Mindful March-break travel tips

Flexibility and relaxation key to keeping March break healthy and stress-free

By Starr Cunningham

“What are we doing for March break?”

It’s a question countless children ask their parents each year and even more parents ask themselves. Yes, March break is fun, but it can also be stressful.

Throughout the years, my children have done everything from visiting our local fire station to taking week-long trips to spend time with their aunt and uncle in Toronto.

The possibilities are endless, and the price tags can vary from inexpensive (visits to the library, hikes in the park, playdates and crafts at home) to quite costly (sunny vacations to Florida and further abroad).

But beyond the finances, there’s another significant factor to consider: your mental health.

Whether you’re traveling outside the city for a day-trip or packing a suitcase to board a plane, there are some tried and true tips aimed at helping you and your family stay mentally well.

Maintaining a sleep schedule, eating well, staying hydrated, incorporating some exercise or activity into your day, and taking lots of breaks are all key mental health practices.

Dr. Alexa Bagnell is the associate chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at the IWK Health Centre. Her specialty is in the assessment and treatment of anxiety disorders in children and adolescents, as well as school psychiatry. Bagnell has some suggestions for making sure your March break travel is healthy and enjoyable.

“The more relaxed parents are, the more fun it will be for everyone,” Bagnell says.

Speaking from my own personal experience, that can sometimes be more difficult than it sounds. I still recall daytrips from almost 20 years ago that ended far too late with sleepy, hungry children in the backseat.

Bagnell says not being rushed or trying to do too much is important. She suggests prioritizing the things you really want to do and then fitting in the extras if time and energy allow.

For me, that basically means setting realistic expectations. Rather than listing all the activities you’re going to do during your trip, it would be much wiser to highlight just one or two and save the rest for consideration depending on how the day, or the week, plays out.

Bagnell believes flexibility should play a key role during your March break excursions as well.

“Many times, the best family travel stories and memories are from the unexpected or unplanned parts of the trip,” Bagnell says. “We should try to remember this when travel curve balls occur!”

And occur they will. My 16-year-old daughter, Lily, and I were recently reminiscing about family trips that came with stubbed and bloodied toes, unexpected stomach ailments, and last-minute weather woes. I guess there’s a reason for that saying regarding best-laid plans.

In the last edition of Our Children, I wrote about the importance of self-care. Bagnell says we shouldn’t forget about that when we’re away from home. She emphasizes the need for parents to take care of themselves while traveling too.

And no matter where you are, it’s always a good idea to encourage breaks from electronics. Engaging with the family doesn’t mean you can’t still play games. Bagnell recommends thinking back to your own childhood to come up with some plane, train, and automobile entertainment.

“Remember I Spy and the Alphabet Game (‘I packed my bag to go on vacation and I brought _____!’ – starting with A, B, C, etc.),” Bagnell suggests.

And finally, just have fun! March break can be a time for making life-long memories without having to take a break from your family’s good mental health habits. It’s all about remembering to pack your regular routine along with your healthy snacks and sunscreen.

Happy March break!

Starr Cunningham is the president and CEO of the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia. She’s an acclaimed journalist, best-selling children’s author, and volunteer. She was recently recognized as a Canadian Difference Maker—150 Leading Canadians for Mental Health and is a winner of the Northwood Foundation 2017 Live More Advocacy Award.

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