Thanksgiving Travel Tips: Surviving the In-Laws

by  Maryrose Mullen | Nov 21, 2012
Thanksgiving Dinner
Thanksgiving Dinner / Halfpoint/iStock

This week, millions of Americans are trekking near and far to spend Thanksgiving with beloved friends and family. They’ll also have to play catch-up with folks they would not associate with if not legally required to do so – in-laws. A recent survey conducted by Extended Stay American found most travelers will spend the weekend with relatives instead of putting up for a hotel. Chances of being backed into a corner by that one in-law you cannot stand are high, and it may seem the only choice to making it through is gritting your teeth and hoping for a stocked bar.

But if getting drunk in a locked basement with your cousins and discussing how your aunt’s boyfriend is, ugh, seriously the worst isn’t an option, there are alternative courses of action:

Look for Mutual Interests

Political and religious discussions should be as far from the dinner table as a platter of tofurkey. But one can only sustain conversations about the new wood stain on the living room floor for so long. When the well of personal anecdotes has run dry, turn to pop culture for conversation starters. Will the Giants repeat as Super Bowl champs this season? Did you catch Vice President Biden’s guest spot on Parks and Recreation? Who really shot J.R.?

If you can’t find common ground, use it as an opportunity to forge some. Bring along your favorite movie and suggest a viewing. Crank up the new album you can’t turn off. Better still, ask the in-laws what they’ve been reading or watching lately. Maybe Crazy Old Uncle Maurice is a fervent Hunger Games fan, itching to discuss whether Katniss is better suited for Peeta or Gale. One shared interest can keep a conversation rolling, instead of bringing it to a grinding halt.

Offer to Lend a Hand

Every host or hostess wants you to believe they put together a flawless, Norman Rockwell-esque holiday feast effortlessly. Hosts are under an undue amount of pressure to make each gathering the Best Holiday Ever, which can manifest as stressed out, abrasive behavior. If dinner this year is being thrown by a disliked in-law, alleviate tensions by offering to help. Wash dishes, set the table, hang up coats – if you’re feeling particularly generous, volunteer to cook a portion of the meal. Keeping occupied means less face time with the relative you’re not fond of, and their gratitude might mean they’ll return the favor when it’s your turn to run the show.

Forgo Bathing

Making family relations easier may require getting a little stinky. In Extended Stay America’s survey, maintaining a bathroom and shower schedule while lodging with relatives was the top challenge by 59 percent. Battling for bathroom hierarchy can lead to brawls, so it may be best to cut out the practice for a few days if it means keeping hold of your sanity. Sure, if Crazy Old Uncle Maurice knocks the gravy boat directly into your lap, hop in the shower at the first opportunity. But if you can subsist for two to three days on deodorant, cologne, and willpower, you may be better off leaving the bickering to everyone else.

If that sounds too extreme (or you think your odor will only make things more awkward), try showering in off-hours, when the bathroom is less likely to see traffic – early morning before anyone is awake, late afternoons, or after dinner.

Have Canned Answers At the Ready

Following bathroom scheduling, survey takers ranked “overly inquisitive relatives” as the second biggest challenge of the season. (“Are you seeing anyone? When’s the wedding? Have you started pricing out houses? Will you name the first baby after me?”) If emergency maneuvers cannot be deployed (say, by jumping out a window before being asked about job prospects), own up. Anticipate what types of questions will be leveled at you, and have answers prepared. Practice with a partner so you won’t appear frustrated at receiving the same question multiple times. When nosey relatives try to dig deeper than what you’re comfortable offering, politely dismiss them. Diffuse the conversation by asking about their lives, or change the subject. For the more persistent, excuse yourself to speak with someone else, but be ready for the cycle to start all over again.

Take a Walk

Bringing your collection of original Star Trek DVDs was a bust. Your offers to mash the potatoes were violently rebuffed. You’re covered in your nephew’s vomit and one “So when do you think you’ll meet someone?” away from descending into madness. Now is the right time to walk away. Not from your family, because that is impossible, but from the situation. Step outside, stroll around the block once or twice, and cool off. Sometimes the easiest method to surviving the holidays is taking a moment to collect yourself.

Though a major stressor of the season, traveling for the holidays can be a joy in itself.  Whether you’re venturing across the country, or driving over a few blocks, use the occasion to explore. Poke around the neighborhood for an undiscovered gem – a hidden park, or a boutique to return to later. Perhaps you’re spending the holiday in a part of the world you rarely tread. Seeking out the unknown will not only make your stay more tolerable, but will make the eventual return home more gratifying.

Failing that, you can always lock yourself in the basement with a bottle of scotch. Just don’t make it your first resort.

What’s your most effective method for coping with family? Let us know in the comments!

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