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Summer Vacations: 7 Universal Laws for Survival

Summer vacations - what better topic could there be for a mental health column than one so likely to separate you from your own mental health?

With that notion in mind, here are 7 Universal Laws for Summer Vacations.

The Law of Preparedness: It's been said that "prior planning prevents poor performance." Planning for a vacation is one of those interesting paradoxes of life: the more you plan, the more room there is to have fun.

The Law of Plan B (or C, D, etc.): If it's good to plan, then it's also good to have a back-up plan, sometimes more than one. What are you going to do if they have lost your reservation or your luggage? What are you going to do if the amusement park or other attraction you have traveled so far to see is closed for the day?

The Law of Good Time: Sometimes parents, and not just men, measure the worth of a vacation by how fast you can get from point A to point B. Sorry to disappoint you, but being able to say "we made good time" is not the mark of a good vacation.

Instead of asking "how fast can we get there?" ask "in how many ways can we make this a very good time for everybody?" Being able to say "we had a really good time" is the outcome you want. Remember, the point is not to make good time, the point is to make good memories.

The Law of "Are We There Yet?": If you are traveling with small children, it's important to remember that their concept of time is very different from ours. As a matter of fact, their perceptions and concepts of most things are very different from ours.

When it comes to state lines, time or any other conceptual area, we have to put it in terms they will understand. Several years ago my wife came up with the "finger approach" to understanding time. A finger equals one hour. So if a trip took five hours, then it was a five-finger trip.

The answer to the question "how much longeeeeeeerrrr!" then became two fingers if it was two hours. I still haven't figured out what fingers have to do with time, all I know is that it works.

The Law of Traditional Obligation: If going to the same place at the same time to see the same people works for you, then by all means go and have a good time. If you are doing it only out of drudgery and obligation, perhaps this is the year to break with tradition and begin a few traditions of your own.

The Law of Pace: Many families tell me they feel as if they need a vacation from their vacation when they return. One reason is that many folks try to schedule their vacations just as they do the rest of their lives, which results in stress, irritation and disappointment.

If your vacation goal is to see as many people, places and things in as few days as possible, you need to change your vacation goals.

For that matter, why have goals on vacation anyway?

Slow down. Perhaps even stop. Enjoy a slower pace.

I know I'm starting to relax when I wonder what day it is, and then realize it doesn't matter.

The Law of PRP: PRP stands for "Post Reinforcement Pause," which is a fancy psychological way of describing what it feels like to get back to the normal routine after lots of good stuff.

Some folks struggle with feeling a little down as they get back to normal life after a vacation. One way to handle and prepare for this is to schedule something fun two or three weeks after you get back.

Having something to look forward to always helps.

Jeff Herring, MS, LMFT, is a marriage and family therapist specializing in working with teenagers and their parents. A nationally syndicated relationship columnist and speaker, Jeff is also the founder and CEO of, where you can subscribe to his free internet newsletter "ParentingYourTeenager." E-mail Jeff at

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