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10 Strategies to Survive Staying with Family Over the Holidays

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Staying with family is great in many ways. You have time to catch up and make new memories, and you don’t have to pay for a hotel. But you’ll pay in other ways, such as having to sleep on an air mattress and sacrificing alone time. Here’s how to survive an extended stay with relatives this holiday season.

Make Your Bed More Comfortable 

woman sleeping on sofa

Relegated to a futon, air mattress, or pull-out couch? There are a few things you can do to make your sleeping arrangement more comfortable. Air mattresses get colder than real beds (the air inside cools overnight, making you chilly). Pad it with extra blankets, or use a sleep sack, which is easy to pack and provides a ton of warmth. I’ve used this one by Blue Water to stay warm while sleeping on planes and while camping, and it really works.

Push the air mattress up against the wall if possible so your pillows don’t fall off while you sleep, and put a blanket or a yoga mat underneath the mattress to make it less noisy when you move around.

For futons or rock-hard mattresses, a self-inflating sleeping pad is easy to use and will save your back.

Even if you’re staying in a great guest room, most normal bedrooms don’t come with blackout curtains like those you’ll find at hotels, so be sure to pack an eye mask that will block out light. This mask is contoured to allow for eye movement during sleep, but still prevents light from getting in.

Earplugs are also essential if you’re a light sleeper (or just go to bed earlier/get up later than other people in the house). Or bring a travel-sized white noise machine if you really want to drown out the world.

Stuck in the living room? You could go all out and pack a privacy pop-up indoor bed tent if you want to make a statement about the importance of alone time.

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Don’t Forget to Breathe

Hand turn on aroma oil diffuser the table at home 

Getting stressed? Take a deep breath to help relax. If you’re staying in an environment that you’re not used to (for example, sharing a house with smokers or pets when you’re allergic), bring along a tiny travel air purifier for your room. This can make a big difference and help you breathe easier.

Get Some Quiet Time

woman talking dog for a wlak autumn 

Spending time with other people 24/7 can be tough. But you’re going to be a better guest and family member if you take some solo time to decompress each day. Take a walk, or excuse yourself to take a nap and use the time to sleep or read. If you’re coming home to a deadline-driven family, you could appear busy while also carving out alone time by offering to run errands on your own.

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Stay Charged and Connected

mother daughter sofa cell phones

If a big group is staying at your family’s house, the Wi-Fi will get overwhelmed quickly. If it’s important to you to stay online, bring along a Wi-Fi hotspot so you avoid the frustration of slow internet. A travel-sized power strip can also save the day if everyone is fighting over one outlet to charge gadgets.

Work Out

asian woman jogging

There’s a reason the Thanksgiving Turkey Trot is so popular. Whether you head out in the morning for a quick run or get a day pass to a local gym, working out can give you an excuse to get out of the house for a bit. Exercise is also a proven stress reducer and mood enhancer, and will also make you feel less guilty about eating all that home-cooked food.

Knit running shoes like Nike Frees are lightweight and easy to pack, so bring a pair with you. You can also use them to go for a walk with the family after a big holiday dinner.

Can’t get out of the house? Pack exercise bands, which take up minimal space and can be used for an easy at-home workout (or to stretch after a long travel day or a rough night on the couch).

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Don’t Dominate the Bathroom

African american girl brushing teeth with dad

Chances are, you won’t have a private bathroom while staying with family, so don’t leave your toiletries scattered all over the sink and shower. This innovative bag is a great solution, as it lets you lay out all your toiletries on a flat surface to use; when you’re done, simply fold it up and take it back to your room.

Be Your Own Climate Control

drawer of sweaters

 

Unlike at a hotel, you don’t get control over the thermostat when staying with family. If you know the house is going to be cold, pack extra layers. In shoe-free houses, travel slippers keep you comfy. Merino wool sweaters are easy to layer without looking out of place, and a pashmina can double as a blanket. House too hot? A portable fan can be a lifesaver, and also act as a white noise machine at night.

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Pack Modest Pajamas and a Robe

mom daughter holiday pajamas

You probably don’t think twice about what you pack for sleepwear at a hotel, but you might want something a little more modest if you’re staying in someone’s home. Don’t forget to pack pajamas and a robe you won’t be embarrassed to be seen in, for those middle-of-the-night bathroom trips.

Bring Board Games

board games family table

Worried about being bored? Pack travel-sized games that are fun for the whole family. Family Feud, UNO, and Scrabble are all good choices (depending on how competitive the crowd is).

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Offer to Grocery Shop, Cook, or Buy Dinner

woman making dinner

Try to make your visit as easy on the host as possible. Just because it’s your family doesn’t mean they’re responsible for cleaning up after you and cooking every meal. Show up with a restaurant gift card to let them know a few meals are on you, or offer to go grocery shopping and cook for everyone while you’re there.

Be Appreciative

macaroons box

Your presence is not your present. Make sure to show appreciation to your host for putting you up. A thank you note is never a bad idea. Some good gift ideas include: a bottle of wine and a wine chiller, a gift basket full of tasty treats, an easy-to-care-for plant, or a framed family photo.

What to Pack on Your Trip

Staying with the family can be both a joy a struggle, but it’s nothing some retail therapy can’t fix. Dress to impress this holiday season with some favorite styles from Madewell, Everlane, and more.

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

Don’t Come Empty Handed

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Caroline Morse Teel is a Senior Editor at SmarterTravel. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for photos from around the world. 

By Caroline Morse Teel

Unfortunately for her bank account, Principal Editor Caroline Morse Teel is powerless to resist a good flight deal. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline.

Caroline joined Boston-based SmarterTravel in 2011 after living in Ireland, London, and Manhattan. She's traveled to all seven continents, jumped out of planes, and bungeed off bridges in the pursuit of a good story. She loves exploring off-the-beaten path destinations, anything outdoorsy, and all things adventure.

Her stories have also appeared online at USA Today, Business Insider, Huffington Post, Yahoo, Boston.com, TripAdvisor, Buzzfeed, Jetsetter, Oyster, Airfarewatchdog, and others.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "Earplugs. A good pair has saved my sleep and sanity many times!"

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: Hiking Mount Kilimanjaro.

Travel Motto: "Don't be boring."

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: "Aisle (when the first class private suite isn't available)."

E-mail her at cmorse@smartertravel.com.

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