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.
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.