My parents have about 25 siblings, so believe me when I tell you it’s a FULL house every time the extended family decides to come together — which is every holiday, now that I think about it. I don't know if you ever unlearn being the first daughter, but I haven't. Just when I think I’m finally getting the hang of being a baby girl, the rug is swept from under me. I’m suddenly falling into an abyss of responsibility that, honestly, feels like the weight of expectations and the guilt of not living up to those expectations. This happens every time they plan a family vacation.
So, over the years, I have acquired skills and techniques that help me make it out of there with a little bit of life in me. From the perspective of the tired mildly estranged family member, here are ten ways to enjoy a family vacation:
1. Be part of the planning
There, usually, is very little to look forward to. I’m just trying to make it out of there with my mental health only slightly worse than it was before the vacation. However, if someone tells me we’ll be doing one or two things that I enjoy, I might hesitate to schedule that appointment with my therapist. The potential damage isn't looking too bad anymore. But then, sometimes, I have to specify what I want to do. This is because they all fail to know me, holiday after holiday.
Of course, being part of the planning means I have to interact with most of them when the itinerary is being put together before the trip, but I do it because my contribution could range from deciding how we get there to the first thing we do. I can make sure my tastes are catered for in both big and little ways.
2. Keep an open mind
I can be quite stubborn, so when I’ve decided I won’t enjoy something, I won’t, even before an actual disaster happens. When I'm not enjoying what I’m doing, I snap at every unfortunate fellow that crosses my path. This makes it a little hard for anyone to get me to do anything I’d usually enjoy — like food. Now I’ve learned if you’re available to be won over, it’s in your best interest as it is in everyone else’s. Look forward to things getting...comfortable, and they just might. I used to think the quote ‘life happens to you fast’ could only be used when life kicks you down, but I realised it’s also true when life hands you lemons and maybe some sugar.
3. Be entertained for as long as you can
I do this every function I can, not just on family vacations. With the attention span of a fly, I’m either immersed in what’s going on at the moment, or my brain will need to check in every once in a while. Since I’m mentally checked out of family vacations, a good game of solitaire or free cell can hold my attention for nearly an hour. The time seems like a lot to me because there's usually a child who wants something before I spend 20 minutes on my own. Downloading a few episodes of The Big Bang Theory also gives me something to indulge in when everything is finally quiet — usually, around 3 am. I get a few good laughs in, and I’ve gained enough serotonin for the next few hours I spend awake.
I am unashamed to say I prefer e-books, so my Wi-Fi connected devices are usually all the entertainment I need. However, on the days my mum feels we need to ‘unplug’, I need more concrete options. Hard copies save me on those days.
4. Make a friend
Unless your family’s taking a trip to a remote private island, at some point in time, you’ll encounter people with blood that isn’t yours. Find someone who looks like they're having a bad time. They’ll most likely be open to making a new friend too. I don’t want to end up with someone who talks shit about Taylor Swift, so first, I wait and watch. (Not like a creep, by the way. It’s more like staring telepathically. I try to say “You seem interesting, but I want to be sure before I hang out with you” … but I say with my eyes.) I also secretly wish they see me staring long enough to walk up to me and ask me what my deal is. When I hang out with someone for 30 minutes straight, everyone starts to see me wherever they see them, even when I’m not there. This usually buys me some time to just disappear — with or without my new ‘friend’.
5. Do things you’re even mildly interested in
Go to places because you heard a funny story about it; play a game because you think you can win even if it’s very hard. If you do win, you’ll gain bragging rights and most likely a lot of satisfaction. You can go from loathing every minute to looking forward to the next just because something or someone was a little interesting. Soon, interest builds into suspense, then there’s excitement around every corner.
6. Note the happy moments
Sometimes I catch myself enjoying small things like the cool of the air or beautiful scenery. I make sure to bask in those moments, committing them to memory. I like to remember the little joy I found for myself in the middle of the, honestly, not-so-joyous situation. If those moments come before or after my mother makes us drop our devices, I take a picture or make a video. I think I was inspired to write once. There was good wine and I had a great view of the sunset. The atmosphere was perfect and I had...dare I say, peace?
7. Take on a task you’ve been putting off
If you’re trying to take your mind off of something, you might as well put it on something else, right? If I’ve wanted to do something for a while but constantly put it off because of my “busy schedule”, I pick it up during family time. Some tasks (like the 25000 word coming of age book I’m writing) could be carried out from the comfort of my room. Breakfast, dinner and other instances my mother deems mandatory are the only periods I have to come out and actually be part of the family. Other tasks (like shopping for a new home appliance or even those socks I always wanted) require that I go out and interact with even more people — which is probably why I never got the tasks done in the first place. But at this point, it gives me at least an hour away from the overwhelming parts of the vacation, so I take it.
8. Research the destination
Even if you were lucky to choose, you still need information about your vacation destination. I find out interesting things that are happening in the area and let the family know that I will be unavailable on the days of those events. I gather lots of information, like if there are any curfews. (I can extend my mother’s curfew by doing an extra chore before I leave or by buying her something on my way back to thank her for taking over my responsibilities while I was gone.) As long as I’m back before any gates close, it won't be too much of a big deal anymore.
9. Get food and snacks
I get incredibly cranky when I’m hungry, so imagine how I felt the day all they left me was one slice of pizza. I'm still holding a grudge, honestly, but it did teach me a valuable lesson. Since then, I’ve made it a habit to visit the supermarket first whenever we get to the vacation destination. I buy so much junk food, I regret it when my next period comes. Yet, when the next holiday is here, I’m holding another basket full of marshmallows and cookies. If the holiday destination is somewhere with a kitchen (like an AirBnB), I could buy a bunch of plantains and hide them in my room until I give in to the delicious temptation.
10. Take a night off
The mask I wear around everyone starts to come off after about six hours. By then, everyone can see my tiredness. “Pele.” “You’re working hard today o.” “You’re tired, abi? You're already slow.” These are a few lines I hear without fail every year. Some of them are obviously sarcastic, the others I think I can blame on that tone every Nigerian aunty has. You see, none of those comments actually implies that anyone is motivated to grant me relief by taking over all the responsibility. So I keep working. At a point, I reach my limit, and even that cousin I actually like isn’t very comforting. That night, I make sure to mentally check out. On purpose, this time. Children and whole families are very engaging, so I’ve been too occupied for even my attention span — or lack of it — to save me.
I remember that it is, in fact, a vacation. I deserve a holiday too. If I have to be intentional about enjoying myself — instead of just being carefree like most other people — I can do that too.