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—and not-so-fun for other reasons ranging from sleeping on an air mattress to zero alone time. Here’s how to survive an extended stay with relatives this holiday season.
Make Your Bed More Comfortable
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 Grand Trunk 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, Bose’s new noise-masking sleepbuds function as both earplugs and a soothing white noise player, 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.
Don’t Forget to Breathe
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
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.
Pack a travel-sized white noise machine to give yourself some peace and quiet at night to help you sleep.
Stay Charged & Connected
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.
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).
Don’t Dominate the Bathroom
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 waterproof bag is a great invention, 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
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. For shoe-free houses, travel slippers can be life-saving. Merino wool sweaters are easy to layer without looking out of place, and a pashmina can double as a blanket.
Pack Modest Pajamas and a Robe
You probably don’t think twice about what you pack for sleepwear for a hotel stay, but you’ll 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
Worried about being bored? Pack travel-sized games that are fun for the whole family. Family Feud, HedBanz, UNO, and Trekking the National Parks are all good choices (depending on how competitive the crowd is).
Offer to Grocery Shop, Cook, or Buy Dinner
Try to make your visit as easy on the host as possible. Just because it’s your family doesn’t mean they’re now 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 while you’re there.
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.
More from SmarterTravel:
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Caroline Morse Teel is a Senior Editor at SmarterTravel. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for photos from around the world.