research a little beforehand as to what there is to do so I can get an idea of how many days is ideal to stay in a given stop, and so I’m aware of the cool things that are there that I don’t want to miss. But, sometimes a particular attraction is more interesting than you anticipated and you spend more time there than you initially thought you would. That’s ok when there isn’t a strict itinerary, but if someone had everything meticulously planned and was pressuring me to move on, that would be quite stressful.

      That being said, Mom does seem passive aggressive in the letter. I think offering limited options, and scheduling some flexibility into the itinerary would help. Perhaps the LW could schedule the first activity of the day (something that might be a bit time consuming and hard to fit in spur of the moment) and then leave the rest of the day a little more opened ended, where the plans could depend upon how long the first activity took, and how much of the day is left.

      • badcrumble said:

        +1 to this method. It is totally possible to organise things in a flexible way that still lets you see all the things you’ve travelled to a place for. Mr Crumble and I like not having a stressful search for accommodation when we arrive in a place, and we like knowing how we’ll get from one place to another, so we always sort that out beforehand. And we always do some research to get an idea of all the things we want to see most, to make sure we plan out enough time in each place to see them, but otherwise we mostly keep things pretty open. A few years back we travelled around Europe in summer, and we underestimated just how exhausting it would be, trekking all over cities in hot weather for days on end. We fell into this lovely pattern where we’d go out and do energetic touristy things in the morning, wander back to wherever it was we were staying in the middle of the afternoon, nap for a few hours, and go out again in the evening to find dinner and see what things looked like by night. We would never have known this would work so well before the trip, it just kind of happened. And we often choose what we do depending on the weather – we had at least one super rainy day when we were in Paris, so we saved the day trip to Versailles for a sunny one, stuff like that. And we make decisions based on our energy levels too – at the beginning of a trip we’re very excited and eager to See! All! The! Things! and by the end we’re usually pretty damn exhausted and would rather just go sit in a park and watch the squirrels* or something. Also we’ve found that some things take way longer than we thought they would, and some things are way faster, and some things we love so much that we end up going back and doing them a second time. (Yeah, we were those overexcited kiwis who went back to see Times Square by night JUST BECAUSE.)

        Also doing some things separately can be awesome too, because there are some days when one person wants to see Lords’ Cricket Ground and the other person couldn’t care less and would much rather see the Tate Modern. And we get a nice break from each other (because no matter now much Mr Crumble and I like each other’s company, there always comes a point in a holiday when we need some space from each other), and then we get to reunite at the end of the day and talk about what we’ve been up to, which is nice too 🙂

        *we spent a substantial part of our North America trip cooing over squirrels. NZ doesn’t have squirrels, in case you’re wondering.

        • Oh yes–the napping! We do a lot of afternoon napping when we travel!

        • spook11 said:

          As a fellow kiwi I too would spend a lot of time cooing over squirrels. I would love to see squirrels. On my first overseas jaunt to Melbourne last year, the main thing that sticks in my head was seeing a crow. I saw two! Only for a few moments each time, and I wish that I could have seen more.

    • slfisher said:

      I haven’t been to Europe in a while, but I’m not sure how spontaneous one can be when it involves where one’s going to sleep, especially if there’s a big group involved.

      • twomoogles said:

        This makes me think of my European trip! My best friend and I went with full intention of being awesome spontaneous people who just decided where we wanted to go on the fly, gallivanting off etc. After a couple of experiences of desperately seeking a hostel and praying it wasn’t full, we realized that the “decide where to go the day before” thing was not going to work for us. 😀 i envy those people who can pull it off, though! (we had fun anyway).

      • TO_Ont said:

        About twenty years ago I went on a road trip in Europe with my family of five (I was twelve). We had reservations for the time we were in Paris, but when we were driving through smaller towns it was all ‘kids, look out the window and tell me if you see see a sign saying ‘zimmer’ (German for room). And my dad having fun stopping random people and asking them for advice in what remained of his school German. And we spent a lot of time wandering down obscure roads people had sent us on and found a couple of nice bed and breakfasts and small hotels and motels and it all went fine.

        It varies a lot from place to place, and time of year, and day of the week, and how big the town is, but I can’t imagine it’s completely changed? It seems to be a common way of traveling, and there are lots of places that have a reasonable enough vacancy rate that you can find things on short notice.

        • eightysixed said:

          I don’t know….for a start the prices in Europe have changed compared to the US dollar over the past $20 years – so that kind of spontaneity comes at a steep price. Not to mention, because even the most remote youth hostels can be booked online (and vetted online, and broadcasted online as “this is the best place to stay as a single/family/couple for $x”) – those places often book quickly.

          About 5 or so years ago I “train-ed/bus-ed” through the Balkans – and for lots of the places where we stayed, I could not imagine it working easily without having booked where we were going to stay ahead of time. Particularly in a city like Dubrovnik or Sarajevo – that while not Paris, are definitely relatively popular among tourists.

          I think the drive around method can work for some people/families, but I think that in Europe it’ll be rare that it’ll end up cheaper. That being said, what you can do often is if you book your room(s) via the hotel’s website – they often have a far more gracious cancelation policy if you do relatively last minute. But then you’re left out on travel deals and most hostels that function online do not offer that feature at all.

          • Myrin said:

            Yup, definitely. I’m German and from a generally tourist-y rural region and there are several houses that have “Zimmer frei” (“room available”) signs in front of them or they theoretically would if the rooms ever were available. Like eigthysixed says, it’s probably got to do with how you can book pretty much everything online. You might be lucky to find a house that has free rooms but even then it’s often only until the next day or so. I’ve experienced walking by one of the houses that offers rooming and it indicated both of their flats were available and when I walked back two hours later both were marked as unavailable. So yeah, it’s a thing that exists but you definitely have to be lucky, especially if you’re in an area that’s got even moderate amounts of tourism.

        • Friendly Hipposcriff said:

          If you’re prepared that every now and again you end up at 11pm in the driving rain with nowhere to stay and you’re willing to pay for the first hotel that’s still open and FUCK THE COST, it’s an awesome way to travel. (Then again, I prudently booked a hotel last year and ended up standing in front of a closed reception at 9pm and finally finding an overpriced motel room two hours later, so planning isn’t a universal answer).

          It’s not an awesome way for everybody. If you don’t have a car (and the option to sleep in the car when everything else fails completely), it can be very stressful, and it works best in summer (more light to search by). I’ve also found that the most feasible way is to start looking for somewhere to stay around 6-7pm, so again, it needs a particular style of travelling, and will not suit everyone.

        • Yeah it really depends where you are and the time of year. So Rome and the other Italian tourist trap cities no way no how. Or only if you are willing to pay through the nose. But about 6 years ago my family went on a two week trip to the Peleponnese in Greece and we had a rough itinerary of places we wanted to visit and knew how long it would take to get from place to place but we basically didn’t book anywhere to sleep. We stayed with family in Athens the night after and before our flight. It was mid-autumn and off-season so most hotels and things had rooms free and we had a hire car so we just went from place to place and found little places and stayed for as long as we felt like before moving on. But if you are doing the famous cities of Europe and especially Italy you really do need to book. Or at least do some research before hand with a copy of the Lonely Planet guide.

      • B. said:

        Speaking as someone who has toured Europe up and down (my dad LOVES to travel), it all depends on what’s confortable for you. I’ve never had any trouble with “we’re on spot A, have to get to spot B by 8 p.m. for check in, y’all can scatter now”, but you do need to take distances into account.
        And while I’m fine with taking the chance of “hostel was full, looks like we’re sleeping on the car tonight”, that doesn’t work for everyone.
        That’s why I think the Captain advice is really good here: if you schedule some room for spontaneity while covering the board-and-travel essentials, one can both rest easy and have non-planned/chaotic fun.

        • Michelle said:

          This is a big problem in my family too. My father loves spontaneousness, even if it means sometimes sleeping in tents (we always kept two in the back of the truck, in case hotels were full), and we used to do our family vacations on the fly. But then my mom’s health deteriorated and now she has to use a breathing machine when she sleeps, and dad quickly found out that trips are a lot less fun when everyone has to stress over finding a place with electricity for mom to sleep.

          I think a good middle ground would be to plan the specific locations you will be in (so you definitely have hotel rooms to sleep in, especially if someone in your party has a particular need of some sort that must be met), and getting tickets for what has to be reserved in advance, but other than that leave at least some of the days open for exploration. Maybe even state “Okay, we’re in this city for the next four days, I want to see X and partner wants to see Y and dad wants to see Z. Let’s pick something for today (either one of those choices, or something different entirely) and go from there.”

          • This is a bit off-topic, and it might be of no help, but on the off chance it is something that’d make your family members happier… I use a CPAP machine and had thought camping would just be off or I’d have to not breathe well during it, but recently discovered that my CPAP machine and many other modern ones can be connected to a battery sold by the same company specifically for use in areas of no electricity. However, not all machines will necessarily have optionable batteries you can buy for them, your mom might be using a more complex setup than just a cpap for which I have no idea if there is any workaround, and the batteries are really expensive (several hundreds of dollars that probably won’t be covered by insurance). But it’s something my sleep doctor never mentioned and I didn’t think to bring up. I just found it while browsing for CPAP supply options. So, it may be something you’d like to be aware of the existence of, in case it’s relevant and helpful.

          • thelittlepakeha said:

            When we had no power for several days from earthquakes I remember my dad somehow using car batteries for his. We were probably trading them for corded phones or something, all our neighbours had cordless ones that need electricity lol. (We were also quite popular for our enormous-soup-pot-on-barbeque. We had a big cupboard full of just canned food which was very, very handy.)

      • Divizna said:

        Where does this “big group” part come from? The letter mentions “family”. Now yes, your families may be of various sizes, but when I still went to family vacations, there were FOUR of us (the parents, my sister, and me). Definitely not a big group. And yes, you absolutely can, with a typical-sized family like that, arrive in a random town and just find accommodation once you’re there.

        • My family would have been of a similar size.

          That said, I know someone whose family – their parents and siblings – would have been six, and that’s only if you leave the spouses of the siblings at home, and arranged the travel for before anyone had had children. If there was a family trip right now, it would involve seventeen people. You could cut it down to four by it being the parents, one child, and the spouse of that child.

          • thelittlepakeha said:

            I have four siblings. And when we went to the family bach there was also my uncle and grandparents.

        • We’re planning a small family vacation in November– 8 adults. A handful of aunties and uncles, a handful of cousins.

          That side of the family totals 17 adults which is why it’s a ‘small’ vacation

          Other side of my family is 27 adults and 7 children.

          Culturally it’s pretty common for our ‘family’ vacations to be more than the Western nuclear family option.

          (We’re going to Disneyland, by the way.)

        • Freya said:

          One of my sweet things has six siblings. All of whom are pretty damn awesome, albeit not as awesome as my sweet things. Then you get parents and significant others and hahahano.

      • Kerry said:

        I mean, as with anything else it depends on where you are, what time of year it is and how many people there are. What I’m really getting at is the effect of Mom saying “I want to do this, I want to do this” and Daughter saying “No, you can’t, no, you can’t” – there are more options on the table. Even just a day trip by train might be what Mom is looking for.

      • naath said:

        That depends. If you like a)Youth hostels or b)paying 500 Euro a night for a hotel room then you can just… show up and start calling places, the tourist information office can almost certainly assist. Almost anywhere; except that if there’s a big local festival going on (Oktoberfest in Munich for instance) or places that are both very small and very popular.

        On the other hand if you all want to stay in the same hotel and you don’t want to pay more than 100 Euro a night and can’t cope with less than 3* accommodation and would rather try out a nice local boutique place that stay in a big international chain… nope. You can only get the good rates months in advance online. I use hotel websites as a filter on “can they cope with my speaking only English” as well as checking that the hotel has onsuites/wifi/breakfast/etc.

        • slfisher said:

          As it happens, that’s how I did three weeks in Iceland …God, more than 20 years ago. I had my flights. I had my first night in a B&B in Reykjavik because I knew from experience that the jet lag going to Europe would mess me up. I had a bus trip scheduled the next day and an open-ended place to stay on the other end. And that was it. I got to Iceland, sat in the tourist room at the bus station, and made some other plans, and just bought a bus pass and got off the bus a couple of times in cities where there were hostels and stayed there a night or two. Hostels were a lot cheaper than B&Bs, and I ended up going to grocery stores for food rather than eating in restaurants when I could, because they were expensive, too. I’d do one restaurant meal a day and eat snacks the rest of the time. I had a lovely time.

          But that was me, alone, in my early 30s, 20 years ago, not me with some unknown number of family including some fussy members.

    • Agreed! I’d probably have snap and have a hissy fit.

    • Ariane said:

      The fact is, sometimes people who dearly love each other simply Should Not travel together. And there’s more to it than planning vs. spontaneity: A good friend I travel with often is a huge planner, meticulous down to the last detail and I am so, so not. But we’ve learned to balance each other out. She makes herself be a little more flexible and open to some spur-of-the-moment things; I go ahead and accept that we’ll be in X hotel on X day. As a result, I don’t wind up experiencing the disasters that can befall the unprepared, and she winds up being happy that she tried a few things she hadn’t thought of before. IMO it’s mostly about how flexible everyone is involved is willing to be.

      And while LW may be a tightly organized person, to me it seems clear from the letter that her mom is not even trying. It’s one thing to want to do stuff just because you feel like it; it’s another to get angry because you can’t take a train from Paris to Madrid in 3 hours. Both my mom and a friend of mine (whom I no longer travel with) have this tendency to dislike any plans made by *anyone* else, because (a) they want control, all the time, but (b) they also do not want the responsibility of making choices. So they waffle until someone has to pick a hotel/restaurant/etc, then complain about that person’s choice.

      So maybe I’m projecting? But I’d actually echo some of the advice here: Leave a lot of flexible time, do the stuff you mean to do, and make sure your mom HAS to make some of her own choices about how to spend her time. If this winds up making her happy, or happier, great. If not — at least you’ll get to enjoy your side trips on your own.

    • espritdecorps said:

      My mom and aunt love each other, but cannot travel together.
      Once or twice a year my aunt, who has lots of disposable income, pays for my mother, who can comfortably pay her bills but not much else, to travel with her.

      This follows a predictable pattern.
      Pre-trip:
      Aunt is super peppy about all the things they’ll do on the trip. Whee! Sends Mom boxes of nutritional supplements, supportive walking shoes, and articles about active seniorhood.

      Mom researches the history and culture of their destination. Begins making gaslighting statements in their phone conversations that manage to not quite suggest Aunt’s entire life has been a series terrible decisions resulting from her inability to slow down and reflect on things.

      First day of trip:
      Aunt has full itinerary planned from the moment the plane’s wheels touch ground. Has already booked hotels, purchased tickets to attractions, found Groupons for the restaurants they’ll eat at, and allotted “plenty of time to see everything worth seeing”.

      Mom begins to complain of health issues, mentions small chapel that was a major part of the M Revolution.

      Every day of trip thereafter:
      Aunt calls asking me to have Mom checked for heart problems and dementia when they get home. Complains that they missed their reservation to eat at R’s to because Mom just wants to sit and stare at things, and keeps asking to go back to places they had already seen. Eating at R’s was one of the main reasons Aunt chose this destination.

      Mom calls asking me to speak with Aunt when they get home about modern treatment options for bi-polar disorder, and how it’s not like it used to be. Says seeing Y’s artwork brought the architecture of 18th century Xs into a whole new perspective. Complains that there wasn’t time to view Xs again with these new insights.

      Post-trip:
      Your mother is so ungrateful!

      Your aunt is a control freak!

      The Captain’s autonomy days would alleviate 75% of this, and I’m thinking about the best way to introduce the idea.

      • thegirlfrommarz said:

        Just wanted to say that the experience of dealing with all that sounds no fun at all, but your write-up of it is hilarious!

    • eightysixed said:

      I appreciate this kind of response if the letter were about a friend – but even as a planner, this kind of dynamic pops up with my mom and I regarding travel and the mother/daughter relationship I find makes things just more complicated.

      When my mother travels internationally she wants to be seen as a local. This means she likes to feel like she can just integrate into a place and do local things that locals do. Without just sitting in a café and drinking tea/coffee/beer/wine because that’s too boring. What this means in regards to planning trips is that she wants other people to make the plans so that she can just follow along and not feel like active map reading is happening. However, in situations where we are in a place new to everyone someone has to plan where we’re going and figure out how we’re getting there – and to add to that, research to make sure that places are being picked that do not have large obvious crowds of tourists. She also has a lot of concerns about walking around strange places in the dark, so there are often pretty firm “by x time we will be in a familiar place or a taxi” deadlines.

      In larger cities, this is easier – and it’s also easier to pick walking routes between sites which my mom as an avid walker loves. However, in smaller places this has often been far more difficult. My mom was horrified to discover how many groups of tourists were in Bruges. She spent the whole time just wanting me to find things that ‘were not touristy’ – as Bruges is not exactly a modern planned city, the map reading was far more difficult on my part, my mother’s “oh, I’ll talk to a local to ask for directions” resulted in more and more disappointing interactions with more tourists. Needless to say, it was not exactly the best day we had together and to my irritation I missed all the main art that tourists go to Bruges for.

      With a friend, the afore mentioned stuff wouldn’t happen. But it’s my mother, and sometimes we travel together and I do have a desire to contribute to a positive experience for all. Sometimes it works and sometimes there have been awkward crying in public moments…..

      I will say though that one way I have found to deflect the burden from myself where I am the one responsible, is that any time we have a guide – that is a moment where I’m not in charge. My mother in general is not an overly negative tour, so even if the tour guide isn’t amazing or the stuff we see isn’t amazing (or is too touristy for her taste) – my mom will make the best of it. But also, it’s the guide’s fault for doing XYZ wrong. My mom truly isn’t overly negative or critical and at least gets to enjoy some time where no one’s looking at a map.

    • miss_chevious said:

      I totally agree that LW sounds to me like a person I would not enjoy a vacation with, but at the same time, Mom needs to take responsibility for her own vacation style. You don’t get to opt out of providing input and assistance and then complain. If Mom doesn’t want to do all the things LW wants to do, that’s cool, just don’t do them. Or if Mom wants to go off on side trips and do things on her own, that’s cool, do them. But you can’t have both spontaneous side trips and then demand that someone who doesn’t want spontaneous side trips has to plan them.

      • Kerry said:

        if Mom wants to go off on side trips and do things on her own, that’s cool, do them. But you can’t have both spontaneous side trips and then demand that someone who doesn’t want spontaneous side trips has to plan them.

        Yeah, that’s a really good point, too.

    • This. Honestly, the more I think about it, the more this seems odd to me. The hotel booking is not the boss of me, and if I want to go somewhere else, whee-gosh, I am an adult and I get to.

      I get that if the family culture is “do everything together”, it is probably not fair for LW’s mom to demand that EVERYONE go off to the random Italian city. (It is also not fair for any one person to say she CAN’T go because that wasn’t planned.) But if she wants to go by herself (which might be hard or scary, I get that), or with one other family member who’s also interested, that’s cool and mad props to her and I hope she has a good time.

      (I find myself weirdly reminded of the sales clerk who tried to convince the light of my life to wear an uncomfortable suit at his wedding because it would look better in the photographs. The PHOTOGRAPHS. Weddings are not put on for the benefits of the photographer, let me tell you what. And trips are not for the benefit of the hotel reservations.)

    • LW 704 said:

      Hi Kerry,

      I’m sure you didn’t mean it this way, but his post made me feel so attacked and angry I burst into tears. My family absolutely cannot just book our hotels when we arrive- it costs a lot more money to book hotels the day of than it does to book them months in advance, and this whole trip is being done on a budget. It would cost us like 600 dollars if we just dropped everything to go to some random city, and we don’t have that.

      Secondly, I don’t plan things on an hour by hour basis when I’m with my family, although that is in fact what I do when I’m on a trip by myself, because I am a person who has the most fun when I know what’s going to happen. Sponytaneity is scary for me and it make me miserable. But I know that not everyone feels this way, so when I go on trips with my family, I usually just come up with a list of stuff I think they might like and ask them what they want to do. The reason I’m so anxious and plan so much is because I really want everyone around me to be happy and I want to know I’ve don everything I can to facilitate that.

      Thirdly, please trust me when I describe my situation. My mother does not know how to internet. She literally failed her computer class in university and had to drop out because she didn’t know how to send an email (before anyone asks me why I didn’t teach her, I was 12 and didn’t find out about this until years later.) I gave her a guidebook months ago and told her to let me know if she had any thoughts and she hadn’t picked it up.

      I wrote in hoping to be given some advice on how to feel less anxious, not to be told that it’s all my fault for not letting my mom express herself! In the future, please consider whether you’re thinking of your own situation or the letter writer’s situation when you comment.

      • Amanda said:

        LW, I just wanted to tell you that I empathize, at least in terms of budgetary concerns with vacations. I’m fortunate enough to have an immediate family with whom vacation is really easy, but I’ve been made fun of (always “jokingly”) for being weird, or have had people ask “what’s wrong with me” (again, just a joke! at my expense!) because I’m a 25-year-old who hasn’t flown very frequently, and who only traveled by plane by myself for the first time when I was 22.

        I know that the people who comment on this don’t mean ill will, but it’s still really hurtful and shitty because my family couldn’t afford to go anywhere aside from the Jersey shore. I’ve still never been overseas. I only went to the west coast for the first time last year, and I moved there for work, not vacation.

        I know this doesn’t directly address your question, but I did want to share that I empathize with feeling really attacked or judged for vacation choices that often are out of your control. Or, even more so, for vacation choices that are out of your control being interpreted as character flaws or failures on your part.

        I’m really sorry planning a vacation (a theoretically anxiety-free time!) has been causing you so much anxiety. I think the Captain’s suggestions to ask a family member or another vacation attendee to act as buffer, or to intervene when the situation is getting really tense. I also really liked the suggestion (which I think you already saw and replied to) of keeping a running list of awesome things, big and small, from your vacation and travels, so you can drown out your mom’s passive aggressive behavior with good memories.

        Good luck, and I hope your vacation is excellent, and that your mom can stop her pretty shitty sounding behavior enough to enjoy it, as well.

      • ReanaZ said:

        “The reason I’m so anxious and plan so much is because I really want everyone around me to be happy and I want to know I’ve don everything I can to facilitate that.”

        I am trying to think of the kindest and most supportive way to say… maybe you should stop trying so hard?

        I think your intentions are great. It sounds like your planning skills are great. But it’s stressing you out, it’s upsetting all around, and it’s impossible to make everyone happy. So maybe drop a little bit of that responsibility?

        It’s also possible that things that you do to try to make others happy don’t necessarily actually make them happy. I think this is Kerry’s point. I’m sorry it made you feel attacked and maybe the hotel thing was a bad example, but the overall point that her travel style (and my travel style and it sounds like your mom’s travel style) are fundamentally not the same as your travel style. It doesn’t mean any of us are wrong. It just means maybe we shouldn’t organise things for each other (or at least not the same way we would for ourselves).

        The Captain discussed this as well, but it’s possible the path to maximum happiness is taking a page from everyone’s favorite ice princess and letting it go. At least somewhat. If you’re a whiz at online travel booking and no one else is up to speed and the only way the trip is going to happen (particularly in budget), than take responsibility or making hotel bookings. But daily stuff? Entertainment? Restaurants? If it’s stressing you out so much to plan all of this stuff and not have everyone love the plans… then maybe don’t plan all this stuff. “Hey, Aunties and Cousins–I’ve got the hotels all booked. We’ll be in X cities on y dates. Relying on you to plan what’s going to happen those days! /peace out.”

        You can’t plan your way into people never being unhappy. But you can decide not to take so much responsibility for making everyne happy all the time always. Unwind that paradigm.

      • Kerry said:

        I’m really sorry that my comment was upsetting – that was not my intention and I’m sorry I phrased things so poorly. What I’m really trying to get at is that this:

        The reason I’m so anxious and plan so much is because I really want everyone around me to be happy

        This is impossible. (Just as background, I’ve also had issues with anxiety, and I’ve also spent years throwing myself up against the brick wall of trying to figure out the magic way to act so that everyone is having a good time.) But this magic way to act doesn’t exist. How people feel is on them, and there just isn’t a way to do things that guarantees everyone will be happy. This isn’t your fault and I’m sorry I gave you the impression I thought it was!

        Maybe something that might help is thinking about what your mom does on vacation that does make her happy? Can you think of times she’s clearly enjoyed herself? You’re right that I don’t know your family, but it sounds like ‘offering options to her’ isn’t working and ‘her suggesting unworkable things and you saying they won’t work’ isn’t working. What has she been doing when you’ve seen her enjoying herself in the past?

      • ZeldasCrown said:

        This is a helpful reply. I got the impression (as did, it seems many others) that planning did mean “every second of the day is pre-mapped out”, and now that I understand the situation better, I can (hopefully) give better advice.

        Perhaps a happy medium would be for you to look into what activities in a given place must be booked in advance, and can’t just be decided on that day. Stuff like shows, sports games, etc that will be sold out by the day of. Then you can contact the other travelers via whatever communication method works best for them and then purchase the tickets for however many people from the group decide to go. That way, you can be reasonably sure that “we tried to do x but weren’t able to because we thought of it too late” won’t happen, since all the “decide day of” stuff should be available to book on short notice. I’d recommend to try not to plan more than one of these sorts of activities per day.

        Alternatively, you could plan your own days out more specifically, but let everyone know that this is just what you plan on doing, and anyone who wants to is free to join you, but if they have other stuff they’d like to do, they’re free to splinter off and do whatever spontaneous thing they’d like. Telling yourselves that it’s ok if not everyone does the same exact thing everyday might help alleviate scheduling concerns of “what if we don’t do any of the things so and so wants to do and they’re miserable?”, since it leaves individuals free to take matters into their own hands. Plus it gives the group permission to disengage from anyone who is behaving badly, since everyone is free to do whatever activities they want to, on their own timeline.

        Maybe everyone can pick one or two (depending upon the number of cities and number of days) things that they absolutely do not want to miss, and then that becomes the starting list of plans-this can be generated from a large list of attractions you give people if nobody else has the ability to research attractions themselves. Items that someone decided are their must activity don’t get to be vetoed by anyone, but other activities are negotiable (so if Brother wants to go the Eiffel Tower, Mom doesn’t get to pitch a fit and force everyone to do what she wants instead, since it was Brother’s must item. Likewise, Mom can feel secure that the group will work its way around to the Louvre, if that was her must item). Or each person gets one day that is theirs to direct (within reason-they have to stick to wherever you generally are on that date, and to whatever the vacation budget is). That way, “responsibility” for what the group is doing that day isn’t all focused toward you should someone decide to throw a tantrum, and mom gets a day where she’s in control, which will hopefully alleviate some of the passive-aggressiveness.

        Ultimately, you are not responsible for other people’s happiness, and other people’s emotions are not your fault. There are some people who, no matter what you do, they will never be pleased (they’re always shifting the goalposts), and that’s 100% on them.

      • thelittlepakeha said:

        I gotta say I seriously eyebrow-raised at the “booking hotels in advance is too oppressive for spontaneous people!” implications. I’m a pretty spontaneous person. I’m also anxious and, you know, not freaking made of money. There’s a LOT of middle ground between “every hour being scheduled” and “between X and Y days we will be in this city, staying at this hotel, and we can’t afford to suddenly decide to be in a completely different city at the last minute”. I live in a tiny country where you can fly between major cities in under two hours, and I still wouldn’t be able to just spontaneously go to a different city. It’s just not realistic.

        • Kerry said:

          There’s a LOT of middle ground between “every hour being scheduled” and “between X and Y days we will be in this city, staying at this hotel, and we can’t afford to suddenly decide to be in a completely different city at the last minute”.

          Totally agree!

          Including myself, I think a lot of the disagreements in this thread have been about people assuming others are taking an extreme position – like a few others, I interpreted LW’s letter as meaning she was putting together schedules like “9am coffee at historic cafe, 9:45am queueing for museum for 10am opening, 12pm lunch at Restaurant X with good value set menu, 1pm stroll down scenic waterfront,” etc. I’m certainly not advocating “eh, rock up whenever, it’ll probably be fine, the tourist office will sort you out”, especially not for hotels (although, if Mom decides mid-trip she wants to run off to Madrid for a day and book herself in for one night there, and meet up with the family in two days’ time, would that be okay? Why or why not?) There absolutely is a lot of middle ground – all I was wondering is whether the problem is that that Mom is just a pill who will actually never be happy, or if it’s that Mom’s happiest middle ground is in a different place than LW’s happiest middle ground, and how to work with that.

          • Amanda said:

            I actually agree with most of the meat of what you and a lot of other commenters said (I don’t deal well with tight schedules), but I think that people leapt to that conclusion about the OP, and that coupled with the really unhelpful and kind of mean “LW I WOULD HATE TO TRAVEL WITH YOU!” that a lot of people included in their responses definitely felt like a pile on.

          • Kerry said:

            Yeah, I meant that in a ‘ha, people are just different about some things, huh!’ way but that didn’t come across, for which I apologise.

            I don’t think it a big leap to read “I tend to plan things very carefully” and “I have planned every detail of the entire vacation” as the LW having, well, planned every detail of the entire vacation. She clarified later that wasn’t really the case, but in trying to figure out what Mom’s deal is, that seems like a major part of the situation described in the letter.

    • I get your points, and understand, but as a disabled person I need to overly plan, my other relatives really DONT internet (Id be happy for them to have maps and leaflets, it would save me printing them) and as someone with an Nmum I know I cant win *whatever* I do.

      In short I get your points but I think they were expressed a little harshly, in ways the OP cant necessarily adapt for. I hope they have a great holiday in the end tho!

  6. TheFormerAstronomer said:

    Hoo boy, do I ever relate to this one. After a terrible experience with my sister-in-law I’ll only do holiday planning for a group if I have experience travelling with them and know that broadly our tastes line up.

    What would happen if you didn’t do the planning, LW? Because particularly for travelling around Europe, provided that you don’t choose a festival period most organisation can be done on the fly. You might want to book a hotel in advance if you’re going to a big city, or theatre tickets if there’s a show you’ve specifically picked that town to go see, but most other things don’t require that level of organisation.

    Would that be very stressful for *you*, or would you be OK with it? At the very least, this should force some of the others to pick up some of the work and take some of the pressure and expectation off you.

    (My SIL is the type of person who, when asked for a preference will respond with “I’ll be happy with whatever you choose!” even though this is not true. Woe betide you if you fail to read her mind and pick what she wants, though: she’s over 40 and will sulk like a little kid if she doesn’t get her way.)

  7. Slow Learner said:

    So LW, I’m not sure from your letter what level of detail you’re planning the itinerary at?
    I can see two main levels that might come out here. If you’re getting complaints that relate to the itinerary on the level of “Fly from home to Paris, stay in Paris for 3 days, get the sleeper train to Munich, stay there for four days” etc etc “Fly home” there’s very little you can do about that. After all, everything’s booked and paid for, it tends to be rather expensive to rebook it, and some of the complaints will be of the form “I wanted to go to [City Hundreds of Miles from Anywhere Else on Itinerary] for the day”.
    In that instance I think the best response is having a human buffer, either to sympathise with the complaints while still getting the complainant onto the train/plane/coach/whatever, or to gently say that Changing The Plan Is Not Possible Anymore. Whatever it takes to make your mother feel she’s being heard without you having to be the one doing the hearing after you’ve done all this work.
    The other possibility is that you’ve planned an action-packed itinerary where the group is doing the Louvre in the morning, the Tuileries in the afternoon, and a trip to Versailles the next day, when really your mother wants to spend all day at the Louvre and then maybe go back tomorrow, she isn’t sure yet.
    That’s a little more tricky, essentially because that’s a much more reasonable complaint. Having unstructured time is an important part of a holiday to a lot of people, and so is having some independent time where they’re doing things apart from the group.
    All I can suggest there is to leave some slack in the timetable. Have ideas for sights you can see, and trips you can go on, and don’t necessarily book all of them before you arrive. The group splitting up for a day isn’t a bad thing – if nothing else it gives you new stories to exchange over dinner/breakfast!
    I hope you have a good trip.

    • Tastycakes said:

      I think you’re so right about the different levels of planning!! LW, if your plans so far have been pretty detailed and rigid and that’s what’s stressing your mom out, you might solve a lot of this problem by planning a few days that look more like Slow Learner’s “fly to Paris, stay in Paris for 3 days..” suggestion. In an ideal world she would just ask you for that while also showing appreciation for how hard you work to make plans, but the fact she’s being petulant about her anxiety over having an extremely rigid schedule doesn’t make her wrong, either.

  8. I really like the suggestions for down time, limited options, and optional events. I love well-planned trips, but I really dislike feeling over-managed, over-scheduled, and stuck following somebody else’s plan when it isn’t fitting me. Fewer planned events and more unplanned time that I can use to work with how I feel during the trip helps a lot with that.

    But I also think, since this is a recurring problem and not just one upcoming trip, if you have a reasonable ability to communicate with your mother, it’s worth addressing this issue directly at some point when there isn’t a particular trip already scheduled. Ask her how she wants trips to be scheduled and arranged and see if there’s anything you can do to work with that. Ask her why she feels a strong desire to go even though she doesn’t seem to enjoy them. Maybe she wants something else out of the trip, like family time, and is simply going along with travel and seeing sights, which she doesn’t want to do, to get what she does want. Maybe there’s some way to accommodate what she does want separate from the trips, so you can enjoy them in a much more relaxed way without her complaining, but she still gets whatever it is she does want. I know family culture can be hard to change, but sometimes it is possible to discuss an aspect of family culture and get people to agree that it’s not making the family happy and doing something different might be better for everyone. Only you know how feasible that might be, but it seems like the optimal solution would be to deal with the problem at the root. So, it’s worth at least thinking about what tactics might work for that.

    Anyhow, if that doesn’t work, then I definitely think having some days that aren’t scheduled so people who enjoy spontaneity and/or down time have a time for that would be likely to help. Maybe having some scheduled low-energy time in the mix. If you’re going out and doing/seeing something every day, then that can be very draining. Having a day for hanging out and people just spending time with each other can really help to keep people on a vacation from getting worn out. Maybe you can change the culture just a smidge that way. Try having an unscheduled day where you suggest people all do what they feel like doing and it’s more okay to split up. Then if people get used to having that mixed into the vacations, you can have a bit more of that. I’ve had lovely family vacations where my parents went out and had fun while I stayed in the hotel room and rested and watched TV (rather an unusual luxury for me at the time) and then we met back up for dinner. It was great. They saw what they wanted, and I got to get all of the sleep I wanted and not have any stress or pressure to do anything in particular, but we still got to spend time together. If you could get your mother to try that, even just for a day, she might find she really likes it, which would make it easier for her to do more of that during vacations, while you get to go off and have your great time without anyone complaining about it.

  9. Clementine Danger said:

    Ouch, do I recognize this. I spent an entire childhood going on family vacations where one difficult person would determine the entire mood of the trip. The mood, it was usually stressed and bad.

    In my experience there really isn’t much you can do to press pause on the behaviors that make difficult people difficult. I don’t know if Mom carries this attitude outside of holidays as well, pitching fits and generally needing a lot of emotional maintenance, but if she does, there’s little hope she can just turn it off somehow for a set amount of time. There’s usually this expectation that people be on their best behavior on group vacations, because the stakes are so high (it usually involves a lot of money, planning and expectations) but people who can’t behave well at home can’t behave well in Madrid either. This is especially true if they live in Madrid.

    So in my experience, a big fat yes to building in “free time” where people (including you) get a chance to not be around the difficult person. I know it can feel like a waste to pay a lot for a faraway vacation just to sit in a cafe with a book, but you can’t see everything worth seeing anyway, and your sanity is more important than a picture of you with Wax Tom Cruise.

    Basically, taking a break from person > fixing the person.

    I was neither the planner nor the difficult person on these trips, just a bystander, so can I offer one suggestion from that perspective? Absolutely do be blunt if it comes to that, with the script that Cap suggests. But if at all possible, try not to do it in the middle of the day or when tempers are running high already and people can’t really get away. Most of my memories of family vacations are of me and my sisters sitting on a wall in French middle of nowhere for hours while arguments went on and tempers flared up. I don’t want to minimize your frustration, it really sucks feeling unappreciated and being expected to cater someone this difficult, but I’m guessing the rest of the vacationers aren’t looking forward to this either. So saving the bluntness for the evenings, when she has time to mull it over/be huffy in a hotel room is not easy, but I think it’s worth it for a lot of reasons. Everyone’s sanity, including Mom’s, will benefit from that.

    And there’s always the nuclear option. It’s great that you do this for your family, but… what if you didn’t? If you take incremental steps to make this situation better for everyone, do what you can, and it still turns out to be more hassle than it’s worth? If you announce well in advance that next time you’re just going to enjoy the holiday and not plan too much, recommend a travel agent if that’s an option, and just kick back? Sometimes people don’t realize how much planning goes into a trip until they have to do it themselves (been there too.) I’m not suggesting this as a way to “show them, show them all!” But if you do this often and there’s a persistent sense of it not being appreciated and being more hassle than it’s worth, well, nobody is paying you to do this. Travel agents still exist. So does peeling of from the group and doing all the fun things you planned for yourself. I’m assuming here you know your situation best and you can make the cost-benefit analysis of just not doing the planning. But if you feel guilty for considering it or there’s other emotional baggage preventing you from considering this an option, screw it. You don’t have to do this for any reason other than you want to. Again, people do get paid to do this, and quite a lot too. It’s a huge, HUGE favor you’re doing them. It should never become a given.

    • I am a huge proponent of this “fucke itte, let someone else plan the trip” option.

      • Clementine Danger said:

        In my experience there’s two sorts of people who leave the planning to someone else: those who know they’re not good at it from experience are usually very grateful to have someone more talented and organized relieve them of that burden. They tend to not make a stink when the activities aren’t entirely to their liking. Those who assume they could do it just as well but just find it easier to have someone else do it tend to be a little less appreciative of the effort involved. They’re more likely to protest, because this isn’t hard, is it, and how could someone screw up something as simple as planning a vacation?

        So if this is a situation where Mom is of the second type, it may be worth it to simply disengage in the future. Like I said, vacation planning is a real, actual job that deserves appreciation.

    • B. said:

      Sorry for the out of topicness, but what did you mean by “This is especially true if they live in Madrid”? It made me curious.

      • I read that as “People who can’t behave home can’t behave well in Madrid, especially when home IS Madrid, because then they will be changing their at-home behaviour even less than one does when one is on vacation, as they are not moving far from home and are not vacationing in the location-switching sense.”

      • Clementine Danger said:

        Heh, that would be me trying to be funny before I’ve had morning coffee. You see, difficult people are difficult everywhere. We assume here a family from an English-speaking country, who may possibly go to Madrid on holiday, making the difficult person in question difficult in two locations. But if we were to assume that the family is from Madrid, and also on holiday in Madrid-

        Oh poop. I swear it was funny in my head.

        • ReginaB said:

          LOL, whoops. There I go, cross-explaining your joke. 🙂

          • Clementine Danger said:

            What a jolly old mess.

          • B. said:

            Thanks to the three of you for explaining 🙂 I assumed Clementine’s meaning wasn’t “people from Madrid are rude”, but couldn’t find the other interpretation.

      • ReginaB said:

        It was a joke. If they can’t behave at home, they can’t behave in Madrid… and if they live in Madrid, then when they are home they are *also* in Madrid, hence they can’t behave. You can sub in the name of any city, and it’s still true.

  10. Flora said:

    I find myself identifying with Mom here. It may be that she comes on trips because she doesn’t want to be left out when the family is spending so much on fun, even if she’d rather save it. If she thinks the trip is a waste of money to the point of anxiety, that could explain her fidgeting and her attitude that nothing is good enough. In addition, it sounds like planning every detail and hitting all the points on a checklist each day is not her style.

    • rhythla said:

      I can see that being true. But how she is handling it (complaining and constant criticism) is not the way to handle it. Actually, it’s a good way to get yourself left out. Most people do not enjoy feeling attacked in general, let alone over something they have poured their heart into.

      Her mother could just say, “I don’t want to go on the trip, but I feel left out.” Then the LW could say something like, “We don’t want you to feel left out! How about we do [activity you enjoy] when we get back instead?” That way the mother could still be involved but not upset about whatever it is she does not like about the trips.

      • Flora said:

        If she’s the type to get so nervous about money that she can’t enjoy international travel, she may or may not want to spend even more on something she does want when everybody gets back and (to her mind) money has already been wasted. And sure, using words is good, but for some people it’s more trouble than it’s worth if the situation is bad enough.

        Not saying Harried and the rest of the family should never travel, just pointing out what could be going on from Mom’s perspective (pure speculation because we only have Harried’s side of the story).

        • LW 704 said:

          Hi Flora,

          No it’s true! My mom considers travels an absolute waste of money, but my Dad and my Brother and I were all really excited for this trip, so she had to come because our family culture very very strongly says that everyone must do everything together. I understand that she doesn’t like it! But I don’t think it’s fair for her to make everyone else around her miserable by constantly complaining, whining, sometimes escalating to shouting (she screamed at us for an hour when we were trapped in the car with her on our way back from Vegas) just because she didn’t want to go. We suggested to her not to come since we knew she wouldn’t like it and she refused.

          I can’t make her like the trip. But I want to make it as good as possible for everyone involved.

          • Traveling with her does sound horrid.

            Really the only thing I can think of that might help is accepting that she won’t contribute willingly, and actively selecting activities with her.

            That is, on a day that you’re with her go through a guide book and have her pick some activities.

            And maybe, allocate some percentage of the budget in time AND money to spontenaity. Eg everyone gets spending money including each person has a day’s worth of hotel to themself. I dunno, might work

            You really are doing a great job

          • Flora said:

            Aw, that is tough. Too bad about the family culture! I’ve heard of these baffling families that love each other so much they have to do everything together. I have no experience of that, so no advice either I’m afraid. In my family I would say “cut that person loose to do what she wants as much as possible,” but I have a feeling that wouldn’t work for your brood.

          • Eek, sympathies. I had the opposite problem, we’d invite my mother to come but she would do the whole martyred “SOMEONE has to stay home with the dog” or whatever. When the reasons were removed and she still didn’t want to come, sympathy evaporated.

            Sorry that your mum insists on doing something that she is perhaps determined not to enjoy.

  11. Knitting Cat Lady said:

    Holiday planning is one of those things that is completely unnecessary beyond basic stuff.

    Book your flights, book your accommodation, rent a car, deal with visa paperwork and do vaccinations if necessary.

    That’s it! You don’t need more!

    Buy guide books and read them on the flight.

    Decide the evening before what you’re going to do on the next day.

    Also, most rental cars in Europe are stick shift. You have to specify while booking if you want a manual. Remember that if no one in your party knows how to drive stick.

    • LDN Layabout said:

      You say that, but that sounds like my complete nightmare 😛 (and slightly dismissive of those of us that do plan).

      I don’t want to be stuck eating in tourist traps (which are what most of what guidebooks are full of, since they’re a self-fulfilling prophecy) so I research with friends/tripadvisor/food blogs and put those onto google maps. So meals aren’t a part of the itinerary, but we have a list of places we’d want to go mapped out for wherever we end up.

      If I’m going to Florence/other big museum and gallery cities, I will be booking ahead, so I don’t turn up on a day that they’re closed or queue for 2 hours in 40C weather.

      If someone wants to visit a religious site/place of worship, it can be important to know prior to packing, unless you want to be stuck outside or disappoint someone and not go because what you’re wearing isn’t suitable.

      I know for me, it comes down to being prepared vs. planning. I don’t need to plan every single thing we do on a trip, but you need to do enough that you’re prepared for things once you start making decisions?

      (So it comes down to knowing the people you’re going with and their boundaries I guess XD)

      • Knitting Cat Lady said:

        Heh, my meal planning looks like this: ‘Hmm. I’m hungry. This place looks nice! Let’s go there!’

        Works in 99% of the cases.

        I think there’s a difference about being prepared and planning.

        As for museums: The strategy I developed is looking up when they open in the morning and being there the minute they unlock the doors. Had a nice stroll through the Rijks museum in Amsterdam that way.

        • LDN Layabout said:

          Yeah it all depends on what things are important to you (which might be something the LW can focus on, what does her mum REALLY enjoy/is important to her). For me and my friends, part of the fun of going abroad is the food. We don’t want to be going out for pizza or sushi in Paris etc. So when we get hungry we just check what places we’re near and go somewhere we’re 99% sure we’ll love.

          Yeah but to be be there when they’re open you can’t have a leisurely morning sitting on the terrace sipping a nice drink and deliberately not getting up early 😉

          (This is actually one of my big going from childhood/student budget to independent adult travel things. If I miss something on a trip, I can go back. It’s a holiday, I don’t want to get up at 6am AND SEE EVERYTHING SINGLE THING THIS LOCATION HAS TO OFFER)

        • mamacitaconpistoles said:

          I am *so* not a morning person. I am also not a committed planner. But if booking tickets in advance means I can go to a museum and not stand in a long line, and do it *after* I’ve had coffee and gone for a walk, I’m booking.

          The point being, people can make accommodations and have a good attitude and whatnot when traveling. But if your ideal state is “museum thinking after 10am” then working with that reality might give you a more successful result.

          Not all travelers travel successfully in the same way.

        • Mel R said:

          Heh, my meal planning looks like this: ‘Hmm. I’m hungry. This place looks nice! Let’s go there!’

          I am deeply and sincerely envious. A few years ago I developed allergies to wheat, corn, and eggs, and now odds that I can find something I can actually eat that contains carbs and protein (a green salad, though widely available, will absolutely not do it. I will be hungry again and then extremely cranky in short order if I don’t get a meal that satisfies me) at “that place over there that looks nice” are pretty shitty.

          I have absolutely zero interest in going on an extended quest in search of something I can eat when I’m already hungry, and I also don’t want to be the person who drags my increasingly hungry and impatient party past 3 perfectly nice looking restaurants because they don’t have anything I can eat and I wasn’t clever enough to do a little research beforehand. A little bit of preparation (along the lines of, “interesting things x, y, and z are in these parts of the city, restaurants nearby that can feed me are at a, b, and c) is absolutely necessary for me and anyone travelling with me to enjoy a vacation. I wish I could just pick a restaurant that looked nice, but I really, really can’t.

      • thelittlepakeha said:

        I think your “being prepared” is actually what I mean when I “plan” a trip.

      • B said:

        My husband and I walked to the louvre only to discover IT’S CLOSED ON TUESDAYS.

        Planning is good.

    • B. said:

      That sounds like it works for you, and it definitely works for me, but there’re people who would be totally miserable if their trip went that way. It’s all about finding a balance, for example: I (extensively) plan day A, you plan day B (even if the plan is “let’s go for a walk and see what happens”), we leave day C free for everyone to do as they please and tell each other all about it over dinner.

    • Scarlett said:

      That sounds lovely – for you. To me, that sounds like my worst nightmare come true! Planning the trip is half the fun for me. I therefore avoid traveling with people like you, so I don’t inflict my need for planning on people who will hate it. Works for me!

    • Jane said:

      I’d like to gently point out that planning can be what dictates whether you stay under your budget while traveling or not, whether you accidentally wander into a dangerous part of town or not, whether you get to your accommodations on time or not, etc.

      I’ve done a lot of traveling! I’ve done a lot of traveling by the seat of my pants with very little money! Generally, for me, the exchange rate between “hours spent looking up cheap places to eat, public libraries for me to sit when I get exhausted, local grocery stores, free museums, and the cheapest way of getting around” and either “money saved” or “misery saved” is nearly exact. I say this after fun experiences like getting mugged in Madrid, sleeping on a pub bench outside Rosslare, and more or less completely butchering my bicycle trip across France because I over-cycled the first couple days and could barely walk and then had to make a lot of panicked last-minute train ticket purchases.

      PLANNING IS GOOD. I LIKE PLANNING. (Especially if one doesn’t rent cars in foreign countries. Can’t drive stick. -_-)

      • Jane said:

        GAH. Why did I type “foreign”??? WHAT I MEANT IS COUNTRIES WHERE AUTOMATIC TRANSMISSION IS NOT THE STANDARD. My apologies.

      • LW 704 said:

        Thanks much for this comment! Planners represent! The best trip I ever had of my life was when I went to Germany two summers ago and I planned what I was doing (down to hour by hour on some days) and felt really wonderful and efficient. It sounds ridiculous to some people, but i grew up poor so I often feel guilty about going on vacation. Planning stuff to see a lot of things makes me feel a lot better, like I’m getting the most out of my money. Also, my favorite thing to do on vacation is to go to museums, and for that you need to know what days they’re pen. (I spent two years being mad because I missed my chance opportunity to go to the Guggenheim because I didn’t look up what days it was open.)

        • Jane said:

          Ha, I’ve mostly learned the joys of planning by NOT planning and having things go. . . well. . . not horrifically wrong, but just spending weeks and weeks at a level of stress that I’m surprised didn’t make my stomach spontaneously combust into ulcers.

          • NotUsingMyUsualNicknameMyFriendsKnowItAndImParanoid said:

            Just to join in to the the “why planning is important”. I can absolutely undestand why planned trips don’t sound “fun”. For years I rolled my eyes at my mother (not when she was looking though) as she planned all of our trips at our family vacations, booked the hotels, researched the nearby attraction and the opening times and prizes, checked when the last bus leaves, etc. It did make my feel a bit like everything was planned for me and I had no say but I was a teenager. My mom would proabbly have welcomed my suggestions if I ever like … offered any.

            When I was getting ready for my first holiday abroad last year I didn’t think I would do any of that planning. But then you figure out that if you’re travelling on a tight budget, you really do need to book the hostels in advance. Then you need to figure out how to get to those hostels. Is there a train station nearby? What time do you need to be there? If they’ll only let you come after 15 pm, what time do you need to leave the city? How long will the journey take? It’s really basic stuff, but if you have no money and any of those things go wrong, you’re fucked.

            And when you actually arrive, you actually want to DO stuff. I also like just going exploring andd we’ve found some great cafés and even memorials that way, but so many things can be reasearched ahead and so have to be. If you want to go see a show, you probably have to book it. If you want to go to a museum, you need to check if it’s going to be open and find out where it is and how to get there. There’s so many good advice on the internet – I don’t want to leave a city I’m probably never going to visit again and then find out there were some great things I would have enjoyed if I knew about them. Also, bless you website that compile lists of “Things To Do In X For Free”.

            So yeah, I’m a converted planner. Sorry mum, for not appreciating it while you were doing it. It’s a lot of work.

        • Alexia said:

          Yes! Planners represent! I also grew up poor and plan my (few) travels. Even my “free time” is a planned block of time, so that I can have time to roam and time to see what I want to see.

          My love is a non-planner, which I don’t mind, but he literally pays the price for it. Once he ended up paying 3 times the room price over a weekend trip because he didn’t book it. As he grows older (and watches me save money and not get stressed over rushing somewhere we can’t go because it’s closed/booked), he’s becoming more careful about these things.

          There may be a class divide between the planners and non-planners. I’ve always known that if I took a random 3 months to go backpacking wherever (like it seems 50% of university kids do), I would be in serious financial trouble to the point where I’d lose my apartment. And I never had anyone who could financially back me up. So I didn’t travel when I was studying. I still don’t make enough money to go overseas. And when I finally do get that money, I’m definitely going to make it count, because I don’t know when I’ll next be able to go.

          So yeah to the non-planners, don’t presume that planning = sucky people, because honestly. Not all of us can afford to pay an extra 500 euros because we didn’t want to book the hotel.

    • Blue Meeple said:

      YOU may not need more, but to me that sounds like a trip full of anxiety and stress. Especially with any more than, like, two people.

      • All the descriptions above sound like hell to me. But that’s because my idea of a vacation is going somewhere beautiful, near or with people I love, where my biggest decision is “is 10 am too early for a piña colada?”

        My point being that planning is really hard!

        • Blue Meeple said:

          I find spontaneity really hard! Especially if it involves going somewhere unfamiliar where there are a lot of strangers. I have to prepare myself to be around other people, and if I’m not expecting it, it’s exhausting and not fun (let me tell you the story of the time I thought I was going on a date but it turned out to be a big family dinner and I was so stressed that I cried all the way home afterward).

          I don’t need (or, in fact, want) every minute of every day of a vacation planned out, but if we’re going to go out and do things, I definitely need to know in advance.

          • And that makes total sense. And it’s why you shouldn’t have to take mystery tours.

            Many years ago my then husband said to me “what do you want on the list for today?”

            I said I didn’t want to plan the entire day, and I certainly wasn’t going to make lists, and if he should allow for at least 3 hours of non list activities. And I didn’t want to ever see The List again.

            And when he quite reasonably said that he needed to list things, he forgot if he didn’t, I said that was fine, but he didn’t get to co-opt how I think and plan. He could list to his heart’s content as long as he didn’t force me to comply.

            And he didn’t. He listed happily, and accepted that we didn’t always do what was on the list, but he could.

        • The answer is that it’s never too early for a pina colada 🙂

          The sun is over the yard arm *somewhere* in the world, right?

      • Cactus said:

        Yeah…I like lots of downtime, and I’m fine with spontaneity to a degree, but I’m in the middle of planning a honeymoon right now, and my fiancé has some pretty major health issues. We can’t walk into any random restaurant and find something great (for him) to eat, because of his dietary restrictions. (That, if disturbed, could fuck up EVERYTHING for days.) So that has to be researched. Any activities that involve outdoorsy walking/hiking-type activities have to be vetted to make sure he can probably do them.
        When my sister and her partner go road-tripping, they usually just eat wherever, stop wherever, whenever they’re hungry or tired. We find what is often the one restaurant in any town for miles that can accommodate my partner, and book hotel rooms weeks in advance so that we know that we only have [x] hours to go when we’re exhausted because his health problems made us have a later start than we intended.
        It’s great that other people have so many different traveling styles. Do what works for you. But what I can’t stand is when people get weird at me about the fact that we stop in hotels rather than just sleeping in the car or in a tent–trust me, if one in your bunch had chronic diarrhoea, you’d opt for indoor plumbing every time too.

    • I’m glad that works for you, but that would set my anxiety off something fierce. It sounds like to you planning enhances worrying, whereas to me planning avoids worrying.

    • As someone who likes to be organised (mostly due to access & health needs, so spontaneity isn’t easy) I hate that kinda thing. It just means you spend every evening worrying about what to do tomorrow and less time actually enjoying stuff.

      What I tend to do is print a big folder with places to go ahead of time, some are to my interest, some to others’, some just well recommended or a local must-see (eg Eiffel Tower). Same goes for places to eat. That way I know my needs (wheelchair access, vegetarian) can be accommodated at any activity, but without a tight agenda.

      Then we sit down over dinner & pick a few things, and say “what about doing thing x tomorrow? The weather will be good” or “I’m tired today, how about thing y tomorrow? It sounds relaxing”. And we just plan a day or two in advance.

      Not everything in the folder will get done, but I know that some fun stuff WILL happen, and it will accommodate my needs (obviously you plan to accommodate everyone’s needs – luckily my husband is flexible tho).

      One of my favourite holidays was a tightly planned honeymoon, driving around Iceland, but conversely my other favourite was a week in Norfolk, because I was able to say “sod activity z that we mooted for today – I had a lovely walk on the beach yesterday, can we just do that again?” and didn’t feel any pressure, or tied up in my own plans. Yet that folder was there for ideas and info whenever needed.

      Harried, maybe you could do a folder? I just print out pages from National Trust websites, heritage railway timetables, etc, and maps both of the general area and the specific place you’re staying, with nearest supermarket, pub, corner shop and petrol station marked on them. obviously tailor to your family’s interests,

      • jdrives said:

        This is my ideal way of traveling also – striking a happy balance between prepared and spontaneous. Open-ended travel plans make me anxious, and tightly-scheduled ones make me exhausted. But, everybody differs. A friend of mine is traveling to Ireland today for a few weeks, and only has the first couple of nights planned – the rest she will figure out as she goes along. It sounds really exciting but I am so grateful that I am not going with her on that particular adventure because I would be a stressed mess and probably harsh her good time.

      • DFTBAwkward said:

        This type of planning has worked really well for me as well! I backpacked for a month in Europe a few years back. I booked all my hostels, flights/buses/trains etc. in advance, so I knew how many days I would have in each location and when I’d need to leave. Before I left, I spent some time researching and made a list of interesting things to do or good places to eat in the cities I was in, plus locations and travel information (what bus stop gets me closest to the museum). I had a piece of paper with all that information with me at all times, so I knew how to do the things I might be interested in, but I could take it at my own pace. I could veer off the list if I found something interesting, or, if I was too tired to do much on one particular day I didn’t have to do anything I didn’t want to do. Having the list just gave me options. 🙂

    • Argh argh argh typed a huge reply and lost it 😦

      In summary it was this: I have specific needs (wheelchair, vegetarian) and I and my husband have different interests (he likes running, I like sleeping – and we both like steam trains and photography). I need to do the research to know I can be accommodated. But I don’t want to plan a meticulous schedule, not least because weather or my health can put the kibosh on it. And I don’t want to NOT plan, or I spend every evening fretting about the next day, and less time enjoying.

      So I make a folder. I print out Web pages about a variety of attractions, restaurants etc for the area where we are staying, along with enough maps of the wider area, and another of the immediate area showing nearest supermarket, pub, petrol etc, for everyone to have two maps each.

      Over dinner, we discuss the next day. It means we can be flexible if I’m tired, or if rain is coming, but also we have info laid out in front of us to flick through for ideas. Harried, could you do that, and each day a different person picks an activity from the pile?

      This worked so well for me – we didn’t get to do everything (there are always more suggestions in the folder than actual days in the holiday) and it afforded flexibility / some spontaneity, but I knew in advance that however it worked out, we’d be seeing and doing and eating some interesting things, and my access needs would be ok. And I wasn’t stressing in advance that x or y HAD to happen.

      It seems like a perfect halfway house – plenty of planning of what you *could* do, but nothing tied to any given date so plenty of choice and wriggle room on the holiday. After all, hols are meant to be fun, not cat-herding, right? 🙂

      • LW 704 said:

        Thanks for this suggestion!! This sounds like a lot of fun! I will start a folder of everyone’s suggestions so I have them saved. : )

        • Pinterest actually works quite well for this. I have a whole series of boards for different locations. And usually the picture reminds me of what the activity location was without having to read the description. There’s also this super cool mapping feature if you include the address in the description!

        • Hooray! Glad to help. The folder idea works perfectly for us now, the right balance between needing to plan (and know whether something has a disabled toilet or veggie food options) and being free to decide what to do on the day.

      • That is a really great suggestion; Mr Hypotenuse and I used to be Spontaneous Travel types, but now I have a chronic illness & we have two small kids, and making the switch to a more planned style has been hard. I feel like a binder — real or just in our shared list app — would be a great thing.

      • Alexia said:

        Totally a fan of the folder technique, although I’ve never heard it under that name 🙂 My love and I generally gather all the activities we want to try out in the area, and the week before the trip see what activities are close to each other and negotiate what each of us want to really do/see. That way we don’t end up wasting a lot of time travelling between activities and have a better idea of where we can go next. Activities include museums, parks, venues, stores, tours, but also specific neighborhoods we want to explore. We keep some maps of these neighborhoods and go visit them whenever we have “off” hours.

        Thanks to this thread I didn’t know you could book museum dates so will incorporate that for our next “city” trip.

    • ZeldasCrown said:

      I like to research a little bit as to what there is to do before I travel. That way, I can plan how many nights I should stay in a given place (if it’s a multi-location trip) and find out if there’s anything I want to make sure I do at some point while I’m there (and if there’s some kind of limit as to when it’s open), but I don’t like to plan a minute-by-minute itinerary. Then, if there’s something that has to be booked ahead of time (like a show or a game that might sell out), that would be the only definite plans of the day. But otherwise, pretty much just booking the travel and the accommodations is about it.

      I never really considered that to be spontaneous travel. To me, spontaneous is not booking anything, and just finding hotels day of and deciding spur of the moment to move to a different vacation location. Which I would find equally stressful as having every activity pre-booked and scheduled as to how much time I’m spending there.

      • Rana said:

        Yes, that’s how I like to travel, too. I like to know where I’m sleeping, and what’s in and around that location that one could do, and what needs to be arranged in advance, but that’s mostly it. That way if I end up someplace that’s more interesting than expected, I don’t feel like I’m wasting time if I decide to take a day to just ramble around and see what happens. Or if it turns out there’s not that much to do there other than Activity X, I might day trip out to somewhere else just for a change of scene. But I’m also not having to worry about hauling my luggage along with me, etc.

      • thelittlepakeha said:

        Ditto. To me, that’s planning. I think the most spontaneous holiday I’ve had was one where I was in the place where my school is for contact courses (if you do long distance study they have one or two day events during the mid-term break where you turn up and have a bunch of lectures and ask questions) and had about a week in between two of them. So I took a train to a nearby city where a lot of friends lived, stayed overnight with one of them, and had a very short list of things I’d like to do. I managed the zoo but not the bird sanctuary, did some walking around town instead, found a very good gelato place, stopped in at the museum… (And now I live here. And still haven’t been to the bird sanctuary!)

    • slfisher said:

      >if you want a manual

      I think you mean, if you want an automatic, because TTBOMK a manual is a stick.

    • PollyQ said:

      There are some things that do need to be planned ahead, though, or you simply won’t be able to do them. E.g., if you’re visiting San Francisco and you want to tour Alcatraz, buy your tickets online ahead of time.

    • Thneed said:

      You probably know this…

      > Also, most rental cars in Europe are stick shift. You have to specify while booking if you want a manual. Remember that if no one in your party knows how to drive stick.

      Stick-shift IS manual. The other kind of transmission is automatic.

      Two amusing notes: I’m old enough to remember when “automatic transmission” was a thing they put on the backs of cars. Like they do with “hybrid” or “4WD” now. But now it’s practically the default, even though it still costs more. And I know a woman whose car was NOT car-jacked because she drove a stick and the would-be thieves who were 20 years younger did not.

      • One of the very best things about driving a stick is that no one EVER asks to borrow your car. 🙂

        I went to Europe with my BFF a few years ago and we were only able to rent a car because I drive stick. I’d had some happy visions of teaching her to drive a stick in the French countryside (you know, the kind of memory you have for a lifetime!), but she took one horrified look at me stopping on a hill to make a left turn into French traffic and said NOOOO.

  12. Newcomer McSandwich said:

    I think in a situation like this it can be very mentally easing if you switch the parent-child relationship. I’ve seen this suggestion on CA before, I’m sure. And it’s something I’ve done with my own mum. If she acts difficult /once you’re there/ then change your perspective. If she’s acting like a toddler, treat her like one. You care about her but you have things to do.

    Eg-
    Your mum: “But I don’t want to go to /Place/. I want to go /Place never mentioned before/! You knew I wanted to go to /Place/!”
    You: “We’ve decided we are doing /THIS/. You can come, stay or come then leave early (if possible), but we are leaving at /Time/.”
    Your mum: “Well I want to do /other thing/. I’ve always wanted to do it. I’ve mentioned it multiple times.”
    You: “If you wanted to do /other thing/ you should have said. It’s too late now. Next time I ask for your opinion, remember to mention it. Today, at /time/, name, name and I are leaving for /Place/. You can come with, or if you don’t want to, you don’t have to.”

    Force the responsibility for her actions back into her hands and make her keep it there.

    Your mum: “I didn’t enjoy /Place/.”
    You: “Well that is why I repeatedly told you that you didn’t have to come when you said you didn’t want to visit /Place/ earlier.” “Well you don’t have to come back.” “Well its over now. Now /this/ is happening (even if it’s going back to the hotel). So we don’t need to mention it again if you didn’t like it.”
    Ignore/repeat as needed.

    And at the end of the day, no matter the relationship you’re not responsible for her happiness or satisfaction. She is. A lot of anxiety seems to come from taking on the responsibility of her happiness and trying to win her approval.

    Also, I love to plan. Travel is anxiety-inducing because what if I don’t plan well enough but also brilliant because I get to plan basically everything. If you are an over-planner like me, you can still plan your days down to what time you leave the hotel, to where and when you eat lunch. Just write out a much more lax second schedule for other people to follow, and more often than not they’ll just fall in line with yours because you have a sense of purpose. And don’t be afraid to be like, well we’re still at /attraction/ even though I wanted to eat at 12, and it is now 1. So I am getting a taxi. See you guys later at the hotel for whichever afternoon activity you have planned.

    • Kerry said:

      If she’s acting like a toddler, treat her like one.

      This sounds like a great way to wreck both of your holidays.

      • Dizzy said:

        It could go either way. For sure, the first time you do it, they’re going to mope and whine and throw a tantrum. But I think there’s a lot of value in making it very clear to someone that they need to take responsibility for their actions and you won’t let them ruin your holiday. They don’t get to both refuse to be part of the decision-making process AND whine and bitch about everything.

      • Newcomer McSandwich said:

        Okay. So tell me why it’s a bad suggestion.

        It sounds like the holidays are already stressful and at times unpleasant for both of them and can leave a bad taste in their mouth after the holiday is over, creating a shadow over future trips before planning has even begun for them. I would say ‘treat them like a toddler’ is a reactive action, not an active one. It’s a coping technique for when things are already wrecked or heading there.

        • Kerry said:

          I don’t think reinforcing an existing bad pattern is the way to solve it.

          • Newcomer McSandwich said:

            ????????????

            You’re /removing/ reinforcement.

            If steps are taken to help make the mum comfortable and included, and she still acts poorly (yelling, etc) after the holiday or events within the holiday, then you remove reinforcement. This is basic toddler stuff: if the toddler has a tantrum and you ignore it, they stop throwing tantrums because they learn it doesn’t get them anywhere? The mum might not be out-right throwing tantrums but the way she is acting is unacceptable.

            I mean, it sounds to me from some of your previous comments you think the daughter is the problem, not the mother. And if the daughter was more accepting and flexible and planned a trip the way you or the mother wanted, the mother would stop reacting badly. I think it doesn’t matter how the LW and daughter planned the trip, even if she was non-inclusive. The mother doesn’t have the right to react like that when she can be assertive. At any rate the LW shouldn’t have to put up with it. I think trying to be more assertive, and trying to model positive communication for the mother would be a good first choice. And if that doesn’t work, then the LW should try letting someone else plan the trip and either they’ll let the mother dictate time should be warped for her train-travelling between countries or at least the LW won’t have to deal with the negativity fallout.

            I mean, my suggestion is that you literally try to change the pattern of reinforcement?? To change the existing bad pattern??????

            I have no idea how you are interpreting my comments. I think we’re just going to have to agree to disagree. We clearly just don’t like each other or get each other’s pov.

          • Kerry said:

            To clarify, I definitely don’t think the daughter is ‘the problem’ and I’m sorry my comments have come across that way. I’ve been trying to think about whether there is one single person who is ‘the problem’, which everyone else has to Manage Dealing With, or whether the conflict is because of different communication and travelling styles. I totally know and appreciate how hard it is to deal with That One Person whose mission it is to be a pill about everything – my grandmother is one! with the bonus of literally grabbing your arm and forcefully pulling you towards her and holding you in place when you’re not being sufficiently attentive to the saga of the soggy blueberry in her muffin and the horrible waiter who wouldn’t take it back, or whatever. But what the LW described sounded to me, without the details that came out in her later comments, less like Mom The Pill For No Reason (solution: manage mom) and more like Mom, Whose Travelling Style Is Different Than Mine But Doesn’t Know How To Communicate That Well (solution: probably not that).

            Of course Mom can be assertive, but treating her like a toddler is not going to encourage her to be assertive, it’s going to encourage her to behave more childishly. Some people are just downers, but I also hope we appreciate that women are not exactly socially trained and encouraged to express our desires assertively and clearly, especially not when it sounds like when she does say “I want this”, daughter says “No, that’s not possible”. (Even though it isn’t possible and that’s correct of daughter to say! The pattern still gets reinforced of “Mom says what she wants”/”Daughter says no”.)

            I’m sorry you don’t like me. I don’t know you outside of these comments but I hope we at least agree in hoping that the LW’s trip goes well and that everyone on it has a good a time as possible (even if for Mom that means ‘complains just at dinner instead of constantly throughout the day’).

  13. B. said:

    Hi, LW! I have some experience with what you’re describing: more or less, my dad is you, and I’m your mom. And before I say anything further, I think the Captain’s advice is really good 🙂

    The reason I go on trips I don’t want to go on is because I know it’d make my dad really sad if I decided not to, after all the work he put in the planning. Maybe that’s what happens with your mom? As a suggestion for next time, maybe plan your big outings for travel-friendly family members only (as opt-out events) and then make a quieter, localler plan for all your family together. Maybe that can mesh with your family culture?

    I think detailed planning is wonderful, for those who like that way of travelling. I myself feel like I’m travelling for work with a long to-do list and can’t see the moment to get home when it gets like that. So, definitely: leave some wiggle room, loosen up some schedules and maybe pick two or three options that happen on the same day so everyone can choose on the spot what they prefer to do? I’m a very spontaneous person, so I don’t do well with “decide what you’d rather do two weeks from now: hit a museum or go for a walk?”.

    Another suggestion (this has worked well for me and my dad): give her a guidebook and a time frame (one evening, a whole day, depends on the time you have) and tell her to plan the activities for that time frame. And stick with her plans. This gives her a share of the responsibility, so she feels more in control of what’s happening. It’s really important that you stick with whatever she decides for that time frame, no buts, no reasonable excuses. Reasons: a) it’ll make her feel respected, like hers is a valid opinion (I’m guessing that’s why she refuses to offer her input, she may perceive that you don’t consider it valuable. It is.); b) if it goes wrong and she gets complaints, she’ll find out what that feels like.

    And last but not least, please let her (first) and the rest of the family (later) know how her complaining makes you feel. It’s really important: speaking from the point of view of an oblivious person, if yu haven’t said anything there’s a good chance that people don’t know how bad this makes you feel.

    Best of luck, and if you’d like to visit Madrid, I can tell you about a few nice spots that visitors don’t usually find 😉

  14. rydra_wong said:

    My mom does not really like to go out, let alone go on expensive trips, but she’s going anyways because of the family culture and I already know she’s going to complain about everything. (She’s done it before, on other trips I planned.) I feel bad for her- we suggested to her that she stay home several times, but she refused

    Speaking as someone whose needs are sometimes awkward (Asperger’s syndrome), it can be tricky when it seems like a group (whether family or friends) is going, “We will do this big holiday together, for everyone! It will be special and bond us all together! It’s going to involve lots and lots of things that you find difficult or horrible? Well, you can just … not come, I guess. You can sit in a corner or something while we go and have fun together.”

    Realistically, there are situations where my needs and idea of fun are never going to mesh with everyone else’s, and sometimes it really is best if I sit something out.

    But it can feel like a rejection if people aren’t willing to try to adjust things in ways that accommodate my needs and interests too, to the extent that’s possible.

    It sounds like the LW’s mum is difficult in all sorts of ways, but it might help to understand why she might be balking at “well, you can just stay behind”.

    I’ve already tried asking her in advance if there was anything she wanted, and her initial suggestions were impossible (I want to go from Paris to Madrid by train- and I want it to take three hours!) When I explained why that wasn’t really doable, she sulked and now refuses to give me any input at all.

    I wonder if it’d be possible to use the LW’s mom’s initial suggestions as idea to build on — okay, Paris to Madrid by train in three hours isn’t possible, but what about it appeals to her? Maybe she enjoys train journeys, but only short ones? Maybe there’s a different bit of the trip that could be done by train, or some kind of scenic train tour? Or maybe she dislikes going everywhere by car, or hates flying, and the trip could be planned to minimize this?

    Maybe she’s not willing at all to engage in that sort of process, maybe she’s determined to be “impossible” no matter what, but it’s worth giving it a go. As CA says, the “Do you have any input?/No wait, your input is wrong” conversation doesn’t seem to be working out well.

    • B. said:

      FWIW, if you people want to go from Paris to Madrid by train it is possible, but it takes around 9 hours (6,25 h from Paris to Barcelona and about 2h from there to Madrid).

      However, as rydra_wong says, it’s worth giving her suggestions some consideration. If the thing’s about trains, there are lots of possibilities for travelling that way around Europe (example: http://www.raileurope.com/en/index.html). Even if the thing’s not about trains, some effort on both of your parts to make room for her interests could go a long way.

      The “both” is vital here: if she’s not willing to work with you and share some of the responsiblity of the planning, you’ll probably be better off with the buffer route that the Captain suggested.

      • rydra_wong said:

        Yes, I checked the Paris to Madrid train times too — it seems like it’s eminently possible to go by train, but not in three hours or anything near three hours.

        If the LW’s mother is throwing a fit that the LW can’t magically turn a nine-hour journey into a three-hour journey, that’s an impressive league of “impossible”-ness. And there are certainly people like that, and in that case buffering may be all anyone can do.

        (And maybe considering whether or not to keep organizing trips, because it sounds pretty miserable.)

        But it’s also possible that the LW has reached the “bitch eating crackers” stage with the whole thing, and what their mother is saying is something more like “I’d like to get to Madrid by train! Wait, it takes nine hours? That’s too long.”

        In which case, there might be more scope for finding out why she wants to go by train, and seeing if that can be incorporated into the plans somehow.

        • LW 704 said:

          Throwing a fit that I can’t turn a nine hour journey into a three hour journey is exactly what she did. My mom wants things independent of whether or not they are actually possible, and she gets mad when I can’t make them happen just because she wants them.

          We are going from Madrid to Barcelona by train though- I like the suggestion to point that out to her if she complains about wanting to take a train journey. : )

          • Manattee said:

            Oh my goodness, that sounds excruciatingly difficult. So much sympathy for your situation, especially after all the effort you put in.

            It’s especially tricky as I think most of the suggestions (including my own) have relied on it actually being about the holiday and on some base level of reasonableness from your mom. But I guess it’s not really about the holiday any more. Is there any way you can enlist your dad or brother to step in when she gets like this and point out how unreasonable she’s being? I know I’d feel really attacked by something like that and beyond screaming ‘I’m not a f***ing wizard’ wouldn’t know what to do.

          • DameB said:

            LW, I’m sorry. That sucks. My mom is like that too — nothing will make her happy except this thing that she wants, which is not possible. (I think the fact that it’s not possible is WHY she wants it, in fact. So she has something to complain about.)

            I’ve dealt with this by spending less time with my bio family. I can totally see that this may not be an option for you — you sound like you’ve got a big and tight knit family thing going on. This won’t help you now, with Europe!Trip coming up, but in the future maybe you could suggest trips that are smaller and shorter and more nearby? That might reduce the time you spend with your complain-o-momatic?

            I’m a planner too, btw, and married to a planner. I was also a travel writer and editor for more than a decade and I know how careful planning can make a HUGE difference in budget.

          • JenniferP said:

            Your mom’s behavior sounds really awful, and I’m sorry, and vacations with her sound like the worst vacations, ever, and this sounds pretty unfixable the more you tell us. There’s something going on here where her feelings – her anxieties, her needs, her fears, etc. – are ruling the family. She doesn’t want to be left out of anything (understandable!) but she also doesn’t want to participate or negotiate something that would work. She’s like a dog who can’t stop chewing up her bed; she’s afraid y’all don’t love her so she needs constant proof of it, but she goes around getting that in the worst possible way.

            I’m going to recommend a book to you: Will I Ever Be Good Enough? by Dr. Karyl McBride. It might give you some overall tips on dealing with her or at least on feeling less bad when she does what she’s gonna do.

            You also need your dad and your brother to step up, like, each of you takes turns doing Mom Duty on the trip. “I’ve got Mom this afternoon, y’all go! We’re gonna do whatever Mom wants.” I also ask where is your Dad in all of this? For every vacation like this, are there vacations that are what Mom most wants to do? Does he stay quiet when she yells at you?

            I’d also like to make a case for losing your own shit, selectively. I think that when she goes into unreasonable yelling land, you are quietly taking it, because you are a decent person and you want to be the bigger person and not act like her. I’m not suggesting this as an overall strategy of daily life, but sometimes there is something to be said even for walking away from her when she screams at you – going off on your own on the trip – and letting her awful feelings and awfulness be her own. Think, “Mom, don’t talk to me that way” + “I’ll be back at dinner time, maybe you’ll have calmed down then” + LEAVE. Awful to contemplate, I know, and not how you would normally ever behave. It will suck, especially the first time, but she will over time get the message: Yelling mom = no attention from you. Nice mom = attention.

          • Great that you’re taking a train. Horrendous that she throws tantrums. My father used to. At my mother. He stopped briefly when I imitated his behavior back at him, but basically? Much though I loved him? He and my mother were not well suited to each other.

            I admire your fortitude

          • MellifluousDissent said:

            Just wanted to +1 the Will I Ever Be Good Enough recommendation – that book was hugely helpful to me in dealing with my own difficult mom.

            Also, this part of the Captain’s wise response is crucial – ” letting her awful feelings and awfulness be her own.” It’s hard, I know, but when she’s vomiting negative feelings at you, try to hold on to the idea that her feelings are *hers*. That means they’re hers to deal with, hers to manage or not manage all on her own. She’s appointed you (and probably your dad and brother too) as the keeper of her feelings, so she doesn’t have to manage them herself. Hand them back to her – “Mom, I’m sorry you feel that way. I’m going out now, I’ll see you at dinner.” “Mom, Brother and I are going to the café, you can join us or not, but I’m done with this conversation.” “Feel free to stay at the hotel if the weather isn’t to your liking today.” Etc., etc.

    • Speaking as someone whose needs are sometimes awkward (Asperger’s syndrome), it can be tricky when it seems like a group (whether family or friends) is going, “We will do this big holiday together, for everyone! It will be special and bond us all together! It’s going to involve lots and lots of things that you find difficult or horrible? Well, you can just … not come, I guess. You can sit in a corner or something while we go and have fun together.”

      THIS, yes, is what was bugging me about the letter. With this kind of situation, I can easily see how, even if I got to do a thing I wanted, there would be so many negative feelings around the whole trip that it would be difficult to enjoy even the thing I wanted to do.

      • Yeah, I get that too. I’ve been on many holidays where there was little choice between ‘do what we’re all doing, which is very very hard for you’ or ‘don’t do it, and be alone and kinda sad’.

        Can you build flex time into the schedule? I do best on ‘here is a list of Cool Things To Do In X Place’ (Google x days in y for suggested schedules!) and picking things from that list.

        That said, if your mum is going to passive aggressive in the face of lots of accommodation and won’t answer ‘look, what would an ideal holiday look like to you?’ then… Honestly, you have done your best. A bright ‘Ok mum, if it doesn’t sound fun to you that’s cool, I’m going to go though!’ and spending the day doing what you want sounds much better than always bending over backwards to include everyone. And maybe it would help to model ‘people can do separate things and have tons of fun’ for your family.

      • rydra_wong said:

        And obviously sometimes the reality of it is that a bunch of friends/family want to do a particular thing which I can’t do or which would be horrendous for me.

        And then I go, “Okay, have an awesome time for me! Sorry I have to give this one a miss! See you when you get back, and we’ll do {other thing I can join in with}!” And it’s fine.

        But that requires everyone to not treat it as The Big Special Thing We All Do Together (Except For You, Sucks To Be You I Guess).

        • B. said:

          (IMHO, this comment -^ is worth its weight in gold)

    • The Awe Ritual said:

      LW, just throwing it out there (apologize if I’ve missed this being brought up), and even if I hit something, it’s an explanation, not an excuse: I believe you mentioned something about your mother feeling this trip is financially wasteful, Is it possible that she’s feeling bullied, possibly by your father, into this and she’s taking it out on the trip as whole by dragging her heels? That she is feeling like she’s making all sorts of financial and vacation-time sacrifices for something she doesn’t want and won’t enjoy, but if she doesn’t go, she won’t get to see you guys at all and misses out on the two weeks out of the year your father is not in “job mode”? That oh, my god, a second car would solve so many problems, or another maxed-out credit card will cause so many, and your brother won’t let her tell anyone about the terms of his probation involving not leaving the state and just waves his hand and says it’s not a big deal, but she’s done the research and it really sounds like a big deal? Or maybe she’s the “designated monster” in your family, misbehaving and grandstanding to defuse possible awful by other family members?

      It just feels like there is more going on here, like someone has frogmarched her way past her “no” and her exhaustion at dealing with that may be why she’s slapping the cookies you’re offering out of your hand like she’s some rude lunatic. Yes, she needs to grow the hell up and target her anger appropriately, but it may very well not be you she’s mad at AT ALL, and there may be more going on here than “Mom is crazy and annoying and trying to undermine me for the sake of her own pathological need for attention and control.”

  15. There is always that one person

  16. Dear LW

    The Captain’s advice is wonderful. I especially like the limited options and more down time part.

    Traveling with your mother sounds like a nightmare for you both. If it were possible I’d suggest not traveling together!

    But since that’s not possible, the Captain’s ideas around autonomy may help. You see, she may hear you as saying “if you don’t like what I plan, don’t come” not “please please please help me come up with a trip we’ll all love!”

  17. Ookling said:

    Dear LW

    I have a mother who is always happiest just that little bit sad about everything. She’s fundamentally uncomfortable experiencing too great a level of happiness or comfort (thanks, mother’s parents! You *sucked*!). Is it possible, LW, that your Mom is coming from a similar place? I find it exhausting and infuriating as HELL- and I don’t make the holiday arrangements.
    What helped, for me, was re designating her comments and complaints as not about *my* actions or aimed at *me*, or even things I could do anything about; just my mother’s anxieties escaping into the room. I have to consciously do that; still, but it helps.

    • Bea said:

      Wow, that’s a really good way to think about it! My Mum (who I adore, is great, & luckily never sulks) does sometimes do the ‘nitpick’ thing in restaurants/on holiday, and sometimes she’s justified, but sometimes we’re having a wonderful time and it dampens the mood. She likes to be in control, but she knows she should want to be able to let things go and let us make decisions, or just accept that some things aren’t perfect.

      As we’ve all grown older she does it so much less, but I strongly suspect that it’s inherited from my (lovely, but a chronic ‘spoiler’ of occasions) Grandmother. You should never be content, because you don’t deserve to be, but you should never accept what’s not good enough either, because nobody else knows that! And, unless she catches me on a vulnerable day, I have to learn to let her undermining/critical comments go. It often has the effect of a role reversal, where the whinger is playing the part of ‘toddler’ and I am ‘benevolent parent with selective hearing’.

      So, the next time my Grandmother invites me to do something fun with her, then reprimands me for ‘laughing too much – it’s selfish’ or ‘wasting time on a phd’, I’m going to channel this idea: her anxieties are escaping into the room. Just because they might confirm the bad things I think about myself, doesn’t mean it’s true.

      LW, I wonder if this would help you too – you are not a crappy daughter/family member/travel planner, because this is not really about you. Some of the suggestions here are great and practical, and the emotional stuff is for you to choose how to deal with. I’d hope that if your mother could get outside her own head she’d be horrified at how stressed and upset this is making you, but unless that happens, you may have to change how you travel, or practice letting these criticisms go. Best of luck, and make sure YOU enjoy the trip as much as possible.

  18. Usually Grumpy Karen said:

    As I was reading about your mom I wondered if she is like this about many other things too. Some people just like to be a pill. They consider themselves to be talented at discerning problems & complications that everyone else misses, and they appoint themselves in charge of stewing over them enough to make up for all the happy-go-lucky fools who refuse to get wound up over it.

    Is this your mom?

    If so, I think you’re unlikely to change her. Even if you offer alternatives or encourage her to plan her own excursions, these too will be complained about. However, many of the approaches suggested in this thread are still quite good because they may shame her into saying less, and may put more family members in your corner. And they could give you some much-needed breaks from her complaining.

    In your shoes, I might let off steam during the trip with a few retorts that point out how unreasonably critical she’s being when she lays this stuff on you. “You’re right Mom, I searched all over Italy to find the town with the most steps, just to make it harder on everyone” and “Yes, all the guidebooks reported the bathrooms in this theater frequently run out of toilet paper, so that’s exactly why I booked this show” and “You’ve remarked on the shabby sign to us three times now; perhaps you’d like the mayor’s phone number to take it up with him?” I’d deliver these a tone that suggests cheerful upbeat amusement, not resentment.

    Travel planning can be thankless. But I hope you don’t give it up. I’ve seen it happen at my workplace, I’ve seen it happen in my family, I’ve seen it among my moms group: our main planner decides the work is just too thankless (often because of one or two people being a pain in the ass), and stops doing it, and suddenly you’re not doing things together anymore and the quality of life for everyone diminishes a little. You might think everyone will be sorry, and they’ll either beg you to start again, or take up the mantle themselves, but in my experience the thing just dies. So try, if you can, to focus on the people who appreciate your hard work, and feel rewarded! What you do is important.

    • thelittlepakeha said:

      “You might think everyone will be sorry, and they’ll either beg you to start again, or take up the mantle themselves, but in my experience the thing just dies.”

      Often because the third parties completely understand how thankless it is and don’t want to pressure you to do something that sucks, I reckon. I’ve sucked up a lot of disappointment when people have decided to bail on something thankless because complaining about it isn’t usually going to change anything and if I’m not willing to do it myself it’s not fair to expect someone else to. (In this case, being the moderator of text-based roleplaying games. I’ve done it before and it’s a pain in the arse.)

  19. CynicMom said:

    I will be going to a family reunion this summer, LW, and I feel your pain! Some of us are young, active, and will explode with energy if all the daily activities involve mostly sitting down. We also have a group of elderly people who will wilt if the activities involve more than a 30 min walk.

    Our solution is to have one daily event that is mandatory for everyone: daily dinner. We also have a selection of other events that everyone can individually choose from each day. Sometimes the young will accompany the elders, sometimes not. There is only one group activity that must be planned way in advance with a head-count.

    In our case is HAS to be this way because the temperaments/life situations of the people involved are just too different. If we tried to force group daily activities on everyone the elders would have to cancel after awhile due to the need to rest, and the kids would whine and complain about the activities being too boring. Try the Captain’s advice!

    • slfisher said:

      Yes, I go to Maine every year with my boyfriend’s family, and on the whole it’s a lovely experience and I’m very blessed to get to do it. However, the one thing that’s an issue for me is they like to hike through the woods, and they hike REALLY FAST and I can’t keep up with them — and, frankly, I don’t *want* to. We’re walking in the woods and I want to *look* at them, not just get to the destination. And I have trouble with hills and uneven surfaces. So we’ve had to negotiate around some of that, as well as me actually bailing out of a hike at one point because it was too much for me. I don’t want to hold them up, but I just can’t hike at the rate they can do.

      We tend to have a few regular events that we always do — go to Acadia, have a shopping day, go to a church dinner, have lobster — and other things get scheduled around those as they come up: “It’s a nice day, let’s go to the beach,” “I found a new hike,” “There’s this new nice restaurant the adults want to try and leave the kids to fend for themselves for dinner one night.” And people are pretty good about people who just don’t want to go to things, like my Aspie boyfriend who doesn’t like the beach and gets stressed with too much socialness.

      • JenniferP said:

        SL, I redacted some weight loss talk, which is against the terms of use here.

        • slfisher said:

          oh, sorry!

    • Sarabeth said:

      Yes, after many frustrating efforts, our family has determined that the only way to make this kind of trip work is to go somewhere together, rent a house/flat there, and have nothing else be mandatory togetherness. Also, house/flat MUST be located so that a car is not necessary for daily adventures. We split up into various permutations each day, and mostly come together again in the evening, but it is way way better to know that I can go on my hours-long aimless walk around town the next day whether or nor anyone else wants to come with.

  20. Team Planning, reporting for duty!

    I love to plan. Making lists and crossing things off is actual fun for me. Oooh, when I buy new note books! It’s the best feeling.

    I’ve seen a few ”that’s not my kind of fun”-comments and fair enough. I’m not trying to call them (you) out or change you. We’re all different and awesome as we are.

    I don’t know if the LW is like me, but if so I wanted to throw some love their way.

    Harried: I would love to go on vacation with you! I am tickled pink reading your letter. Not the mom-complaining-bit, that is awful, but look at all your shiny work!

    I know what goes in to planning for big things and I appreciate you for it. It’s hard work! Rewarding, sure, but still work. To be able to keep all those things in your head – hotel bookings, outings, the best places to eat – that is something to brag about! You are impressive.

    For me the planning is a way of showing my love. Especially when I can surprise people. Look how I’ve taken steps to include rustic tomato farming, auntie Grim! Check out that museum of old bicycles, uncle Wolf!

    It’s really frustrating when you’ve put in that work and instead of acknowledging it someone seemingly has to find faults with the labour of love. It can be downright hurtful. I’m sorry.

    This internet stranger is proud of you. I think it’s great that you wrote in and I hope some of the wonderful suggestions will help you on your trip and in your relationship with your mom.

    • LW 704 said:

      Thank you so much for this comment! Some of the stuff upthread made me feel really shitty, and the positivity of this post makes me feel better and more hopeful.

      I love planning! I like looking at all the museums and picking out the ones that seems like they’re the most fun, coming up with a list of restaurants to visit, parks I know my dad will like strolling through, picture opportunities for people to post on facebook (my dad loves facebook.) I like seeing that I did work and it made other people happy. I like the anticipation of thinking about all the fun things I have lined up to do. Hopefully this trip will go well for everyone.

      • charmed.omega said:

        You know, you might be able to both make all the work you put into this trip visible and head off a lot of your mother’s complaining (money-spending anxiety, I get it so hard) by gushing to your mother ahead of time about what a great deal you got on such-and-such. “Mom, I picked out the best restaurant for our stay in City, and we can save a lot of money by going for lunch” “Mom, I picked out the cheapest 4 star hotel in OtherCity. The reviews say it’s great and it’s right next to the SomethingMuseum and the famous SomeStatueGarden”

        Any time she starts to complain, respond. “Well, why don’t you pick out the restaurant then. I gave you the guidebook, why don’t you look through it and pick wherever you like?” If she keeps complaining get really blunt about how much work goes into planning a trip like this and it’s obvious you’ve done your best to make everyone happy. She didn’t have to come on the trip but if she does she’s not going to ruin it for everyone.

        If it’s about the money, consider finding a lot of free/very cheap places to go as a family and mention every single thing that is free to your mother. It will probably make her feel a little better, and then the expensive things you can frame in the context of splurge events.

        • thelittlepakeha said:

          I think this is a really good idea, actually. I live on an extremely tight budget so the few times I get away it’s great to find things to do that are free or very low cost. With how difficult the LW’s mother sounds from some of the comments it probably won’t solve everything, but it might help her feel like her concerns about money aren’t being ignored.

      • Newcomer McSandwich said:

        Planning is the best fun ever, The wall of “I hate over-planned trips!” comments up the top is daunting.

        You’re in budget, you’re using your time wisely. You get to have at least vague contingency plans. When I get back from the trip and it’s all a bit of a jetlagged blur I know what I did and where it was from my itinerary. Also if I travel with other people, I’m usually the planner. And getting there and not having a plan would be a chorus of “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” “I don’t know what do you want to do?” and we’d stay in the hotel all day.

        I like lists and plans. I am a ‘To Do Today’ dot point type of person. Planning is fun, and for those of us with strict budgets and not that much time in other places, 100% a necessity. So I’m just adding my name to the “Planning is awesome” side of things. Because all of the “over-planning sucks the fun out of things” people kind of got me down as well.

      • twomoogles said:

        I am really bad at planning but love things that are planned, so I love people like you on trips and am super appreciative of my friends who are good at it! TBH my ideal trip is something where one person who isn’t me does all the planning and that planning includes “time for me to do nothing but read” too. 😉

      • Gemma said:

        My SO and I are both planners- he’s especially excellent at it and I adore that about him. I don’t worry that we’re going to waste our time because we don’t know where to go or that we’ll miss out on something because we didn’t know it existed. While we have made some great spontaneous discoveries, it’s because we planned in the flex-time or optional activities (“If we don’t run into something better along the way, we can do X…” and either we find that something better or have a great time doing X.)

        I also really love your point that planning gives you a sense of anticipation about your trip. We’re currently planning a big trip at the end of the year and I’m getting really excited looking over our options and choosing the best ones!

  21. LW, I’m a planner. I love looking ahead and getting all my ducks in a row, although I don’t generally plan every detail, I do try to anticipate any and all wrinkles. Most of the time my husband is amused and appreciates me doing this after he unbends. He hates planning, he hates the idea of planning. He has this impression that if he plans things for what’s supposed to be “fun” then it’s no longer fun. Limited options has helped, and I try not to overwhelm him with details, leaving more room for flexibility.

    What also strikes me . . . I’m an introvert–and sometimes I get frustrated because as much as I love being and doing and going in order to be with family . . . I lose ground quickly and find myself unhappy and wanting to go hide in a room or wander by myself. My husband’s even worse. We’ve had to both acknowledge our personal limits, but sometimes we try to push past them and the result is cranky/complaining/ unhappy with everything. It’s hard when you don’t want to be left out but also just don’t have the extroversion to engage. And sad to say, it’s easy to take it out on the others in the group who do not feel the same way.

    Despite my enjoyment in planning, I’ve also spent trips where I basically got to a city and wandered without a clue of anything to do except sit with my notebook and sketchpad–that’s a harder type of need to fit in with a group.

    I feel for you. I think the Captain’s suggestions for space and breaks from the plan are a good idea.

  22. Nanani said:

    Hmm. LW said they are they only one who knows how to internet, and the Captain’s response suggests two internet things, namely email and a swcret FB group. That seems incompatible.
    If LW means that they are literally the only one in the family with an internet connection, then they’ll need some equivalent suggestions that are offline. What would that actually look like? A sign up sheet? Memos at get togethers in the planning stages?
    I do just about everything online so I’m the wrong person to ask, but surely there are people here who can suggest better ideas for the actually-seriously-no-internet members of the family.

    • B. said:

      Phone calls? Like, call one person and get them to write down the details and pass them on to the next person?

      • Absotively said:

        It might be more effective for LW to call everyone themselves, in terms of letting people feel heard. And it would also reduce the likelihood that someone will get a garbled version of a misheard version of a detail that was written down wrong. In order to make mom’s input public, I think they could call mom first and then mention what mom has decided in some of the later phone calls.

        Scripts might be something like, “we can go to museum A or day trip B on Tuesday. I know Mom would prefer museum A; would that be ok with you?” or “I asked Mom to pick an activity for Thursday, and she’s selected tour X. I’d like you to help pick something for Friday. I have some info on sight Y and shopping in area Z, if you want suggestions.”

  23. Courtney said:

    When it comes to “impossible/improbable” requests, there is frequently a facet of the request that is more important to the person asking than the others. One way to tease out which is more important is to treat it like an error or misunderstanding that you want to clarify. (I do this all the time at work when someone has a day/date mismatch with a meeting request. “You asked for Thursday the 13th. Thursday is the 14th – did you want Wednesday the 13th or Thursday the 14th for your meeting?”

    For the Paris/Madrid thing, a good way to use this technique would be something like, “Mom, I checked, and a train trip from Paris to Madrid takes X hours. A flight takes X time. Which is more important to you–taking the train or arriving by X time?”

  24. The moment I read LW’s letter, I thought of limited options. Definitely the way to go. Sounds like mom has some unrealistic expectations of what travel should be like. It’s expensive and takes time. Does she like flowers? Architecture? Gardens and buildings are usually cheap and low-key spots to visit.

    Also, I love the idea of scheduled down time and flexibility. The Captain’s advice is gold.

  25. Serin said:

    I’m a planner — in fact, I enjoy planning vacations more than I enjoy actually taking vacations — and after two family trips to Disney World, it dawned on me that my way of enjoying Disney World does not make my spouse and kid happy.

    Because they’re kind and flexible people, they push back gently. (“You go — have a good time — I’ll sleep in and see you at lunchtime.”)

    I think you can have a vacation that’s fun for both spontaneous people and planners, and for both the I Can Sleep When I’m At Home camp and the How Is It A Vacation If I Have To Set An Alarm camp — but it requires blocks and sub-blocks of plans within plans.

    Actually it sounds like kind of a fun planning project …

  26. Drew said:

    I guess I’m lucky; my family’s idea of a great vacation is “Let’s all do our own things and compare notes over dinner, and then we can all enjoy a variety of activities!” Sometimes, that means two or three of us go off together to do the same thing, but no one’s stuck doing something they don’t really want to do because The Group Must Stick Together. (Although there have been times … I recall one hot and humid day in DC that had us snapping at one another because we really did have to stick together, and people wanted to do way more in that day than there was day to do it in.)

    That said, MY ideal vacation is a solo road trip, with maybe a couple of “must be in city X on day Y” things planned in, and otherwise just driving and having a good time. On my all-time favorite trip (to date!), I trashed half the itinerary because of weather and then found out my favorite local band was playing two shows along my route home, so I re-planned my itinerary to see those shows — and got comped into the second one because they were so glad to see a familiar face!

    Sorta half planning another road trip for this summer, in fact. Might go visit some friends; might just drive and see where the road takes me.

    • Mine, too. I once spent almost three months and 14,000 miles driving across the U.S. and back alone, and it was one of the best times of my life. I’m planning another one of those trips now for in the next few years. And I keep reading all these comments and thinking, wow, I’m glad I have the wherewithal to travel by myself!

    • Laughing Giraffe said:

      My trip of a lifetime was with two of my good friends, and this was us on Inishmore:
      “I’m going to the sweater museum!”
      “I’m going to rent a bike and ride to the cliffs!”
      “I’m going to go on a guided tour in a minibus!”
      And everyone was happy.
      We enjoyed a lot of things together as well, but it was a classic example of “we all have needs here” – friend #1 is a designer and would have pouted if she couldn’t see the museum, I was bursting to get in a proper ride SOMEWHERE in my seven weeks abroad, and friend #3 gets frustrated if she doesn’t learn something everywhere she goes.

    • LW 704 said:

      Everyone must do things together is the worst fucking fallacy and I if I could fight it I would beat it to death with my bare hands.

      I did a road trip around the USA once with some friends! It was super great. The highlight was definitely being surrounded by a huge herd of buffalo as we drove through Yellowstone, although at the time we were all super scared. XD

      • Tyrannosaurus Vex said:

        My husband and I once had our car completely surrounded by extremely hangry elk in British Columbia. We escaped only by throwing a handful of baby carrots out the window. At the time it was pretty terrifying (elk are BIG) but now it’s on my list of favorite travel stories.

        • Mel Reams said:

          Not terribly on topic but I love both your username and your elk story 🙂

      • LW, when I get back from my doctor’s appointment today, I will write you some ideas of how to fix the “But we’re a FAAAMIILLYY so we do everything together!” problem. My family had it pretty bad (think “taking all six kids to every trip to the supermarket and then taking them all round the supermarket instead of putting them in the cafe”. And now they don’t and have learned to do things (a little bit) more separately.

  27. I can’t really add to the captain’s advice above. I think a buffer, and setting a clear boundary with her might be helpful So, I’m going to make an out on a limb suggestion for your next family trip.

    Have you considered a cruise?

    I know they are very “touristy” and not very “cultural” but they might be a nice break for you, and still give you an opportunity to travel and see things as a family. There are still tons of things to plan in advance, you can decide right now where you will go and what you will do at every port you visit. But they provide flexibility in that the cruise has created a list of options for things to do, that everyone in your family can choose from.

    The advantage of cruises are as follows.
    1. You have basically one hotel room that goes from place to place, you have assigned meal times at a fancy restaurant every night where you can eat together as a family.
    2. There are options for things to do in every city that the cruise line picks for you, and then your family members can just chose one, two or NONE of those options. They can just stay on the boat and go to the spa if they want, or they can go shopping in town, or do some fabulous pre planned trip to taste local wine and chocolate (mmm so good) while you go on a motorcycle ride around the island. People don’t have to do things together, because you are all coming back to the exact same place to have dinner together. The cruise line keeps you on a schedule but gives you lots of options within that.
    3. They are great if you are traveling with kids, or people with disabilities. They have constant activities for kids that the kids can enjoy without their parents or any older family members. And they provide wheel chairs and facilitation for people with limited mobility, which is great as family members get older.

    There are certainly advantages to planning your own trip anywhere and organizing everything, you have more time in different locations, you get to see more and really experience more of the local culture. And I know some people don’t like the more rigid schedules set by cruise lines. (You basically have a set dinner time, which you can skip because there is always food, and you need to be on the boat before it sails.)

    The advantage for you would be that it wouldn’t be YOU setting the time line. It would be the cruise line, so if she just hates that she can’t spend an extra hour on shore to watch birds or whatever, she can complain to the cruise director.

    Also, sometimes cruise lines have access to activities that are not available if you were just visiting on your own. (Shooting sporting clays in an old dead volcano for example.) Or their own private island. (Disney has an “adult beach” on their private island, and I was napping in a hammock and I shit you not, Captain Jack Sparrow came stumbling down the beach. Shut up, I did not just squeal like a 12 year old.)

    Anyway, this is just a suggestion, if you are doing family trips fairly regularly and maybe want to take a “break” from being the cruise director, and letting someone else do it one year so you can enjoy time with your Mom and not feel so much pressure.

    • ursikai said:

      I was going to recommend something similar, if LW and the family are up for it: my husband and I took a tour of Europe for our honeymoon, and the big stuff was planned by the travel company (lodging, transport from country to country, maybe one bus tour of whatever city was our next destination) but the downtime was ours to fill how we liked. There were optional tours and dinners that we could pay extra for, but nothing mandated.

      That could reduce some of the family tension. I think things like making sure you make it to your train to France on time are less stressful when it’s a neutral travel company making the arrangements, not a family member.

    • Amtelope said:

      Seconding (or maybe thirding, since it’s come up in comments below as well) the idea of trying a cruise. It lets the planners plan and the spontaneous people choose from whatever’s available to do at the moment. It means that the itinerary and the available choices aren’t your fault, so complaints can be directed at someone who isn’t you. And I wonder if a vacation like a cruise where you pay up front and then don’t pay individually for meals and excursions and shows might not help avoid the complaints that everything is too expensive. Even if you’re spending the same amount of money overall, if the LW’s mother’s complaints about the expense are because spending money makes her anxious, having fewer constant reminders of how much everything costs might help her enjoy the trip more.

    • Laughing Giraffe said:

      (Disney has an “adult beach” on their private island, and I was napping in a hammock and I shit you not, Captain Jack Sparrow came stumbling down the beach. Shut up, I did not just squeal like a 12 year old.)
      I went on a decidedly non-traditional cruise recently. In addition to getting to cross “moshing barefoot on a beach while wearing a bikini” off my bucket list, I also got to meet and hug half a dozen fairly-famous musicians. (Half the boat was saying, “I’M HERE TO SEE FRANK TURNER” and the other half were saying “Who in God’s name is this Turner dude?” The staff all seemed to be thinking, “I have never heard of ANY of these people, and what’s with all the kilts?”)

    • This is a good suggestion, but as a person whose parents really enjoyed cruising, I’d have one word of caution. Cruises can be really dull for some kids. Depending on the age and interests of your child(ren), it may be worth checking to make sure it’ll work.I remember being about 12 years old and really bored on a cruise. They had lots of activities aimed at younger kids, and the older minors in the group were old enough to do some cool things that I was too young for, but there was this big gap in stuff to do for my age range. I ended up hanging out with much younger kids and helping them with their art projects out of boredom. And I watched the same movie too many times in a row out of boredom. And didn’t have nearly as much fun as most of the rest of the people seemed to have. Also, cruises tend to be bad for internet access, which was a total non-issue when I was a kid, but may be relevant to some people.

      So, I do think a cruise could be a great thing to try, it may be worth making sure none of these things will be problems. Also, if anyone has vertigo issues or a strong tendency toward motion sickness, then that’s also a problem. But if none of those things apply or you can find a cruise that would suit all kids involved, it could be lots of fun and relaxing.

    • LW 704 said:

      : O !

      It is way too late for us to go on a cruise at this point, but I will keep it in mind for the future. My dad gets antsy if he’s at home for too long during vacations, so this might be just the thing for next summer. My brother mostly likes going places for the food, and my mom would probably like it because she’d feel safe. This is a really great suggestion, I’ll definitely keep it in mind!!! : )

      • Meredith said:

        There’s also the option of going on a river cruise! My family is going on an Avalon cruise in France later this month. The boats stop daily at river ports along the way, so those who would like to can get off and do a guided excursion, and those who are less adventurous/tired that day can chill out on board. They’re a little bit on the pricey side, but the meals are included and the hotel room moves with you so you don’t have to haul your luggage. On the other hand, I’m not sure how successfully you could get away from your mom if she throws a fit.

    • Oh maaaaan, Nthing this suggestion.

      We had a cruise for our honeymoon, and we’re cruising again in a few months, and the benefits compared to conventional holiday-ing are so huge for us.

      It’s overall cheaper, and for two highly anxious yet strangely spontaneous people, we get the best of both worlds – all the important stuff to keep us safe is already taken care of, but there’s also heaps of choices so we can wake up one day and think, ‘Huh, today let’s go play that whacky game show instead of going offshore’. We know where we’re sleeping and eating each night, but we can pick a different ship restaurant if we want to. If we’re anxious about a particular location, we can book guided tours – if not, we can just wander about to our heart’s content. Rather than spending our time trying to get from home to airport to hotel to location to scenic place to market to restaurant to hotel… ad nauseum, we spend our time having fun and relaxing.

      Picking out a cruise is honestly the hardest thing (particularly if LW’s mother likes impossible challenges), but the benefit is that it’s limited choices – in your chosen timeframe there’s a set number of cruises that go for a set number of days and ports, and you can pick one of those but anything else is impossible. Within that, there’s heaps of choice and something for everyone.

      (I am so excited to be going back to Noumea. Five months to go!)

  28. Pally said:

    My family has a similar Aunt. We are not sure exactly what her motivations are, but when in a certain mood she will deliberately delay or extend family excursions. She might lock herself in the hotel bathroom “getting ready” and stay there until 15 minutes after everyone was supposed to leave. (Flights have been missed due to this.) She will get one drink after another at a restaurant for an hour or more after everyone has finished eating, especially if there was somewhere else we were supposed to go afterwards. If staying with her, if agreement was made that we would all eat out, she could suddenly prohibit it just as everyone was just about out the door… then insist on cooking supper, even if this meant getting a frozen turkey out of the freezer and not actually eating until 2am. All in all, whatever the motivations, the message was “your schedule is followed at *my* whims”.

    We have found rather effective solutions to his, however. First off, we now only stay at hotels. We rent our own cars rather then carpool with her. The ability for others to extricate themselves from the drama actually reduces the frequency of it starting in the first place, though the cost is higher and as a result we also don’t visit as much as we otherwise would.

    Secondly, on family vacations we’ve found the optimal work around for everyone is to take them on a cruise ship. The format of a cruise, and the size of the boat, means that if problematic family member is being problematic everyone else can just… be somewhere else. If problematic family member doesn’t want to go on Cruise Excursion A? They don’t have to! We’ll see them again, after. As long as no one expects to dictate what the other family members are doing with their time beyond casual suggestions, and everyone is otherwise left to their own devices, it has worked quite well for us, at least.

    In LW’s case, organizing the cruise the family will take (location, time, travel arrangements to reach it) while leaving the activities done *on* the cruise up to each family member (what excursions are taken, when / where to eat, etc) might be a good compromise?

  29. quinalla said:

    This reminds me of trips with my Mom and husband. She likes to plan as you’ve described yourself, down to the last detail, and the unwritten rule growing up is everyone goes to all planned events. He likes to have room for spontaneity. We took a trip with my family early in our marriage and we ended up bailing on a planned event and going to explore and do our own thing, which was nice, but super AWKWARD at the time as that was basically committing sacrilege. Since then, we’ve made an effort to ask for some “unscheduled fun” time in all vacations so people can do their own thing as for my husband it isn’t so much about having planning stages input (my Mom is good about that), but about having time to do something that sounds good spontaneously while he is in the moment. I’m a big planner myself, so spontaneity isn’t that important for me, but we push for it as a team because it is very important to him and we end up having a lot of fun during those times. On trips we plan, it’s probably half pre-planned, half spontaneous though I sometimes have some ideas about what we might want to do with that time going in so we aren’t completely adrift if we can’t think of anything to do.

    So bottom line, I would definitely suggest planning in spontaneous time and/or optional activities. I like doing both of these myself along with normal planned activities for the whole group. And I love the Captain’s advice for getting input for the planned activities. Maybe everyone else won’t care except your Mom, but if they do, it gives them a non-awkward way to speak up and will make it much easier for you to shut down complaints.

    Good luck and I feel you as I often end up being the planner for events and trips and it is often a thankless job already, you don’t need people constantly complaining about all the hard work you did!

  30. MMargaret said:

    The Captain’s advice is so much better than what I’d be tempted to do: have the trip without her and let objectors remain behind too, making the trip for kindred spirits to enjoy. I cackled with laughter reading Barb’s Fodor trip report Why I Will Always Travel Solo From Now: Trip Report -Rome and Sorrento. Group travel planning is not for the weak. I applaud those who do it. They should be well compensated, not complained at.

    • LW 704 said:

      90% of me is like, no, must placate parental units, but there’s that traitorous 10% that wants to dive out the window while cackling and screaming “See you later suckers!”

      • MellifluousDissent said:

        Listen to that 10%, at least sometimes! You actually don’t need to placate the parental units – I mean, you have a responsibility to treat them with civility/decency/etc., but placate? Nope. Not your job.

  31. EllenS said:

    Your mom’s behavior sounds exactly like the way my kids “asked” for more independence and responsibility when they were toddlers. Our house rule is, “I try to consider your wants and needs, but if you don’t like the way I do it, you do it yourself.” I like Captain’s suggestions on limited options, but my personal take would be to schedule the big-picture stuff like travelling from one country to another, plan my own hotel rooms/excusions, and hand Mom a bunch of books and maps so she can plan her own trip.

  32. Charlene said:

    Have you actually come out and said, “Mom, do you like travelling?” and if she says no, “then why not stay home instead?”.

    Because I can’t think of anything more hellishly mega-awful than traveling, except perhaps being forced to travel because everyone expects me to and OMG I’m not allowed to say no.

    There’s this mindset that EVERYONE is supposed to love travelling and you’re a crazy sick neurotic weirdo who just doesn’t understaaaaaaaaaaaaaand right if you say you don’t. She might have bought into this – not necessarily from you, the media does a fine job of indoctrinating – and she’s punishing herself both mentally and financially by forcing herself to conform. Let her opt out: use your words to tell her she can.

    • Spontaneity Lover said:

      It’s also hellishly mega-awful to be excluded from The Big Family Event, and then for the next three years, whenever you see your family, hearing someone go “And do you remember the koala bears? Oh, that’s right, you didn’t come with us to Australia. Well, we saw these koala bears and they were awesome and Sally went right up and got to pet one. Remember that Sally? wasnt’ that awesome?” and then they’re off and running, rubbing your face in the fact that you didn’t go on The Big Family Event.

      • Yeah, we have one of those. I couldn’t get out of my summer job one year and the whole clan went out to stay in North Carolina. It’s still a talking, reminiscing point at any get-together. Couldn’t be helped, but I fiercely hated being left out all the same.

      • Several years ago my brother (who I cannot be in the same room with) decided to take his family on a cruise and invited my parents to join at their own expense. My now ex-husband and I weren’t invited, which didn’t bother me — until I found out 2 days before departure my sister was going on my brother’s tab. I left the room Christmas Day after the 3rd time I heard the phrase “when our whole family went on a cruise.” And am still called unreasonable for feeling hurt by it. FAAAAAMILY!!!!!!!

      • twomoogles said:

        Well sure, but if people are planning a trip that one person doesn’t want to go on, is there a non-hellish option at all if both going and not going are going to end badly? I don’t think it’s realistic to not do the trip because not everybody’s on board, so what should be done if one person is unenthusiastic about something everyone else is completely excited about?

    • LW says they’ve suggested it. Perhaps if there were the option of a family Stay-cation? Because the letter indicates (or so I perceive) that vacations with The Whole Family are part of the family culture

    • thelittlepakeha said:

      I love the idea of travelling, but I have had to accept that actually going on a big trip to Europe or somewhere would involve a LOT of anxiety and stress and quite possibly be kind of awful for me. For the amount of money it would cost it’s not really worth the risk to find out because I live in the ass corner of the South Pacific and the only place you can go for under a thousand dollars is Australia.

  33. Clarry said:

    Sympathize! Slow Learner alluded to this above, but I want to put it in capital letters. When your mother sighs and makes an unreasonable complaint, offer her sincere sympathy or as near act as you can put on to make it sound sincere.

    For example, you’ve got non-refundable tickets to a show, something you had every reason to believe was just the thing for everyone to enjoy taking into account everyone’s tastes. It’s evening; everyone else is getting dressed to go, and that’s the moment your mother chooses to let it be known that she would have preferred something else. Instead of trying to reason with her, you express sympathy. “That’s got to be rough going to see [title of fabulous show for which tickets were expensive and there’s now standing room only]. I feel for you.” Try your darnedest to keep sarcasm out of your voice, hard as that is. Afterwards, praise her for being a good sport even if she wasn’t. “Thanks Mom for going to see [title of fabulous show again]. I know it wasn’t your thing. It was good of you to go along with us and put up with it.” Don’t ask her how she liked it even if it’s evident she had a great time. Just let her think you think she’s a long suffering martyr for having to do such awful things as see magnificent works of art or eat at great restaurants.

    I haven’t noticed that this makes a big difference in my mother’s behavior, but it does a world of good for me. I feel terrific when I do this and giggle myself to sleep.

  34. Clarry said:

    Sympathize! Slow Learner alluded to this above, but I want to put it in capital letters. When your mother sighs and makes an unreasonable complaint, offer her sincere sympathy or as near act as you can put on to make it sound sincere.

    For example, you’ve got non-refundable tickets to a show, something you had every reason to believe was just the thing for everyone to enjoy taking into account everyone’s tastes. It’s evening; everyone else is getting dressed to go, and that’s the moment your mother chooses to let it be known that she would have preferred something else. Instead of trying to reason with her, you express sympathy. “That’s got to be rough going to see [title of fabulous show for which tickets were expensive and there’s now standing room only]. I feel for you.” Try your darnedest to keep sarcasm out of your voice, hard as that is. Afterwards, praise her for being a good sport even if she wasn’t. “Thanks Mom for going to see [title of fabulous show again]. I know it wasn’t your thing. It was good of you to go along with us and put up with it.” Don’t ask her how she liked it even if it’s evident she had a great time. Just let her think you think she’s a long suffering martyr for having to do such awful things as see magnificent works of art or eat at great restaurants.

    I haven’t noticed that this makes a big difference in my mother’s behavior, but it does a world of good for me. I feel terrific when I do this and giggle myself to sleep.

  35. Sarah said:

    Sometimes it’s good to get a professional in on tough family stuff, similar to how a cleaning service can diffuse family tensions over fights on how clean the kitchen needs to be. LW, it might be worth looking into a travel agent for future trips (full disclosure- I am one but obviously I am not advertising my own services here). Most travel agents work just on commission. Using a travel agent shouldn’t increase the cost of your trip at all, and can actually save you money because we can get you better deals. On top of that, it can be very helpful to have someone with experience reconciling the needs of a large family group. At the very least, it will take a lot of the stress of planning the trip off of your shoulders, and give you an authority to point to when your mom throws a fit about whyyyyyyy can’t we just take a 3 hour train from Paris to Madrid?

  36. duaecat said:

    One of the things that might help is if you know she’s going to Drama Llama up the trip, try to make it into a personal joke? Come up with a bingo card of the Yelling at Clouds she’s going to do and various impossible demands she’s going to make, and every one she does give yourself a small treat and a bigger one when you get Bingos? If you like candy, a small one for each square and a big one or a handful for the row.

    Because it could very well be the situation where you have Mr. Ugly Carpets. Every time he gets invited to someone’s house he has to say how ugly the carpets are. Every. Time. And. Every House. And it’s very easy to get anxious and feel like here you’ve been nice enough to invite Mr. UC into your home and he’s going to respond by insulting you and attacking you over your carpets. But it’s not about you, your house, or your carpets, it’s him. And making a joke about it “Gee, how long until he says something rude about the carpets? I’ll put my money on a minute and a half.” to yourself can help distance person doing a thing, from person doing a thing At You. I want to stress the to yourself part, because mocking them is a good way to make it personal and fast and end up with a lot of hurt feelings.

    She does this- picks something, decides that she wants it, bullies everyone into going with her or sulks when people don’t want the same thing, or sees how expensive it is and decides she doesn’t want it after all

    That part sort of makes me wonder if Harried is sort of the scapegoat for the trip. If there’s a lot of “No, sorry, we’d loooove to do (thing we hate) with you, but Harried already booked (thing we love) and we can’t get out of it.” And if so, maybe it would be worth asking them not to pass the blame?

    I think the big point here is not that they do/might have different vacation styles, but how to manage someone who doesn’t fit in with the group and doesn’t want to leave the group, with a minimum of hurt feelings. It’s also very important to both make sure the group is enjoying themselves, BUT not try to manage and buffer her. If she’s annoying and bullying people, as long as they’re adults, let them handle it! Don’t go leaping in to save the rest of your family from her whining, let them handle it their own way. (Unless it involves you, obviously) They’re adults, they can tell her no as easily as you can. I’m sure people here have tons of stories about how a group will sit around jawing about how mean X is and how annoying and how much they wish X would stop doing the thing, but the minute someone tries to be a hero and tell X everyone finds them annoying the group turns on the hero and tells X no no they have never found X annoying, they don’t know why hero would do that. Don’t be the hero.

    • My impression of the mom here is that she WANTS to complain and that is going to happen no matter what. It’s possibly just pleasurable for her to do it.

    • Yup -months of incessant complaining about how they wish Wilberforce would stop doing The Thing, but as soon as someone naively says “Hey Wilberforce, please could you not do The Thing in future?” those same people fall over themselves to assure him that The Thing isn’t a problem at all, has never bothered them one bit, and it’s frankly cruel to suggest that he change that, what kind of awful person would try to make him stop doing The Thing??

    • LW 704 said:

      OMFG, I am totally going to make myself a mom bingo and give one to my brother as well. I can keep it in my travel stuff since I’m already known for carrying around my sketchbook. This is an amazing idea.

  37. Jae said:

    Oh dear, don’t I know such people!!! The captain’s advice as always is sound and if you can bring yourself to plan a little less and leave stuff open for a day or two, it might help.

    With my mother I run a script and it mostly shuts her up now. Using your Vegas show example, it would be “We could go to show X or show Y or you can chose your own.” If the answer is a whiny “noooo”, then it’s “Mom, ‘no’ wasn’t one of the options. You can either chose X or Y or your own. Only constructive critique is allowed, remember?” Like with a little child I try to stay calm and continue the same script over and over until she learns. Or I’ll eventually chose where I go and give her the option to come (condition: no whining during the show) or plan her own evening.

    It took a while but it worked. It was important though that I made myself immune to sulking. Sulking people are best left alone until they are done sulking. I tell them that and leave. Works a treat with my sulking but lonely aunt.

  38. NotUsingMyUsualNicknameMyFriendsKnowItAndImParanoid said:

    This is so useful for me, rn. I’m in the middle of planning a summer vacation to Britain. Six of us are going and so far the planning is not doing brilliantly. I’m apparenly the main organizor (it was my idea). When I last saw my friends I presented them with a folder with some pictures and fact of places I wanted to go to (I’m a giant dork if you couldn’t tell). Noone else had any idea where they wanted to go though. I tried suggesting everyone comes up with at least 1 place or activity or literally any idea for our trip untill we see each other next but noone bothered. 😦 I’ll try doing that thing with presenting more options but that basically means even more planning, doesn’t it.

    Everyone suddenly HATES PLANNING but I don’t want to be solely responsible for how much we enjoy ourselves. Especially since Britian is so expensive. Which is something I was upfront about, I listed and counted all the expenses so everyone could decide if they could afford it. Everyone said they’re definitely going … but they’re complaing about the cost constantly! Like we almost didn’t get to talk about the trip itself cause everyone kept tlking about how much it costs. It’s not like I can do anything about it, we’re already going with the cheapest option for everything. So now it’s especiall vital they have a good time since they’ll be spending all their savings on it.

    Sorry for making this about me, but does anyone have any idea how to get them to stop complaing short of shouting:

    “IF YOU CAN’T AFFORD IT THEN STAY HOME GOD DAMMIT! I DON’T WANT TO FINANCIALLY RUIN YOU I JUST WANT TO GO TO BRITAIN!”

    • misspiggy said:

      Perhaps it would be better to ask people what flavour of thing they like to do when on holiday, or what their ideal dream of going to Britain would involve; colours, terrain, experiences; how they would feel after a really great day on this trip, and what might have made them feel that way. Then all you have to do is choose when you get there and have a better sense of the place.

      The UK is a teeny tiny place with excellent public transport and good roads. If you get a hire car or a rail pass, you don’t have to decide at all where you want to go in advance,other than the first night or two. Buses are cheap and plentiful, and each location will have a website and number you can call to get bus information You can pretty much guarantee you will find somewhere OK to stay in any town. Just Google where you’re likely to be + ‘hotel b&b’, check the various places out on Tripadvisor, and you should find somewhere that night. You could just stay in Travelodges across the UK to guarantee decent quality for a reasonable price. Don’t stay too long in London because it will destroy your accommodation and food budget, but on the other hand you will be able to see so many free museums, historical buildings and art places with very little queuing. But so many other places outside London are almost as good in that way, and cost less. Good luck and hope you have lots of fun!

      • misspiggy said:

        Actually, thinking again about your post, I wonder whether it makes sense to do a shorter visit so that people aren’t so stretched by the cost. If you’re needing to be able to pay US prices for food and accommodation, it can be hard to enjoy the UK.

        • NotUsingMyUsualNicknameMyFriendsKnowItAndImParanoid said:

          Hey, misspiggy, thank you for all the advice. I will ask my friends what they like to do on holidays, that’s a good idea. I didn’t actually ask them because I sort of know what they like, we’ve been friends for ages, but it couldn’t hurt.

          I’ve been to the UK before and we did get a rail pass which saves a lot of money and is very convenient (but still is very expensive). But I really want to book the hostels ahead anyway, wandering though towns looking for cheap hostels with enough space for us just sounds very stressful and tiring to me. Also, I know from experience that in some locations we want to go , there’s like only like one cheap hostel. Also, shorter visit would be cheaper, that’s true, but we’ve already bought the plane tickets :-/ I planned it for 12 days, slightly regret it now, but I didn’t see much point of flying somewhere for 4 days or something… We’re not american, by the way, we’re from central Europe.

          Thank you for all the tips again, I’ll make sure to read through them again and try to use them!

          • misspiggy said:

            Ah, well in that case, takeaways (Tripadvisor again), Aldi and Lidl are your friends!

    • B. said:

      Jedi hugs if you want them, NotUsing, I hate that kind of attitude.
      1. You’re not responsible for them enjoying themselves. They are. If they are not in the right frame of mind (i.e.: Let’s have fun!), nothing you do can change that, so take a deep breath, forgive yourself, and let it go.
      2. You offered suggestions. They didn’t take them. Plan your trip to Britain for you to enjoy and inform them they’re welcome to join you, should they want to, but they’re not allowed to complain because a) it’s your plan they’re joining b) they can make their own plans and c) you offered to make plans together and they decided not to. TL;DR: push the responsibility of their choices, including budgetary ones, back into their hands where it belongs.
      3. You can schedule 15-30 minutes of complaining per planning session. For example: “Guys, it really gets me down when you spend all the time complaining about money. So, let’s make room for it: we conmiserate on Britain being expensive for the first [X amount of time], and then no more complaints allowed”.
      3.1. You’ll probably have to enforce this. I usually give two reminders+change of subject and if it doesn’t stop, leave the conversation. Example:
      A (after complaining time is over): But X is so expeeeeensive!
      you: Yeah, well, that’s true, but no more complaining about it now, we’ve plans to make/don’t want to put a damper on our plans. How about doing X on Y day? Sounds good?
      B (some time later): Ugh, you guys, this is so freaking expensive, it’s gonna mess my savings over.
      you: You’re right, that’s too bad, but we already talked about that today. So, getting back to Z…
      C (later still): This trip better be good, after costing so freaking much!
      you: Well, guys, nice chatting with you, but it’s time for me to leave now. Have a great time discussing money, fill me in during first [X amount of time] next time we chat!
      Disclaimer/Credit: I totally yoinked this way of doing things from this site’s older advice, and it. works. wonders. Best of luck!

      • NotUsingMyUsualNicknameMyFriendsKnowItAndImParanoid said:

        Oh, B., thank you so much. I will probably recite number 1 to myself many times, because you’re so right, the right frame of mind is so important and there’s not much I can do about it. The scripts you provided are awesome. I’m not really used to enforcing any rules in our friend group but this may save my sanity. I hope it works.
        “C (later still): This trip better be good, after costing so freaking much!” – is an example of an actual thing and actual thing of mine actually already said. It’s like you’ve been there.

        • B. said:

          You’re very welcome 🙂
          Back in the day, I actually wrote 1. on a post-it and stuck it to my computer screen till it got through to me, so you could try that if you think it’ll help.

          Enforcing is hard, but I think it’s worth it. Be patient with yourself, it takes time and you may have to start small, so please don’t blame yourself if you can’t inmediately implement it. And maybe do something nice for yourself after each of these sessions? Ice-cream, a movie you like, a walk in the park? To get your spirits up and congratulate yourself for surviving the conversation without killing anyone (that’s a win in my book!).

          You’re right, I’ve been there, and after a couple of years of that I eventually decided to make plans for myself and those non-complainers who want to come along. Nowadays, whenever someone from the group complains that “we never do anything fun anymore!”, I put my best “oh, dear, that’s too bad, wonder why that happens” face on and feel quietly vindicated.

          Best wishes and good luck!

    • LW 704 said:

      NO NEED TO APOLOGIZE I FEEL THE SAME WAY!!!

      It”s so unrewarding when you’re planning to try and make other people happy and maximize their money and all you get back is complaints. It’s like, I really have tried literally everything I could to make this as cheap as possible (while you did nothing!) and I feel bad that I couldn’t make it cheaper, but I also, like, literally cannot make it any cheaper and I wish I could get some help (but you are not helping, just complaining.) I feel for you so much and I really wish you luck!!!

      It’s not your fault no one is helping, and you’re NOT responsible for their happiness, and you’re not responsible for their complaints either!!! I wish I had good advice, but like, I came here because I wanted help on a similar issue. That being said, I think B’s advice down there is solid. Best of luck!

      • NotUsingMyUsualNicknameMyFriendsKnowItAndImParanoid said:

        Thank you so much LW. You’re awesome. Let’s go on a holiday together and leave all of them home, what do you say? 😀

        I felt so much for you when I read your letter, because planning takes so much work already and I can’t imagine what it’s like trying to plan for someone who is as unpredictable and unreasonable as your mother seems to be. And so much of that work is literally invisible because you only get to see it if something goes wrong. And then you at least want people to have a good time and not freaking complain to you all the time. I wished I had good advice too but I think what you and many people said is the best advice of all: We’re not responsible for them enjoying themselves. I hope you trip goes as well as it possible can!

      • B. said:

        “It’s not your fault no one is helping, and you’re NOT responsible for their happiness, and you’re not responsible for their complaints either!!!” I think that’s really good advice, actually ^^ Do you think it could work for you? Like, I think it translates well into your situation. Maybe you could write this down to read when all the complaints get to you?

  39. Long-time lurker, first-time poster here. LW, I feel you here. I didn’t know what kind of traveler I was until I went on my first cruise trip with friends, not family, and we had to work out some kinks on that trip to make it enjoyable. I’m a kind of mix of the two styles of traveling, as I like to have one or two big things planned, and then have some unstructured time for exploring/relaxing/spontaneous adventure time! On this cruise, we had a super planner who wanted to see ALL the things and do ALL the things and while I knew that my previous family trips (which mostly consisted of sitting on a beach somewhere) were not involved enough, this was way too much for me, and we wound up having to have a discussion mid-cruise about trying to do everything together, which was very involved and very expensive. We came to the agreement that we did not actually need to do everything together, and it worked out great!

    Similarly, I recently went on a four-day research trip where I had to have everything planned to the minute and it was EXHAUSTING. I felt like I didn’t have any time to decompress or just relax, even when I was trying to meet up with friends after the archives were closed, because I was rushing everywhere the whole time.

    So from my anecdotes, two things: Trying to find out if mom needs a different travel style to enjoy herself could be a good way to compromise. Obviously unrealistic expectations can’t be accommodated (I also want to go to MOSCOW, even though our trip is in Western Europe. Russia is in Europe, right?!). But, 1) she might not realize that these things are unrealistic, and 2) as other posters have said, there may be a way to accommodate part of her request, if not the whole thing.

    The other thing to consider is that she may be concerned about the budget, and that could be a source of stress for her. I’ve had to be the lame friend that says I can’t do X, Y, or Z extra things because they’re too expensive, and it sucks. Certainly, people can say that if you can’t afford to do X, Y, or Z, you shouldn’t be going on the trip, but that isn’t very fun or inclusive, especially when these activities are surprise activities added to a budget that was already worked out and okayed, or if these things don’t feel necessary to enjoy the trip. It is possible to plan trips that are less expensive (believe me, I’ve done a three-day research trip in Chicago for less than $300 including the hostel, transpo, food, etc.) and making the budget more reasonable could help mom feel more comfortable on the trip. I know that if I’m fretting over how much money I’m spending on the trip, it’s a lot less enjoyable than if I know in advance roughly how much I’ll be spending and that I can afford it. You specifically mentioned that these family trips are expensive, and I may be reading into mom’s motivations here, but that could certainly be a stressor for your mom.

  40. Polychrome said:

    I guess I am wondering about all the suggestions to “plan it a different way so Mom will be happier” are bound to fail because it seems possible that Mom’s number one jam is finding a problem with *whatever* is presented. This is just setting off so many memories for me of traveling with someone where I spoke the language and he didn’t and *every* piece of information I found out & translated he had a slightly undermining follow-up “oh they said it was ahead, on the right, after the drugstore? Did they say what colour the front door was? oh you didn’t ask… oh.”

    Like I had never, never asked quite the right questions, quite thoroughly enough. If I had asked what colour the front door was and it was pink I am pretty sure he would have said, “uh-huh and did they say light pink or dark pink? Oh you didn’t ask… oh”.

    This behaviour is bottomless and unresolvable. The point is to make you feel like a fuck up, and I think particularly in circumstances where the other person is feeling not at their most competent or too vulnerable and dependent. if she is a person who wants to vacation in Europe but wouldn’t plan such a vacation on her own (such that all the suggestions about “encourage her to do her own thing!” are going to go nowhere), you are stuck with her being in that state.

    So: I’m kind of guessing that package tour guides deal with this persona up the wazooly zoo? Probably they quit a lot, and if they don’t I am sure it helps them grin and bear it that the complainers are just clients, not their moms, but they might also have some genius hacks for it. I wonder if there is a way to learn what they know?

    • JenniferP said:

      I think this is apt, though the LW didn’t say whether this is what their entire relationship is like. One benefit of “choose your own afternoon adventure” planning and having other family members be buffers is that the LW can do separate stuff from Mom. If you can’t beat ’em, avoid ’em.

  41. Nope Octopus said:

    My mom does not really like to go out, let alone go on expensive trips, but she’s going anyways because of the family culture and I already know she’s going to complain about everything. … She does this- picks something, decides that she wants it, bullies everyone into going with her or sulks when people don’t want the same thing, or sees how expensive it is and decides she doesn’t want it after all.

    There’s a lot of great advice already on how to survive this trip, so I’m actually going to suggest something different, more long-term. It sounds like the family culture of must-do-everything-together is kinda terrible, and that your mom both (1) doesn’t enjoy trips and (2) is not fun for other people to travel with.

    You’re an adult, and you have power as The Planner Of The Things, to assess whether the fallout of changing the family culture is worth the end result of a family culture that’s more comfortable for everyone. And then to do it–I get the impression that if you don’t plan the things, they won’t get planned and won’t get done. What I suggest is that you start by doing local things with your mom and the local family–and doing local things with your mom and visiting out-of-town family. Then, when the next big holiday comes up … don’t invite your mom. Couch it in terms like “I would rather do [local things] with you–they’re more relaxing!” and “Oh, I wanted to take a trip with just [my favorite uncle & his branch of the family]/[spouse’s family]/[my work friends/college friends/D&D group]. let’s do [local thing] when I get back, though!”.

    And when she is, inevitably, unreasonable and possibly hurt about the cultural shift being affected, change the subject or exit the conversation as gracefully as you can. then maybe, as you’re doing local things with her, you can suss out the kinds of activities she does enjoy–maybe she would like to spend a quiet weekend at a B&B, or in a cabin someplace scenic but close to home. Maybe there’s a show she’d like to see that will be in a nearby city, and you can take an overnight trip rather than a big sweeping all singing all dancing all touristing vay-cay.

    TL/DR: Spend more regular, scheduled, local time with your mom, express your affection through words and actions, and maybe stop inviting her to things she doesn’t want to do but feels obligated to accept?

    • gmg said:

      I think this is brilliant advice. The underlying problem here is that Mom doesn’t enjoy the status quo but is afraid to be left behind, and that unfortunately rather than using her words about that, she goes along while making a pain of herself. Instead of “the rest of us will continue to pursue the status quo because ‘family culture,’ and if you don’t like it you can stay home by yourself while we go have fun, the end” try throwing Mom a bone of the kind described here and see where you get. I don’t think we mean by this to enable Mom’s behavior, but if you do what you’ve always done you get what you’ve always got, and so on etc.

    • thelittlepakeha said:

      From comments I think LW has mentioned mother, father and brother, and going somewhere with father and brother and leaving just mum behind could be really awkward, but doing travel things with just dad or just brother might work too.

    • The Awe Ritual said:

      I really do get the same vibe I’ve gotten from my friends in mixed poly/ mono marriage from the description of LW’s mum. “I seriously hate this, but it’s the price of admission for being with this family, and it seems to make everyone else happy. I will grit my teeth, but trying to ENJOY it and have fun anticipating it is kind of beyond my scope right now.” I wonder if she needs another hug, acknowledging that, hey, this is hard for you, this thing you’re doing for our sake, and we appreciate that you are coming along.” If it does precipitate a blow-up, that may have been a long time coming.

  42. VG said:

    Well, first of all, feel free to take me along on the trip instead of Complaining Mom, because I’ve never been to Europe and would love to go no matter who does the planning. 🙂

    As for the rest, this is the conversation I have with my teenage daughter before a trip or outing: “We’re going to X and we’re going to do Y and Z. If you want to stay home, or do something different/additional/not do one of those things, that’s fine and we can work around that, but you need to tell me now. If you don’t, then you forfeit your right to complain once we get there.” After we arrive, any unreasonable* complaining gets the same response: “Remember when we talked about this and you said you were good with it? Okay then.” It seems to work pretty well on her, but then she’s 16, not 60 and set in her ways.

    *I say “unreasonable” because sometimes sucky things happen that no one can predict – like an activity you were looking forward to being rained out/too crowded to enjoy – and it’s okay to not be happy about that. What’s not okay is complaining that you never wanted to go to the art museum when you knew three months ago that the art museum was on the itinerary.

  43. emdashing said:

    LW are you my secret sibling? I do this for my parents–it’s my payment since I couldn’t afford the trips they’d like to take, and they hate to plan. I really really enjoy it, and I run everything past them far in advance. Though my mother is nowhere near as difficult as yours, she has non-planner brain and sometimes wants to change things up on the fly even though she agreed, in writing, to the plan months ago and everything is already bought and paid for. I inevitably feel judged (why couldn’t I predict, sight unseen, that she’d want to see Sight Y despite never having mentioned it before?) though I really don’t think that’s her intention. The last trip we took–8 days in Paris–I took a lot of the advice Captain offers here and we were all happier for it. It’s easier to build some freedom in when you’re not moving cities a lot (trains leave at certain times, who knew?), but I also learned that even if the need for flexibility meant I didn’t get to see every single thing I wanted to, it was worth it to see what I did get to see in a happy mood, so now I am more conservative with what we try to see. Everyone crashes at 4pm–make sure there’s time for coffee, snack, nap or all three. Plan to sleep/stay in on a few mornings. Have gelato for dinner one night and just walk around. The secret no one tells you is that you can plan for unstructured time and the non-planners will never realize how masterfully you’ve handled things.

    To get super super specific, if you have the funds, please let me recommend whatever version of the Paris Museum Pass the cities you are visiting have. Almost every sizable European city I’ve been in in the last few years (Amsterdam, Antwerp, Rome, etc.) has these and when you are traveling with other people they are worth more than their weight in gold. They allow skip-the-line access to a vast array of choices for 2-7 days (varies by pass) so if you have a general list of things you want to see, you can just buy the pass and decide day-to-day where you want to go and not everyone has to go together. I took mine and went to the D’Orsay 5 times, while my mother kept going back to the Louvre. We were both really happy. There will always be some things that require an appointment, but these passes, in addition to the freedom from standing in such long lines, helped my family feel less constrained. If we wanted to stay an extra hour at Pompidou, we did, and it was no big deal. On the flip side, because you pay for a package including multiple places, it helped us avoid our family habit of trying to see every single thing in a museum we’ve paid a single entrance fee to, which can really take all the fun out of museums. I felt so bad for the families I saw race-walking through the Louvre Italian wing so they could see Nike and the Mona Lisa in ten minutes before rushing off to the basement for Venus de Milo. We knew we could come back if we felt like it, or not, and just went to see the things we were most interested in.

  44. Aurora said:

    I live and die by downtime on a vacation. One big thing a day, that’s me. If people want to go to other stuff, good on them! I’ll be lounging in the hotel pool or something.

    I think Cap’s idea is great. Build in freedom for the family’s activities; have something fun and structured that others got input on previously, then if the mom wants to go do her own thing, she can.

    One issue is the impossibilities — “I want to go from here to Madrid in 3 hours by train.” It sounds as if Mom is…not entirely sure how travel *works.* Maybe because the LW has basically shut everyone else out of decisions because they have decided the others are incapable of planning; re: “they cannot internet.” Maybe involving Mom in the actual process, not just picking options? Show her maps, show her *how* to do it, rather than being the “well you guys are bad at this so I’ll do it” person?

  45. attica said:

    I love to travel. I also love the planning and reconnaissance.

    For a long time, I would find people to travel with me. On any trip lasting 3 days or longer, however, I would want them dead by Day 3. Now, these people were all of different temperaments, interests, and stages in life, some of whom I knew/know well, some of whom not so much. In fact, the only thing they had in common with each other was…..me. I was the One that Didn’t Play Well with Others on the Road! Rather humbling to recognize, I gotta admit. But the minute I did, I started traveling solo, and all my wanting-people-dead feelings went away!

    Now, on those rarer occasions where there is a group outing, I’m careful to carve plenty of self-time and always bring along my own car, even if we could all fit in somebody else’s vehicle. Sometimes an hour alone behind the wheel singing Bobby Sherman songs out loud (ask your mothers) while I run errands for the group is all it takes to ease my otherwise murderous intent.

    I wish this was actually useful for the LW, Just reading her situation made me feel stabby, which served as a useful reminder — to me — of my own traveling shortcomings.

  46. sorcharei said:

    Mom sounds like she’s expressing discomfort and unhappiness in unhelpful, sometimes manipulative ways. At the same time, LW is just dripping an attitude of superiority, from the “they don’t know how to internet so they can’t plan trips” (as if no one traveled before the internet) to the implication that there is One True Way to travel and the letter writer knows it because of all their solo travel (there are many styles of travel and all are equally valid so long as the people using them enjoy themselves).

    If the LW can embrace the idea that other people prefer other approaches and learn to include some room for these approaches in travel plans, tension might drop a lot. Mom whining about “But I don’t want to see the Hermitage, I want to go to the church on Spilled Blood” can then be met with “Well, we have tickets to the Hermitage today along with an English speaking guide. If you would rather go to the CoSB today, we can get the concierge to help find a way for you to do that while the rest of us are at the museam. Or we can plan to go there Friday afternoon, which is currently not planned. Which would you prefer?”

    One of my best travel experiences ever was spending an afternoon in a park in the old city in Tallin, making friends with a cat and people watching. I had several barely comprehensible conversations with people whose only shared language with me was our (mutually mostly forgotten) school German, and ran into a guy who I could converse with in French, and he pointed me at a very nice place for supper. But that didn’t appear on my plan as “X Park”. It appeared on my plan as “downtime to get away from my travel companions and be alone for awhile”. If I travel with you, there will be such stretches of time. If you are the planner and you don’t provide such stretches of time, you can expect me to push back. Not only do I want the alone time, but I also want the freedom if I discover something cool I did not know about once I get there to actually explore it. Aside from the Georgian restaurant in Tallin, this approach has led me to the Leprosy Museum in Bergen, the square full of statues of Christian martyrs in Brussels, and taking the train from Montreux on a whim one afternoon to see the place where Laurie proposed to Amy in Little Women. Also a very weird and wonderful shop in Tokyo which imported strange tchotkes from all over east Asia, and a tiny ancient shrine in a town about halfway between Delhi and Agra, but not on the main road.

    Now, it sounds like Mom is unpleasant about disappointments and doesn’t push back in an appropriate way (which is with a pleasant request for more flexibility in the plans) or at the appropriate time (which is when the highly structured plans are first proposed). However, building flexibility in not only helps any family members who would enjoy some less structured time, it also gives you a way to accommodate Mom if she comes up with something weird during the trip. “Well, we didn’t plan to go to X random Italian town, but it’s not too far from Rome for a day trip. Want to use Friday for that?” Or even “X random town is too far from our location for a day trip, but Cousin Michael also wants to go. How about if we arrange for the two of you to go there on the way from Florence to Rome? You can stay overnight and rejoin us in Rome the next day.” You might have to eat the cost of the one hotel night in Rome, but if you can afford it (or if Mom can), it might be worth it for the value of making her feel like her desires to see X and be spontaneous are being taken into account.

    But you can only do this if you can get comfortable with the idea that highly structured, very detailed planning, while fine for some people, is not the One True Way to travel. When I am planning for a group, I make sure to accommodate the travel styles as I know are present in the group. One person gets a detailed itinerary, another gets train tickets and a list of hotel reaervations (and my cell phone so he can call to let us know if he’s going to skip one of our designated meet up spots) and most of us get something im between. it works because we all recognize that it’s okay to like different levels of pre-planning.

    At the same time, getting other relatives on board to help deal with Mom when she starts whining and complaining also seems like a wise idea.

    • LW 704 said:

      Sorry, did some of my superiority get on you?

      When I included the information that my family doesn’t know how to internet, I just wanted to point out that I do this because literally, I’m the only one who knows how. My mom grew up in an era without computers and she doesn’t know how to send an email. She thinks using a credit card online will let the government steal her information. And I am a more experienced traveler- I know, for example, that if you want to get on a plane, you have to show up a certain time. I only mention this because I once missed a flight to New York from California because my mom insisted the plane would wait.

      A lot of people have been coming out of the woodworks to tell me that my mom might need downtime or want to deviate from a plan- but that’s fine. I don’t mind deviating from a plan and I usually build downtime into my plans. The problem is that she keeps asking for IMPOSSIBLE THINGS. If she wants to see, I don’t know, Shakira, she wants to see Shakira, even if Shakira isn’t anywhere near that city and there’s no reason that Shakira should be in that city giving a concert I don’t mean to go off on you in specific, Sorcharei, but I’d really appreciate it if people would stop telling me that I just need to be more spontaneous and allow for requests. That’s not my problem. My problem is that my mom keeps asking me for things that are literally impossible for me to get and then gets angry at me when I can’t provide them.

      Finally, I am well aware that I don’t have the one true way to travel, five people have already told me that. I am not claiming to have it, I am just trying to plan so we can stay within our budget and find a way to deal with the anxiety of being made responsible against my will for the happiness of everyone on the trip.

      Thank you for your paragraph on how to redirect my mother- I will try to suggest to her that she go see things with my father if she doesn’t like what’s currently planned. There’s a strong culture of everyone doing the same thing together always in my family, but I will try to split us into me and my brother and her and my Dad as much as possible. Hopefully this will give her more room to be spontaneous. I will also be incorporating some non-planned days during the trip, so that people can do what they want.

      • sorcharei said:

        I do understand that your mother is acting unreasonably, and I tried to point it out my understanding of that.

        You may not think of yourself as knowing the One True Way to travel. Nevertheless, your original phrasing did come off that way to me, and combined with the detailed planning you described, rubbed me the wrong way. What I was trying to point out was that if (IF!) it’s coming off that way to your mom, it may be exacerbating her behavior. If you noped all my suggestions in way that suggested I was foolish for thinking Paris is three hours from Madrid by train, demanded that I know months in advance what I wanted to do on specific days, and then scheduled me to the minute without taking into account my travel style, I’d get pretty stroppy, too. It wouldn’t excuse me from the requirement to be civil when I raised issues, or to be appreciative of the work you did, but it might explain if I sometimes found it hard to do.

        Redirecting might help. Planning ahead for being able to do that might help. Splitting up so you can all get rests from one another might help. Declining to be the travel planner might help, at least in the future. But being mindful of the fact that your way of discussing this came off to at least one outsider as dripping with superiority might be useful for you to know.

        I apologize for letting my response also drip with superiority. I did not intend that, but I can see why it read that way to,you, and I am sorry.

      • unlurking said:

        LW 704, thank you for writing paragraph 4, because it helped me understand better where you were coming from, specifically, in this situation. I also have done some vacationing with my family, with a family that sometimes likes to complain. And I also have a tendency toward the “must be responsible for people being happy” thing.

        Hm, don’t know how to say this because it took me a ton of therapy — You cannot “make people happy”. You cannot be responsible for people reacting in a happy way. It is literally not possible. You can do your very best to plan a bunch of stuff they will like, in the way they will like it, with lots of options & input & just a bunch of really great intent. And maybe that day when they wake up, they will still be not happy, *and* they may even blame you & put the responsibility on you, and you will probably blame yourself & put the responsibiltiy on yourself, on top of that. But you cannot be responsible for people reacting in a happy way, you cannot guarantee that even if you achieved perfection (also impossible!) that they would have the ‘happy’ reaction, you cannot 100% control their reactions to things.

        While it’s happening, one thing that helps me feel less anxious is to super-relentlessly see the bright side, over & over, and to not ever ever take the bait, if I can help it. (This is not easy, I am not always successful.) I try to notice when I’m putting myself into the role of “making myself responsible for other people’s happiness”, and I try to not take on that role; trip-planner, perhaps; happiness-guarantor, no. This could look something like:

        Parent: This train trip is too long, 9 hours sucks.
        Me: It’s so cool though that we get to be on the train in the European countryside, just like you’ve always dreamed and asked that we for sure do on this trip! 😀
        Parent: Flying was cheaper & faster.
        Me: Actually it was the same price, and anyway, woo, trains! 😀
        Parent: Why are we wasting all day doing this?
        Me: Hey, look at those fluffy sheep out there! 😀
        Parent: Travel is frivolous and a waste of money anyway.
        Me: It wouldn’t be a family vacation without the whole family, like you always say! 😀
        Parent: *yelling*
        Me: Hey, yelling’s not appropriate, so I’ll be in this swanky train lounge enjoying this trip, byeeeeee.

        In other words, keep re-focusing yourself on where you are getting your own happiness from what’s going on. (This script is goal-material, real life may involve more tears of frustration.)

        For future trips, I totally agree, doing separate things would be great. I think the easiest way to bring it up is to start talking now about having a “siblings day, just us, you guys do a parents day with just you guys.”

        Your mom seems to also have a “must-care-for-everyone” anxiety, if she would honestly worry about you guys doing somethign on your own. There is objectively nothing specific for her to worry about there. Her worry-response is her own; I’ve had success reassuring the person that I’ll be fine, and then going ahead & doing it.

  47. 30ish said:

    This is more of a side issue, but I don’t think that LW should have to plan the trip just because she has internet skills and the other family members don’t. Planning the basics of the trip (which countries and cities to visit, and for how long) does not necessarily require internet research. It can be done with a guidebook. Basically they could create the itinerary by reading a guidebook and then sitting down together and discussing their preferences. After deciding on the destinations they could agree on what they’ll need in terms of reservations (transport, hotels) and only then the internet would really become relevant. (If they are going to major cities in Western Europe this summer, then booking accommodation in advance is a good idea. And I would not take the train from Paris to Madrid.) What I mean is that the internet is important when they reach the stage of booking transport and accommodation, but it’s not necessary for the “big picture” trip planning.
    If I were the LW, I would refuse to be the “master coordinator” of this trip (or at least the “creative director” which then leads to everyone holding her responsible). I’d say something like “I’ll book transport and hotels once we’ve decided on the itinerary”. I also would not plan any further details except for transport and accommodation unless absolutely necessary and instead leave this up to everyone to figure out once they’re there.

  48. LW 704 said:

    LW here! I’d like to thank everyone for all their comments! A couple of things weren’t specified so I’d like to go ahead and do that now.

    A lot of people have made this a spontaneous traveler vs traveler who likes to plan thing, and I don’t think it is. I don’t plan things on an hour by hour level when I plan trips for more than just me: I come up with a list of things that I think people would like to do in the area we’re going to, and then the day of I ask them what things they would like to go to. I’m fine with stopping to go to a cafe or rest or going home early. The problem is that my mother tends to make requests that are not possible. For example, our conversation about the train from Paris to Madrid went something like this:

    Mom: I want to take a train from Paris to Madrid!
    Me: Okay. (Does some research.) It’ll take nine hours, do we want to do that? The plane is only two and some, and it costs the same.
    Mom: Nine hours! That’s too long! I want to take a train, but not for nine hours.
    Dad and Brother: Let’s take a plane.
    My Mom: The train is cheaper though!
    Me: It’s not.
    Mom: Make it cheaper! Look more!

    I looked more. When I couldn’t find a cheaper train that went faster, my mom complained that she’d always wanted to take a train through the countryside, and I was ruining her dream, and why couldn’t I find a train that went faster and cost less. Finally, after I had told her many times that her choices were between nine hours on a train and two on a plane, she stormed off to sulk saying that I should just do whatever I wanted. I wouldn’t have minded taking the train! But I can’t make reality match the ideal she has in her head.

    The second thing: togetherness. My family does indeed so more or less everything together on trips… because my mom has a wild fear of me or my brother going off alone, despite the fact that I am an adult and pay all of my own bills. She is a very anxious person and really strongly fights against anyone going off their own. My dad tends to go along with this. It would be treated as extremely aggressive, rude and unfriendly to go and do something on my own during a family vacation. It would mean that I had a break, but my mom would worry about me the whole time I was gone. This will be exacerbated by the fact that since we will be in a different country, we won’t have cellphones to call each other during the trip.

    Despite the previous paragraph, I think people splitting off and having optional events is a wonderful idea! But I’m not sure how to implement it within the family culture of everyone together all the time. Does anyone have suggestions for ways that I can start suggesting to people- maybe now, so they’ll have time to get used to the idea- that sometimes we should split up the family? Any scripts, or ways to frame it?

    Thanks again to everyone! I would have replied sooner but I sent this in yesterday and I saw the thread right before I was scheduled to have my root canal. (… which is thankfully finished now. Ow. : ( )

    • Hi LW! I feel your pain about the togetherness–my mom can be the same way, though I think to a slightly lesser degree. One thing that helped in my family was that my younger sister and I got along well enough to go off on our own together. We’d tell our parents where we were going, set up a pre-arranged meeting place and time, and then we’d stick to that plan. It doesn’t have all the freedom of going off and doing your own thing (I know there is a certain joy to knowing that no one in the whole world, not even your parents, knows exactly where you are or what you are doing), but it gave us a break from our parents. Are you and your brother close enough to do that?

      This last thing may not work or be at all applicable to you–you know your own family best–but sometimes the only way to break the attachment-cycle you have going on right now is just to go. One day on your trip, announce “I’m headed out! See you all at lunch!” and then LEAVE. Walk out the door and onto the mode of transportation of your choice. This works best if you have a place where she can’t follow you–a hotel room of your own, for example, so that later when your mother, or your father, or both (yay?) want to Discuss Your Anxiety-Causing Absence, you can say “I had a great time! Came back in one piece! Functioning adult! Peace!” and close the door. The anxiety your mother felt is hers to deal with, not yours. You are an adult, with your own money. Her feelings are not your fault. You do not have to solve them. Return them to sender. The first time you attempt this, you will feel like the World’s Worst and Meanest Person. I promise you, you are not. You deserve to be able to go off by yourself in a new and exciting city and, for an hour or so at least, be accountable to no one but yourself.

      • Blue Tuna said:

        Hi LW! Speaking from experience, I would like to add my voice to arbortrary’s suggestion of just going. Though my mom does not complain of my planning of trips, she used to have a similar fear in terms of my brother going off by himself – only very recently has she started treating him more like an adult and less like a child, even though he is 27.

        Last year we took a vacation together in Italy, and my brother wanted to do something the rest of the group had very little interest in doing, while the rest of us wanted to do something he didn’t really enjoy – so I suggested that we separate for the day and that he take the car we had rented for a day trip to do the activity he wanted. My mom was extremely anxious and worried from the time this was suggested (two days before) to the time my brother got back from his activity. We stood our ground, though, and he went. In the end, she saw that he got back safe and sound and SO HAPPY that she recognized it had been a good thing.

        When they both came to visit me for a few weeks over Christmas (I currently live in a different country from them), he did many things on his own and she was much better about it.

        Only you know your family dynamics and whether trying this is feasible/applicable at all, but, if this insistence on everyone being together all the time is more about her anxiety over what might happen to you than an ingrained belief that this is how families are supposed to behave, then just doing it might work. Yes, she will probably be very anxious and worried the first time this happens, but, as arbortrary said, her anxiety is her responsibility, not yours – and it could decrease once she realizes that you got back okay after all.

      • Anothermous said:

        This was going to be my suggestion, too. LW, I strongly recommend you at least consider invoking the God of Doing It Anyway. As in, you know it will cause your mom anxiety and stress if you go and do your own thing–but you do it anyway. Your mother’s feelings, including anxiety, are hers to manage. By making you responsible for them, she is manipulating you and cowtowing you to her will, not to mention sucking you into her unhappiness and anxiety (by making you unhappy and anxious!). It probably seems super scary to just… ignore your mother and do what you want, but, as has been discussed in other threads: you are now an adult, who pays your own bills, and the worst possible consequences for your actions are that your mother throws a temper tantrum like a toddler (which she probably will). Your parents are no longer the arbiters of your safety, your housing, or your food, so you can afford to piss them off, especially if obeying their wishes makes you miserable.

        The thing to watch out for here is the fact that, once you return from your outing and see your parents again, your mom will have Things To Say. Or maybe she’ll sulk conspicuously and try to ruin the rest of the day/evening for everyone. In my opinion, the latter is actually easier to deal with, because what you do is ignore it. You behave pleasantly to everyone, talk about the Awesome Day (Alone) You Had, and ask them how their Awesome Days were, and listen and respond with real attentiveness and enthusiasm. Your mom will stew, and her silent treatment will be awkward and obvious, but you do not feed it. She can be miserable *alone*.

        The former scenario, where you return and your mom has Words, is where you need to stand up for yourself and pick a few chosen scripts. This is where the use of the non-apology apology–such as “I’m sorry you feel that way”–is useful and appropriate. Your mom will try and make your day alone all about what an ungrateful daughter you are, and how you don’t care about how she feels, and how she was worried sick, and blah blah blah. If you want to be mean, you can agree with her: “Yup, you’re right, in this case, I *don’t* actually care how you feel, and I’m going to do what I’m going to do.” That’s really, really hard, and if you aren’t at the point where you live in the Fuck Its, that approach is probably not for you. If you don’t want to be mean (she’ll interpret it as mean, though) you can respond to all her accusations with something like “That’s not true, but I’m sorry you feel that way,” or “It wasn’t my intention to make you feel that way, I’m sorry you do” but the important thing to do is to NOT apologize for what you’ve done. The ultimate message you want to send is “I am not going to change. You have to learn how to accept it.”

        Because that should be the way it is. You’re already doing the stressful work of planning a vacation in Europe, it shouldn’t ALSO be your job to plan around your mother’s unmanaged anxiety and unrealistic expectations. If, when fantasizing about the ideal way you’d spend your vacation, you find that there is a ball of dread forming in the pit of your stomach along with the little voice that goes “Oh, that can never happen, mom would HATE that…” that’s when you need to pay attention.

        Good luck, LW. Planning trips is super, super stressful. My husband and I have recently finalized most of our own plans for a trip to Europe this summer, and it was a pain, even though we’re incredibly excited to go. I hope you can manage a way to make sure you have fun too, without the shadow of your mother’s issues hanging over you.

    • Kat said:

      Hi LW!

      With regards to splitting off and doing your own things upon occasion… Perhaps rather than jumping in and splitting four ways all at once; you could split into two groups? Each with one “child” and one adult “chaperone” – would knowing that you, or your brother are with your Dad ease your Mother’s anxiety about your being out on your own?

      Make sure, though, that sometimes it’s you and Mum and sometimes your Brother and Mum!! (Or, at least, I would!)

      Maybe, once she is used to the idea of travelling in pairs, she will become used to the idea of you and your brother doing some exploring on your own? Perhaps she and your Da could be doing distracting, Parent Things with you guys go off on your own?

      Good Luck, LW! I wish you positive outcomes!

      =^.^=

    • Sarabeth said:

      If it’s you, parents, and brother, maybe start with some visits that intentionally split you into two pairs? Do you have any interests that would facilitate? In my family, that would be hiking – my dad and I are big fans, my mom and my husband are not, so we often have afternoons on our family vacations that consist of my dad and I going for a hike while my mom and my husband play cards.

      • Og said:

        I think splitting into groups is a great idea, too. LW, since you’re a planner, maybe you can find two events at overlapping times that different people would want to do, and plan for Group A to do Activity A (that suits their interests) while Group B does Activity B (that suits theirs)? It might be an easier way of introducing the idea if you have an external thing to point to, like conflicting times. You’ll probably still get some backlash, but if you try to present it as “parent/kid” time or special time for bonding it might go over more smoothly.

    • Jane said:

      Ah, it’s good to read some more clarification. I have a lot of respect for the effort that this kind of planning takes — I had a close friend visit me during my master’s in a European country for ten days, and we had NINE VERY FULL DAYS of traveling — four days in Paris, a scenic train, a castle, etc. etc. etc. I was the one who spoke some French and the one who had been all the places we were going before, so I got to plan (not very well, alas) the hotel, the trains, and some of the meals and stuff. IT WAS COMPLETELY EXHAUSTING, and we were both trying so hard to be accommodating and were so excited to see each other! I think it would be very hurtful if your efforts were not being recognized, because it does take so much time and so much knowledge to do it well.

      Full disclosure: I sympathize with the people who can’t do overly-planned trips or who don’t like feeling like they’re completely out of control of their itinerary (my modus operandi is “plan carefully and then be squishy when I get there”) BUT it doesn’t sound like that’s what’s happening here at all. Your mom almost sounds like she’s trying to make a point that since travel can’t be PERFECT it’s definitely not worth doing at all, which, AEIIEIEEEEEE HOWLING WITH AGGRAVATION is what that would give me.

      This is a technical fix, but have you considered getting prepaid SIM cards? This is probably not useful, because I don’t think it works if you have locked American smartphones, but on the off chance that your phone is a bit older or you’ve had it unlocked, this can be quite affordable and wonderful for the peace of mind (I got a couple hours worth of talking for about $20 in Sweden and about $15 in Germany, and I’m virtually certain it would be way cheaper in France or Spain.)

      Side note: I was so disappointed when I found out the train is more expensive than flying everywhere in Europe. I love trains. 😦

      • Vicki said:

        Two of my partners and I are talking about going to Paris together (some year when 2 out of 3 wouldn’t be starting in the Pacific Northwest). It’s understood that I am designated Speaker to French People, not because I actually know a lot of French, but because I am cheerful about trying, and willing to memorize some useful phrases ahead of time. (A phrasebook is enough for common-for-travelers things like “One round-trip ticket to Place, please.”)

        My ability to read some French and my willingness to smile at a stranger and say, in French, “Good afternoon, ma’am. Do you speak English?” will not make me the general Maker of Plans, because even if one or both of my potential travel companions wanted that, it wouldn’t be fun for me. I want them to be involved in planning on the level of “I really want to see Versailles.”

        • Jane said:

          Well, it wasn’t just my ability to speak French that translated into Planning Grand Poo-Bah, and I’m sorry if I implied that this should necessarily be the case. In my case I had a lot of anxiety about the fact that my friend was spending $1200-$1500 in airfare to come see me. :/ I was very very worried she was Not Going to Have a Good Time. Note to LW: this is a good way to make your trip NOT VERY FUN.

          (There are also some very specific issues in my case — I have intermittent guilt/shame/panic about the fact that I have prioritized travel over furthering my career, and I think I was trying to make a point to the Cosmic Jury that look, I have knowledge and skills! Knowledge and skills!!! KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS!!!!!!!)

    • catefish said:

      Is there a way you can get Dad in on this? Maybe talk it over with him and with both of them, spin it as “wow, Mom, Dad, look at this romantic thing I found for just the two of you!” or “Dad really wants to go do X with you/Brother really wants to spend some time with me at X, which would be suuuuuper boring for you”. I too have a family with unreasonable expectations of togetherness during “family time” (despite the fact that we don’t get along for extended periods), and I found that having an ally helped.

    • Mcat said:

      “This will be exacerbated by the fact that since we will be in a different country, we won’t have cellphones to call each other during the trip. ”

      I’m not sure this is the case for all of them, but my cell phone provider was willing to unlock my smart phone when I told them I was traveling abroad, and then once I was over there I bought a local SIM card and some pay-as-you-go minutes/data. My sister, who did not want to bring her smart phone and potentially lose it, just bought a cheap burner with a local SIM card & pay-as-you-go minutes. I don’t know how much the total cost was (and we were in Northern Africa, which is much cheaper than Europe) but I’d guess I spent maybe $20 for a SIM card & data for a 10-day trip, and my sister spent maybe $60.

      “sometimes we should split up the family? Any scripts, or ways to frame it? ”

      What about instead of doing complete splits, you do buddy-pairs? Like, “here parents, we thought we would give you an evening alone for a fancy dinner or relaxing with books or whatever and Brother and I are gonna go out to the theater?” Mom might be less freaked out if you’re out with someone else. Can Dad and Brother be enlisted to help you out here, by both thinking of things they’d like to do specially with Mom/with other members of the family?

      I think, in general, I would try to enlist Dad and Brother. “Hey, Mom’s really stressing me out. What do you think we can do to make this trip more enjoyable for everyone? She’s going to pressure us to be together all the time and do everything together, but I think we’d be happier if we had a little bit more flexibility and down time. What do you think we can do to make that easier on Mom?”

      • 30ish said:

        If unlocking the SIM card does not work, it is totally possible to get cheap phones for around 20$ in Europe. You often get SIM cards for free with the phones and then you can buy credit at any kiosk. However, since LW and her family travel several countries they should make sure they have cheap roaming included. Otherwise they’d need a new SIM card in each country they visit (not a huge deal since you can get them everywhere, but still possibly annoying – I would probably not bother if I only stayed in one country for 2-3 days).

        As for splitting up and doing your own thing, it sounds like LW’s mother will definitely resist at first and not be happy. I think there’s no other way than still going through with it even if she complains. One thing I could see as a strategy is to start with shorter time intervals, like one or two hours. And maybe have a go-to place where your mother can hang out outside the hotel, for example a nice café or a garden, so that there’s always a nice option for those not out exploring.

        I think the “splitting in pairs” thing is an awesome idea, but I would also say that you don’t have to try to convince your family to change the “family culture”. Though they will resist at first, it is probably still easier to just go off on your own and do your thing. That way you don’t have to present an argument why splitting up is great – you just do it and let them adapt to it. I totally get that it will be painful. But I’m basically seeing no way around it. Your mother’s fears don’t really have any basis, and once she sees you get back to the hotel in one piece she might worry less.

        Lastly, about the train. I think your mother would have been disappointed by the train ride from Paris to Madrid. It might have some scenic parts, but overall it’s just a boring high speed train, and they unfortunately also break down fairly often (I’m biased because my train to Madrid was late by more than five hours). As an alternative, you could include a shorter train ride that’s known to be scenic. There probably are options in both France and Spain for something like that.

        • Jane said:

          oh oh oh the train from Madrid to Salamanca is gorgeous!!!! all red rocks and picturesque (if very sad) falling-down stone farmhouses. I think it’s about two hours (within Mom tolerance?), and Salamanca is v. pretty.

          I don’t know how you’re getting from France to Italy — the train from Paris to Lausanne is v. boring, but the train from Lausanne to Milan goes through the Alps and is GORGEOUS. But also five hours, so probably too long.

          • 30ish said:

            Apparently there’s also a “vintage train” from Madrid to Aranjuez (a UNESCO world heritage site). Or to Segovia, Toledo both of which could be very interesting to visit (day trip from Madrid). (I don’t know if LW wants or needs any more suggestions on the train thing, I’m just getting intrigued by the possibilities of scenic train rides in Spain and would love to go there again.)

      • Muddie Mae said:

        For smartphones, most providers also have some international service package that includes texting. I was just in France and I bought a $30 package from my provider, so comparable to picking up a burner. Unfortunately phone calls are usually still $x/minute ($.50-$1.00 IME) on top of the package so if your parents don’t text perhaps this wouldn’t work. But maybe your brother and you be the designated communicators and text with each other?

    • charmed.omega said:

      For splitting in groups I suggest giving the splits a named specifier “girls night out” and “boys night out”, “parents day” and “kids day”, etc. Then you *are* doing things as a group. It’s just a different specific group. For each group add one small stop that makes it ‘obvious’ why that subgroup ‘has to’ be the only ones to go: e.g. girls night get your nails done, parents day they go somewhere reminiscent of their first date, something like that.

    • It sounds to me like your mother isn’t very good at communicating what she cares about, and then trips get planned that miss out on the bits she wanted, so she’s grumpy. With your train conversation, it sounds like what she cares about is a scenic train trip through European countryside, but that isn’t overwhelmingly long. It doesn’t sound like the start and stop points are really what she cares about with the train trip. So, if a train trip of an appropriate length through countryside could be worked into the trip, she’d probably be a lot happier. Perhaps if you tried using questions to ask her about which aspect she most wants, it might help with the planning.

      • Yes! That jumped out at me too

      • Kerry said:

        it sounds like what she cares about is a scenic train trip through European countryside, but that isn’t overwhelmingly long. It doesn’t sound like the start and stop points are really what she cares about with the train trip.

        Yes!

      • gmg said:

        Agreed. I get that it’s hard when the planning has been so exacting, but maybe reframing to accommodate the bigger picture would be useful here. Instead of “We can’t do that, let’s just take a plane,” how about “OK, mom, we can fly to Barcelona and then take the train if you’d really like to do that, it’s a much shorter ride” or “Let’s do an overnight to the Loire Valley/Normandy/some other not-too-far-from-Paris place by train, instead of some other activity” or whatever.

        And then of course if Mom’s real goal is just to, ahem, derail (sorry, I know too soon), she’ll respond with more difficulties and you’ll have more info. But the details of this exchange, to be honest, didn’t make it sound like there was an awful lot of flexibility to even try to accommodate Mom’s desires, unreasonable or otherwise. (Of course if that’s because those attempts have been made ad nauseam in the past with no results, then I get that.)

        • An overnight probably wouldn’t be of use, since it’s hard to enjoy the view during an overnight. It’s really important to figure out which aspect appeals. But that sounded a lot like: easy way to see the scenery. I know that when I took a cross-country US train trip, it really did let me see fascinating bits of the country I wasn’t familiar with, even though all I could see was what was right by the train tracks. But I do agree that trying to figure out if this is about badly communicating what she really wants from the trip or just making problems is useful to do.

          • gmg said:

            Right, sorry, I meant “go there during the day by train, stay overnight and take the train back” — not a sleeper train.

          • Oh, that makes sense. 🙂

    • With regards to cell phones: some carriers (AT&T and t-mobile for two) have international plans (at one point it was $5 /month and fairly cheap minutes)
      If that won’t work, cheap phones (with minutes) are available.

      For splitting up, I think your best bet is announcing – on the day in question- that you’re going out and will be back for lunch (or dinner). If you have phones, you’ll be able to communicate in an emergency (which won’t arise)

      Then just enjoy your hour, morning, afternoon, or entire day.

      Your brother and father will be envious, and that may make it easier to draw them into planning.

      Good luck.

    • Mel said:

      “But I’m not sure how to implement it within the family culture of everyone together all the time.”

      Long-time reader, first time posting, but this really spoke to me as I’ve just gone through a multi-year process of changing family culture around shared vacations. My situation is different – my widowed mother desperately wants all her children and children’s families to spend some holiday, preferably Christmas, Together as a family; we siblings are not at all close (if I weren’t related to my sister, I have so little in common with her that it is unlikely we would ever have met), and in addition my brother, wife, and niece are devoutly religious in a way that doesn’t mesh well with anyone else, or with Christmas holidaying – and in this case I am the difficult party, because my idea of a good vacation is at odds with pretty much everyone else’s.

      What worked for me: first, I had to admit that the situation just wasn’t working. This was hard, because I actually like my mother, and it’s really important to her that we have these gatherings. I ought to be able to handle this for 4-5 days, right? Except I’m bored witless, and usually without internet so I can’t even work. (For example: I am a museums, galleries, libraries, theater kind of traveler. My sibs rented a house in the San Juan Islands so that they could hike and birdwatch, and forgot to mention that I would need to rent a moped if I wanted to go into town, since their cars would be in use all the time.) This was actually the hardest part, because we were going places that were objectively really cool – the San Juan Islands! Hawaii! the Great Smoky Mountains!

      Second, I had to address my mother’s needs directly, because she was the person I wanted to make happy if at all possible. I sat down with her and said out loud that I was unhappy with these trips. I gave her multiple examples of the times I had said “this is the one thing I want to do on this trip” and watched as that one thing became impossible because it interfered with what the majority wanted to do, and I asked her to help me be heard if she wanted us keep doing the family vacations.

      Third, we tried a compromise. We chose a destination that allowed for museums as well as active outdoor things, and I made sure that we stayed in a place where I could get to the things I wanted to do on foot and alone. And then I did those things, with or without company – my sister decided to come to one of the concerts, my mother did a couple of the museums, I had the period tavern meal I wanted by myself. And in spite of best efforts, it really didn’t work very well. The current state of play is that my mother will visit each of us at different times, we will drop the idea of family Christmas, and not revisit a family vacation for at least another year. If/when we do, we will look at much shorter length and continue to be very careful about the choice of destination.

      This was hard, and it took a long time, and from the outside it may not look like much. It’s also not anyone’s optimum outcome. But it is better. The keys were (1) acknowledging that the situation needed to change and (2) getting a family member on my side to help make the change happen. I don’t what your best outcome would be – not having your mother on the trip at all? figuring out how to split up every day for touring around? doing several shorter vacations with parts of the family instead of all of them at once? – but maybe if you can get someone else to work with you, you can change this “always together” dynamic to something that works better for you.

      • JenniferP said:

        Mel, this comment is awesome and so helpful and useful. Great job with your family situation, you sound very patient and great at standing up for yourself.

        • Mel said:

          Oh, wow, thank you! It really did take several years to make this happen, and the hardest part really was admitting that I was unhappy enough that I was going to hurt the person I was theoretically doing all of this for.

    • Britta said:

      LW I feel you re family togetherness. When I was 17, in the pre-cell phone age, my family went on a tightly-budgeted road trip up the east coast of the US to look at colleges for me, with a three-day detour into Canada tacked on the end. My mother is a planner to the extent that I did not know a reservation isn’t needed to stay at a motel for another couple of years. Every second of the trip, when not on college walking tours, we were in the car driving to the next one. Money was so tight there were no pee breaks because the gas budget didn’t allow for extra stopping and starting; we brought 80% of the food we ate in coolers in the car; in the motels we all shared one bedroom. All I remember from the first part of the trip is the screaming argument my parents had for over an hour, with the car pulled over on the side of the highway, and my sister and me not allowed to get out, about money. (Oh wait, there was the screaming about my dad’s speeding as he tried to make up the driving time this fight cost him to get to the next reserved motel before 2 am.)

      So when we arrived in Quebec City I was DESPERATE to get away from them. In doing tourist stuff around the city in the morning I noticed a movie I liked was showing about a five-minute walk from the hotel, so announced I was going to go see it that evening. My mother went nuts. If I went off by myself I was going to be kidnapped and I was her precious baby and if I wasn’t in her line of sight I wouldn’t be safe, etc. I should mention here I had spent the previous six months in Europe on a high school exchange so was used to travelling in strange cities independently and as a bonus spoke fluent French. So I stood my ground. When I didn’t cave it turned into a very ugly screaming match – my mother screaming that I would be killed the minute I stepped out the door – my dad and sister screaming that I was ruining the trip and if I’d just shut up and do what my mother wanted we’d all be having fun – and me screaming about how did they think they could stop me, because I was going whether they liked it or not.

      After a good half hour of this, when my dad realized they *were* going to have to physically restrain me to stop me (which might have been possible at home or when I was younger but not in a thinly-walled city hotel and certainly not after my time living away from them), I was ‘allowed’ out on condition that I went to the movie theater and back only and didn’t speak to anyone. I enjoyed the movie very much. Before going back I went and sat in a square and watched some skateboarders for about five minutes as an act of wild rebellion. I remember nothing else from the trip.

      I don’t think anything I could have said beforehand would have prevented that awful scene, or gotten my mother happy with the idea that splitting the family up sometimes is a very, very good thing. I think if I’d tried to suggest that before we left I’d just have bought myself relentless criticism about my selfishness, lack of family spirit, recklessness etc etc etc. But I bet you’ll handle this much better than 17yo me. You’re an adult, you are able to navigate daily life of your job/commute/independent interests without your mother’s watchful eyes and no one’s murdered you yet. No matter what she tells you, her anxiety and unreasonableness are not your problem. I know this isn’t what you want to hear, but since it seems like whatever you do won’t make her happy, the only way anyone will be happy is if you do what will make YOU happy. So that’s the goal you should keep in mind.

      Now I’m an adult and my parents wonder I flatly refuse to go on vacations with them. But I don’t.

    • Aurora said:

      Your mom sounds like, uh, a gem. She wants the impossible: let’s have cheap fast transportation where I get exactly the experience I want. Everyone should psychically know what I want out of this trip and give it to me. Yes, and if we had that, Other Person’s Mom, we’d all be thrilled, but we don’t. On top of this, she’s a helicopter mom who hates people wandering away, because what if X and what if Y.

      …I hate to be the thermonuclear option person, but do you have to bring her at all? What if you just all went on a vacation without her, and when she complains, tell her that she would’ve whined the whole time anyway and that unless she behaves herself, and starts thinking realistically, you’re not going to put up with this? I ended up calling an ultimatum on my family’s vacations where either I get my own room or I don’t go, because my dad’s incessant snoring keeps me awake despite best efforts and makes me utterly miserable. I tried all kinds of compromises, but compromise just doesn’t work if there isn’t a solution that makes anyone even the least bit happy at the same time.

      Mostly I’m suggesting this because everyone has covered the awesome options I”d write about, and this is sort of a last ditch effort. It sounds like your mom is making trips insufferable, and I’d rather put up with her whining about not going than her ruining the trip, if I were you. But I’m not you! And it does sound like you value the togetherness thing at least because it makes your family happy. If you manage to get Mom to be pleased and the others as well, then by all means, have at it!

      Best of luck.

    • sorcharei said:

      What about getting prepaid cellphones that work in Europe for everyone once you get there? It’s relatively inexpensive and might help with “we can’t split up because then we can’t communicate” anxiety. Prepaid cellphones are not all that expensive, and the lowered anxiety might be worth the cost. Alternatively, ask your providers if they will unlock your existing phones to use European SIM cards and then buy prepaid cards. Personally, I prefer the prepaid phones because they are cheap and disposable and I am not risking losing my usual cell phone in a foreign country.

      I’m going to jump on the “split up” band wagon. This especially works if you can find something you know some of you will love and some of you will hate. One easy place to inteoduce this sort of thing is if you take a day trip to somewhere like Versailles or The Winter Palace. These large sites often have a variety of tours on offer at the same time, so you can say something like, “Oh look, a tour of the stately gardens! Dad and brother would love that. how about they go on that tour while Mom and I go on the interior art tour, and we meet up for lunch at the cafe when the tour is done? Then we can decide what afternoon tours we want to take before we head back to Paris.” This lowers the anxiety because both sets of people are at the same place, just doing different things.

      The next step is to do things that are close together and can include meeting for lumch in the middle. “Dad and I are going to take a class that teaches us ((local craft skill)). We break for lunch at noon. How about if Beother and Mom got visit that cathedral you were wanting to see and we will met up at X place for lunch. Then in the afternoon, while we finish our class, you two could take a walking tour of the historic district.”

      Finally, you can get to situations where you don’t see each other all day. “I’m going to take that all-day boat tour of the local archipelago. Brother is going to take a 90 minute train ride out of the city into the country and tour two wineries. Who wants to come with me and who wants to go with him? The winery folks wil be getting back late, so we can meet up at breakfast and share stories of our adventures!”

      It’s a pain to work around a person who is managing her anxiety by dumping it on you and who is being both obstructionist and whiny/angry/attacking. However, if you can figure out how to give her some of what she wants while also figuring out ways to lower her anxiety, she may be able to manage a lower level of anxiety better.

    • B. said:

      LW, I’m so sorry, on my earlier suggestions I operated on the basis that your mother was willing to be reasonable. I hope this is at least a bit more useful to you:

      A. Your mom is going to feel bad no matter what. No matter what you do, no matter what you plan, she’s going to feel unhappy. You want to make the best of the trip for the rest of you, so maybe it would help you to frame her attitude as a given-fact-this-is-how-the-Universe-works? Like, picture going to England in november. Your mom is the rainy wheather. You’re going anyway and you’re having fun in spite of the rain, so you take your umbrella.
      Suggestions that may make good umbrellas:
      – Sound-cancelling earphones and extra bateries for your music player.
      – Getting your brother and father on board and splitting Mom-watching between the three of you, as the Captain said.
      – Shoving a guidebook into her hands when she starts complaining and cheerfully, sincerely, not-angrily, tell her to offer an alternative plan/find something entertaining for herself to do, then scape the conversation while the distraction lasts.
      – If you know, or can fake knowledge of, any foreign language that she doesn’t, run off “to ask for directions” and strike a conversation with the nearest friendly-looking person you can find (check they’re not in a hurry first, though). You may even end up speaking English with them, who knows. If someone came up to me and said something along the lines of “hey, can you give me a hand, I’m vacationing with my family and we’re a bit lost/looking for nice spots around here/trying to find cool places to eat in”, it would be my pleasure to chat with them for a while, and that could give you a 5-15 minutes break. Depending on how you spin it, you could even meet a new cool person and/or strike a longer conversation (“So, how long have you lived here?/how do you like living here?” are golden for this).

      TL;DR: It’s not your fault if it rains in England in November. Sometimes you get wet, and that’s not your fault either (you remembered to bring your umbrella! They can’t always keep you dry, unfortunately, but you brought it).

      B. Scripts for introducing new ideas… Okay, first: no matter how you spin it, your mom is not gonna like it. Probably your dad and brother won’t be thrilled about it either at first because they probably think that anything that alters the status-quo is going to be for the worse/they’re afraid you all will end up in a tenser situation.
      The trick is making them (dad and bro) realise that you need to try anyway. You know them best, so appeal to what works for them: logic, emotions, irony, power point presentations…
      – The point that might work best is: this is unsustainable. This is making us all unhappy. We have the chance to make it better. If we fail, we’ll all still be unhappy, so no loss. Repeat as necessary over long stretches of time: first introduce the topic, don’t insist if they’re not receptive. Then wait for them to bring it up and discuss it again.
      – It’s probably better if you can get them one-on-one, or they may join forces against the change you’re suggesting.
      – Since you mention that your dad usually goes along with her, maybe approach your brother first? He may not feel as commited by vows as your dad does.

      Maybe not your cup of tea, but a tactic that works for me is getting the other person to think it was all their idea. Example: “Oh, Bro/Dad, Mom’s complaining is really getting me down. I just want us all to have a good time, but this is all so upsetting! I don’t know what to do!” As you can see from this forum, people love to give advice, so ask for their help and ideas like you did here and gently redirect/detail the suggestions they offer with what you read here that you think may be useful for your situation. The thing is, if your bro or dad think it was their idea to change the status quo, then you don’t have to convince anyone to get your first supporter, and the both of you can get the third person on board, so you can form a united front when you present the suggestion to your mom. She’s gonna be the most difficult one, so leave her for last: she’s the Final Boss.

      C. Possible script for your mom:
      You: “Mom, there’s this cool X that B/D and me want to do on Y place, so we’ll see you on Z place later!” (present it as a fait accompli, not open to discussion, not asking for permission)
      Mom: “But, but, axe murderers! Anxiety! Worry!”
      Y: “Nah, don’t worry, B/D and me are going together, and you are staying with D/B in the meanwhile, so no worries. Here are some cool things you two might want to check!” (that’s when you give her one of those awesome folders mentioned earlier) “Bye now, have fun!” (that’s when you two turn to leave. She’ll try to stop you)
      M: “Hey, wait a minute! Anxiety!! Worry!!”
      Y: “Seriusly, Mom, no need to worry: we’re getting to Y by ____, will be there from ____ to _____, then come back by ____ and meet you at Z on ___ h. It’s all planned for, don’t worry.”
      M: “Reiterated worry!”
      Y: “Okay, we will keep that in mind, but we gotta run now, X’s about to start and we don’t want to miss it. You two have fun, bye!” (That’s when you and B/D run/power-walk out of there).

      * Take advantage of the fact that you’re four people, so nobody has to be alone, and that can be used as an argument against anxiety-worry. Sometimes you can go with your brother, sometimes with your dad, and sometimes you’ll have to saty with your mom, but try and make sure these are equal amounts of time. Last thing we want is you stuck even more time with her complaining because of three guy’s nights out in Paris in a row.
      * You don’t actually have to go through with what you told her you’d do, but in that case make sure your stories/alibis match up and are water-tight.
      * Keep outwardly cool, as if there was nothing to worry about, and don’t make personal remarks (i.e.: you’re being unreasonable, mom), as that would turn it into a discussion which would prevent you to leave.

      D. Possible script for your brother/dad:
      I)
      Y: “Hey, B/D, I found this really cool [activity that appeals just to the two of you] for our trip. Want to check it out?”
      B/D: “Sounds cool, but mom doesn’t really like that.”
      Y: “Oh. Well, I was thinking it could be just the two of us.”
      B/D: “But wouldn’t that be selfish?”/”But wouldn’t mom worry?”
      Y: “Nah, not really: I have planned this [other cool thing that appeals to D/B and mom doesn’t hate] for mom and D/B to do in the meantime”/”Well, mom is going to worry even if the four of us are in the same place, so I figured we could leave her the details written down and go anyway/Well, we wouldn’t be going alone, and they wouldn’t be alone either, so I see no reason for her to worry”.
      And then you give B/D time to mull it over.
      II)
      Y: Hey, B/D what do you think about selecting some separate activities for us to do on this trip? Like, you and me do X while mom and D/B do Y?
      B/D: But, it’s a family vacation, we should spend it together.
      Y: Well, of course we’d be spending time together, that’s the point. It’s just, mom does not like X, and you don’t like Y, so isn’t it better to split up so everybody can have fun? We could always get all together for lunch after and catch up!
      And then you give B/D time to mull it over.

      Sorry for this behemoth, LW. Best of luck, and remember: you’re awesome for doing this, you’re not responsible for anyone’s feelings but your own, and you’re gonna have fun anyway!

    • emdashing said:

      Hi LW, Tricks for carving out a little time alone:

      My parents are also resistant to this, though they are getting better. I have a few strategies, some of them more sneaky than others.
      1) Announce that you (and sibling/other family members if they exist) want to be sure Mom & Dad get a romantic meal together. Pick the restaurant for them, make a reservation for two. Pay for it even, if that’s possible. Act like it’s a gift for them (as opposed to a gift to yourself of an evening off) and there’s a good chance they’ll accept it as such.

      2) Get up early/go out late. You have jetlag. Insomnia is an excellent excuse for a spontaneous walk/jog. Even better if everyone else is in their pjs and you’re already half way out the door before they completely cotton on to your plan. I’m a runner in regular life, so this is somewhat easier for me to accomplish, but walks work just as well. See also: forgotten toiletry item I need right now. Wish me luck finding it!

      3) Stay in hotels/ B&Bs that have designated breakfast times or afternoon tea, or whatever activity. These are ideal because you are “home” but not necessarily all in the place where you sleep. Develop an excuse to stay in the room with (true or not) intent to “be right there” or go while they stay in the room. Whichever.

      4) When you get a headache, go full Victorian. Sure, you could pop a few advil and power through, but why not express a need for a quiet half hour with the lights off? You can head back to the hotel early and they’ll be fine.

      5) You need to catch up on work email–no, you don’t want to, but it’s a good reason not to be able to do whatever the scheduled activity was.

      You can use any of these and more as a sort of starting point. “I’m going to do a slightly different thing now, you guys enjoy original plan and I’ll catch up.” Do it casually, and only in scenarios where they will really be okay without you, follow through, and build on it. Day one is breakfast without you. Day 2, you go to different wings of the same museum, etc. Don’t announce it too far in advance. Advance warning a) gives them time to complain and b)makes it seem like you are planning to ditch them, so they can get offended.

      My parents are very worried about getting separated/lost, so another thing I do whenever we travel together is implement the School Field Trip Rule. The first thing we do on arrival (once we all know where “home” is) is agree to return there if we are ever separated/lost. Everyone learns the name and location of the hotel so worst comes to worst we can direct a cab back there. If we can’t find someone in our group for more than 20 minutes after an arranged meeting time, you return to base. We’ve never had to implement this plan, but it makes them feel calmer. And me too, tbh.

    • secretrebel said:

      Just a small thought about cellphones. Is there a way you could get some cheep pay as you go sim cards that will work across Europe? I’m on a contract myself but I have something called “European traveller” set up that means I can use my cell across Europe. Being able to check in by phone or text alleviates a lot of the hassle about when and where to meet up again and worry about someone getting into trouble.

    • Alexia said:

      … Is your mom my mom? Because this whole “you can’t go off alone even though you’re adults!” strike me as an issue of *control*. Somebody above mentioned Karyl McBride’s book and seconding it right now.

      Since you are the Planner of Everything right now I would say just actively plan “off alone” time. Openly. Think of it this way – are the other people in this organized trip *OK* with Mother complaining the entire time? If so, then they can take over your “verbal punching bag” duties. If not, they might need a break from the constant complaints just as much as you do and a scheduled “off alone” amount of time will work for both strategies. Sorry to be so blunt about it, but I find that people like that (controlling complainers) are never, ever satisfied and the best thing you can do for yourself is accept it as a consistent variable of whatever happens, like the weather :p

  49. Angie said:

    Can I just say quickly that while I think Mom’s way of reacting to the itinerary isn’t exactly healthy and communicative, her unrealistic ideas of timelines and plans are definitely something I have as a non-planner spontaneous traveler, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Honestly, locking her into even more plans beforehand by forcing her to plan as well sounds incredibly stressful because like me, she probably ISN’T particularly interested in working out the timing and details and would prefer to take the train to Madrid or whatever, get there when she gets there, eat wherever seems fun and convenient–I mean, why not?

    So here’s a vote for unstructured empty days–not for her to plan out or even decide on anything to do. You do what she wants to do and the days might be failures by your standards, but they’ll still probably be MORE fun for her.

  50. The rule in my family is that if you don’t participate in the work of planning, you don’t get to complain. We had a family vacation for my mom’s 70th birthday. I told my sister if she did all the research on and booked a cottage for all six of us to stay, I would be happy with the result. I am more than happy to surrender my bitching rights if someone else does the hard part.

    PS Re the train from Paris to Madrid – tell your mom that just for her, you are going to see to it that the laws of physics are suspended.

  51. Megan M. said:

    LW 704, I’m so sorry that your mom is harshing your vacation buzz. I don’t have any advice to add, but I just wanted to let you know that I would LOVE to go on vacation with you! I hate leaving things up to chance! I would feel a million times better knowing that someone had done all of the planning and hotel-booking in advance.

  52. Jenn said:

    Wow, LW…the unreasonableness astounds me. I did want to ask where is your dad in all this? I know you seem to be the planner, but last I checked you’re not responsible for managing your mother’s issues (nor is he, really, but you know – it’s closer!).

    TBH, That is the type of behaviour I would simply ignore (but I’m a hard-hearted wench so it’s easier for me!). Sulking? Too easy to pretend isn’t happening (especially if you can get your brother on board) and just carry on as if everything is fine. Yelling unreasonable demands? “I’m afraid that won’t be possible” and literally walk away (if that’s an option).

    One random thought as I was reading your update…she can’t internet but can she walk into a travel agent and speak with a professional? It might mean she gets some ideas to upset the current plans, but would she accept the response of “It’s not possible” from a professional?

    This is YOUR holiday too and you deserve to enjoy it. Don’t listen to her complaints – especially if they are unreasonable. Walk away if you have to, take your brother with you and have a great time irrespective of her attitude.

    Oh and for fun, read the book “Us” – it’s a novel about a marriage on the rocks, and the husband takes his wife and son on a trip to Europe to try and save the relationship and just fucks everything up, so badly.

    Good luck, stay safe in your troubles and most of all – HAVE FUN!!

  53. uglybuffy said:

    The Captain is wise, but I just wanted to say that you sound like my holiday soul mate. I took a folder on honeymoon. It had dividers into flights, car rental, insurance, accommodation and fun activities, and presented it at immigration when asked the purpose of our visit to the US. Mr Uglybuffy is a bit like your mother with a beard, and had a tendency to say silent when asked where he wanted to go, and then pipe up, on an interstate in Louisiana “why can’t we go to Kentucky?” I wish you a fun holiday.

  54. Margaret said:

    As much as this is a hassle for you, I do feel a lot of empathy for your mother. I loathe group travel, and have refused to take students on Eurospring my entire tenure. I need a lot of down time and control, and get itchy thinking about scheduled planed tours. Your mom may well have been resenting the “whole family participates” thing her entire married life, and this is more perpetuating of it, and being a pill is the only control she has. This doesn’t make it easier to plan a trip, or deal with her, but I can tell you that if anyone on a trip spoke to me like a toddler, I would just go all the way home. Might it be possible to sit down with her, away from the family and have a candid conversation about this culture of being a horde rather than a collection of people who travel to the same general area? The pressure to go, and the snotty exclusion if you don’t is reason for her to go, but not reason enough for her to cheerfully participate.

  55. gryphon said:

    I used to have a friend who did the whole “impossible” thing. So she would book things in advance but be completely unrealistic about the scheduling. I felt like the “bad guy” all the time because I was always the one saying “No, we can’t get there before it closes. Let’s give it a miss.” She also tended to want to do expensive things, and I had trouble admitting I couldn’t always afford it. In the end I realised that being with her made me feel like a really boring, uptight, mean person because I was always saying buzz-killing things like “We should leave now if we’re going to make the other thing,” and “We can’t do that other thing,” and “That seems a bit pricey.” I always felt like I just wasn’t fun enough and I got tired of being Buzzkill Billy the Logistical Fun-Slayer. I wish I had some actual advice for the LW here, but what I actually did was just drift out of contact and we haven’t been in touch for years. I still miss her sometimes but I hated the way she made me feel.

  56. sara said:

    I wanted to speak to the bit about your mother being super stressed about the money involved in big family vacations. My mother is like this, although she is nowhere near as difficult as your mother (my sympathies, it sounds really tough to deal with!!). But, on big, expensive trips, she will sometimes get to a point of just feeling like her hard-earned money is being lost/wasted and she has no control over that. Even though my parents live comfortably, and they can afford these trips from time to time without going into financial ruin, I think a lot of aspects of how she grew up/her parents dealt with money continue to weigh heavily on her ability to enjoy pricey vacations. She was also a stay-at-home-mom for most of my childhood, and so I think the mindset of living on one moderate income and having to do a lot more scrimping/saving has stuck with her even now that she is working and money is no longer as much of a concern for her.

    One thing that has helped to some degree in our family is to alternate the type of vacation being planned. So, for example, one year there might be a more expensive trip to do a cruise in Alaska — and yes, that will be a splurge and acknolwedged as being something that costs quite a bit. But then, the next trip can be something my mother is more comfortable with financially, say a camping trip in a neighboring state which can be quite inexpensive but still a ton of fun. I think being able to say “yes, although we have tried to make this as inexpensive as we can, ultimately a trip to Europe just is NOT a budget vacation and it’s not going to be, but we’re going to balance that out with X/Y/Z option next year that is significantly less expensive” might be something to try. After all, it’s not just a matter of “Mom should get to pick some components of this particular vacation” but also that your mother’s broader vacation preferences (such as having a preference for simpler, less expensive trips) should also play into the big picture/long-term vacation planning as well. At least in the case of our family, this has not COMPLETELY stopped my mom from stressing over money (frankly, I think that is just something she will always worry about!) but I feel like it HAS helped with at least some of the in-trip meltdowns/extreme stress to feel that her preferences over how to spend money are not being honored this time, but those preferences will be honored next year.

  57. LW I feel ya. Not sure about your overall family dynamic (mine is wildly dysfunctional) but for me it really helped to adjust my expectations. In my mind family trips are not a vacation, they are work. Re-framing my expectations that family vacations *should* be fun/relaxing/exciting etc. to “we’re all together in this new place and that’s good enough” really helped me stop stressing about making sure the trip was successful: just taking the trip was the success!

    Also when I return home I really amp up my self-care and I prepare for that beforehand. So I know that when I get back I can look forward to binge watching/reading/listening to Harry Potter and chillin with my friend-family to “vent over a bottle of wine about my wacky family.” Also if possible, scheduling additional days off work immediately upon returning to recuperate. I also make sure to plan actual relaxing vacations w/o family. 🙂

  58. LW, I second the bingo option – I have used it quite successfully myself. (In my case, I got self-awarded prizes too.) I also recommend just planning the update you are going to send us all when you get home from Europe! That way you can know that any annoying or frustrating interaction will turn into a juicy part of the story. And we all want to know how you survive! I also second the suggestion of presenting “going off on your own” at least one day as a “fait accompli” that morning. I forced this through on a family vacation about ten years ago, and although my parents were not as resistant as your mom, it was still hard, and utterly worth it.

  59. sphinxxnz said:

    LW, there is no way you can avoid family drama on your trip. I’m hearing a rebellion against the Family Dynamic here and it sounds like it will be emotionally full on, but worth it because personal growth. Yeah, and a better holdiay.

    For the future, there are techniques for personal information gathering: try looking up the “Reference Interview” in the interweb. This codifies some of the ways librarians try to find out what their customers really need to know, not what they think they need. (Not always successful). Also consider having more general discussions about travel not linked to the actual trip. So for Europe: dreams, movies, the romance of the train, cathedrals and NAFC (Not Another…), Giotto and gold leaf, museum back, what you are prepared to do for a dream meal that does not require a second mortgage – to find out in a nonconfrontational way what the fellow travellers really want to get out of this trip.

    But for this trip: do you want the big meeting where you tell them that you have done your best but the laws of finance and physics remain the same and your powers of mind reading remain at the same pitiful level? And any discussion of the above will result in you leaving the room or putting on the Headphones of Separation. Or a slower reveal during the holiday, case by case, like water dripping…

    You may find therapy valuable here. I speak as a sufferer of travel anxiety, where before every trip away I lose my appetite and find it hard to sleep. I went on an eight week trip to Italy and England some years ago, about nine months after stopping my medication for anxiety and depression, and I got very anxious, struggling to eat and sleep and with hyperventilation issues. Once back home I went back on to one of my old medications which helped a lot. After that I had the opportunity of doing an clinical online course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and I decided to treat my travel anxiety with this. It was hard and upsetting but it has helped. Just recognising that my belief “If this whole trip is not amazingly enjoyable the whole time then I have failed, and if I have failed then I am stupid and useless and unworthy to live” is actually very silly helps, but there are other parts to the therapy that help too.

    What are your beliefs in regard to travel with the family? If they don’t enjoy the whole trip it wasn’t worthwhile? If they don’t appreciate my hard work it is in vain? I have done my best for Mum and if she doesn’t realise this I have not succeeded in being a good child? This is for your benefit, to see how your world structure affects your anxiety and to help you overcome it.

    Whatever you find out about yourself it won’t help with your Mum and her separation anxiety. The only thing you can do is actually separate, regularly on the trip, and not give in to her fears for your safety. It might have been better to start out with smaller strips, as in exposure therapy, but there is probably not time to set up a whole programme before you set off. So it may have to be :you : I want to see X; Mum : not for me ; you : Well, that is still what I am going to do; Mum : Noooooo, you’ll be murdered!; you ; OK, see you later. And later? Mum: I had a horrible day worrying about you ; you : that’s a shame, I had a great day at X and look, we are still alive! Mum : I do not like this holiday; you : I did my best and it is not my job to make sure you enjoy it. Your worry is not my responsibility and look, the Headphones of Separation are right here.

    You may be seen as agressive and unfeeling but I am not sure how you can avoid it. Better to deliberately move into your new identity of independence and enjoy it.

    Of course, I see your situation through my own prism of anxiety so as ever, YMMV.

  60. Aiglet said:

    Oh, LW, how rough for you! It’s always hard to feel like you’re working to make everyone happy and doomed to failure, especially since Family Holidays(tm) must be a Barrel of Continuous Fun For All(tm).

    I generally say “okay, we can do two things each day without burning ourselves out, we’re gonna be there for four days, so each person gets to pick N things and we’ll do them in an order that makes sense in terms of how they’re laid out” and then I tell everyone to be as selfish as possible with their two things. I went to London with a friend of mine and she really wanted to go to the Cutty Sark, which was out of my budget. I sat and drank coffee in the sunshine and she went and saw the boat. The next day we went to the Natural History Museum and she sat and ate cake while I ogled dinosaurs. We were “together” (at the same place) doing different things.

    On the flip side, I’m going to France with my parents and some friends of theirs and of mine (two groups) and my dad is pressuring me to plan activities for while I’m there. I continually and cheerfully respond with “no thanks, my plan is to sit on the beach and drink rosé all week.” This is not necessarily true, there are things I want to do, but I don’t want to plan them with him because he won’t enjoy them and I don’t want to feel like I have to take him/he has to come.

    I think the suggestions to work on allaying your mom’s anxieties over money (with lists of Free Things to Do in X) and family togetherness (with specific planning around “today is for togetherness for all of us, tomorrow is just for you and me, the next day is for you and Dad”) are really good, but also remind yourself that there are people for whom the story of “that time we got lost in Canada, got a flat, and had to live in that tiny town for a week while they shipped us a new tire” are going to be The Best Story and some people for whom that would be a nightmare – and you can’t control which kind of person she is (or you are). You are responsible only for your own fun, and making that fun available to other people. You can’t make them have fun and that’s okay, it’s not your responsibility to try or your fault if they don’t.

    In general, determined cheerfulness is a useful tactic – channel your inner Elle from Legally Blonde.

    Good luck, and I hope YOU have fun, no matter what happens.

  61. Reblogged this on The Monster's Ink and commented:
    I read this post, and I read some of the conversations going on in the comment section, and one thought sticks out to me: You have the option of simply refusing to plan any more family vacations.

    It’s sort of a Nuclear Option, but ultimately no one can force you to be the Family Vacation Planner. If other family members cannot learn how to Internet, then they can try planning a trip by phone. If they cannot learn the skills involved in planning a trip, then they don’t need to go on trips. If they are adults, they should be able to make their own plans or be comfortable in their boredom.

    There are certain ideas at play in the discussion that may or may not lower the overall level of stress for the vacation. You can allow plenty of Do Nothing Time in each day, and that may or may not result in Mom insisting on doing something absurd and then pitching a fit when you point out that the laws of physics do not provide the necessary circumstances. (I still support the inclusion of Do Nothing time. Sometimes, Nothing is the best thing to do.) You can try and appoint a Mom Buffer, and there may or may not be an individual in the family group who is capable of managing your mother’s assholery that way.

    Because that’s what I’m getting, if the letter isn’t outright lying: your mother is an asshole. She wants to be in control, but she doesn’t want to do the work. She wants all the fun of spontaneity with all the security of advance planning. Experience should have taught her by now that she can’t have it both ways. You’ve suggested that maybe she can stay home, and she refuses to stay the fuck home. And she wants to hold you responsible when shit doesn’t work out the way she envisions at the very last, impractical minute. She isn’t polite about her frustration, either. Sounds more than old enough to know better, too. Asshole.

    Furthermore, the letter sounds like the rest of the family (and just how many grown-ass adults are in this group?) are completely unhelpful in getting between your mother’s personality issues and your insecurities. This can happen. Sometimes an especially strong personality develops power over the family unit for no good reason, and everyone else can just forget about ever pointing out that the strong personality is full of shit. Your mother sounds like that strong personality. You can’t change her, but you can withdraw.

    It may help to keep in mind, as some commenters have suggested, that you cannot make everyone happy no matter how diligent a planner you are. That may lower your anxiety level just a bit. But you know your family dynamics better than we do, and you know whether your mother will find a way to punish you for having stopped trying.

    This is basically my approach to most family dysfunctions. “You can’t make anyone respect you, but you can pull away!” Sometimes the only power we have over someone is the power to deny them the joy of your presence. Adulthood means we can choose who gets to enjoy our company.

    This may be why I spend so much time alone. I have plenty of hobbies, though, so alone is good enough.

    Seriously, though, how are there no other adults in this family who know how to Internet? Join the goddamn 21st century or get out of the way of those who have.

  62. killerkitten said:

    Coming to this late, but LW, I totally sympathise. My mother used to come on my insanely complicated overseas trips too. I’m completely with you about planning: I live in a country a long way from anywhere, it costs A LOT to travel, and we all want to make the most of the time we have in a place as a result. My mother isn’t as unreasonable as yours, as she doesn’t expect train schedules to bend the laws of physics, but it goes like this. Several months beforehand, and at regular intervals thereafter, I say Mum, I really want your input as to what you want to see in (for example) New York. I want to make sure we all get to see what we want to. She says yeah, yeah. I ask repeatedly for this. She never makes ANY suggestions. I eventually show her what I’ve planned (which will include things I have had to guess she in particular will enjoy). She has no comment to make. In the cab on the way to the airport to come home, she looks wistfully out the window and says “Oh, the Empire State Building. I really wanted to go there…”.

    ARGH.

    There’s more I won’t go into too much, including being completely passive when away and expecting me to run every day like a tour director, while unpredictably swerving into flying into a huff because I’m “telling her what to do”. I wish I could offer you helpful suggestions, but I never found any. Pointing out if she doesn’t see things it’s her fault for never mentioning she wanted to see them would just cause a fight. I don’t want to ruin my holiday or hers by doing that. And I also came to realise it’s pointless expecting her to change. I just gritted my teeth and hoped I was storing up treasure in heaven (and I’m an atheist!). She’s had a hard life, single mother with no money to travel on her own, so taking her on these trips was my way of trying to give her something she couldn’t have on her own dime. There’s no doubt that it significantly affected my own enjoyment of the trips, however.

    So my apologies, I don’t have any miracle solutions. (The Mom Buffer sounds great, though.) I just wanted to say I really, really hear you, and the very best of luck.

    • This is kind of passive-aggressive, and might work or might blow up in your face, but one way to deal with things like the Empire State Building comment is the line “Oh, I wish I had known that.” Delivery is key — you want to go for sorrowfully sympathetic, implying “I’m sorry” without ever actually saying it. Then, when planning the next trip, invoke the Great Tragedy of Missing the Empire State Building (Or Whatever), again as sincerely and sympathetically as you can manage. “So, Mom, is there anywhere you especially want to go? I don’t want this to end up like [Place], where you didn’t get to see [Thing].” Repeat with slight variation in wording on the first day of the trip, somewhere in the middle of the trip, and the day before the end of the trip. That last can be something like “We’ve just got one day left — is there anything you really wanted to see that we haven’t done yet?”

      If on that last day she picks something that’s actually impossible, like taking a day trip to someplace 9 hours away, or going to a museum that’s closed, don’t tell her right off that it’s impossible. “Discover” it right along with her. “Oh, you wanted to go to X? Ok, let’s look that up… Hmm, looks like that’s a 9 hour train ride. If we catch the next train there, we’ll get there around 5:30 this afternoon. Then, to get back… okay, we could catch a 9 pm train and get back here at 6 am.” (Warning: stop here only if you’re prepared for her to actually take you up on it. If not, add something like “… which wouldn’t give us enough time to check out and make our flight. Oh, that’s really too bad. I wish I’d known.”)

  63. Tattie said:

    Hi LW! I’m another regular holiday planner, and I know how awful it is when somebody just didn’t want to engage in a trip you’ve so lovingly planned. (With them in mind!) Thankfully I’ve not had anyone anywhere near as awkward as your mum to deal with, but my advice would be:

    1) Try not to take it as a personal attack. Yes, your mother might be insulting everything about a destination that you carefully chose. But she sounds like the sort of person who could find fault in *anything*. Ask yourself: if we were doing X instead, would she still be complaining? Probably.

    2) Give her your attention. This goes against some of the advice previously expressed in this thread, but I stand by it. Get to a place where you can have a proper conversation. Say “you’re clearly unhappy right now. What would you say is most bothering you?” Sometimes it’s as simple as “I’m tired, I’m achey, and I need a coffee”. Other times it’s not something that can be fixed, but allowing her to vent for five minutes could get it out of her system… for now.

    3) Don’t let yourself be bullied. You listened to her complaints, you made reasonable concessions, but this holiday is for everyone, not just her. “Mum, I know you’re not enjoying this whole trip, but brother and I have been looking forward to this visit to Château Unicorne for months. Please let *us* have fun at least. I promise we’ll do something more your style tonight.”

    If she’s really intent on ruining the holiday, then sadly she will manage to. But by treating her with grace and patience, you can at least retain the moral high ground, and your dignity. And who knows? She might surprise everyone by being tolerable after all.

  64. Liz B. said:

    Yeah – I kind of like the idea of booking hotels and transportation and then making the others plan the rest of the trip. Okay, maybe find out a little – Like we want to go to the Louvre and it’s closed Tuesday so we can’t do it Tuesday, but that could also be something everyone does together on the plane ride over.

    I think this appeals to me mostly because I am a mix between a planner and non-planner. I like to have hotels & transportation (and sometimes food) specifically planned, but then just do a list of what I want to see with opening/closing times, other things around, so I can be a little more spontaneous if something strikes my fancy.

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