Can staying with relatives ever be a holiday?

ALONE TIME: It's best to base yourself in one place and then take mini-breaks during your stay.
ALONE TIME: It's best to base yourself in one place and then take mini-breaks during your stay.

Can staying with relatives ever be a holiday?

With Christmas around the corner, the thought of spending a large chunk of time with relatives may be on your mind - in a positive or not-so-positive way.

There will be plenty of us visiting friends or relatives in other countries. 

DEEP BREATH: The thought of spending the holidays with family can be a positive or not-so-positive thing.
DEEP BREATH: The thought of spending the holidays with family can be a positive or not-so-positive thing.

Whether it is by choice or necessity, staying with other people can be entertaining, hard, stressful, relaxing or scream-worthy - sometimes all of the above.

And having extras lodging in your own home can be all of that - plus expensive.

A survey in Britain points to a rise in the "relation vacation", or people having a holiday by staying with family and friends.

Nearly half the 2000 respondents said they had taken or planned to take an overseas holiday that way.

Financial pressure was a key factor, with 22 per cent saying they could not afford a holiday unless they stayed with family and friends. The average saving on accommodation was about A$750 ($818) a week.

An honest 11 per cent of respondents said they stayed in touch with friends and family only to take advantage of the free accommodation. Ouch.

Another factor driving the "relation vacation" is the large number of expats and mixed-nationality relationships around the globe.

The more we venture overseas and shack up with people with passports from other nations, the more we open ourselves to extended periods with relatives under the roof.

The "visiting friends and relatives" or "VFR" market has been growing strongly and steadily in recent years.

The latest forecast from Tourism Research Australia says VFR traffic to Australia is expected to grow by 7 per cent this financial year, which is faster than holiday or business traffic.

There will also be plenty of Australians going to see friends or relatives in other countries, with outbound VFR traffic expected to grow by about 6 per cent this financial year.

Not surprisingly, New Zealand is the number one destination for VFR trips, with the US and Indonesia battling it out for second place.

Thailand is also a popular destination for us to visit friends and relatives, followed by Britain, China, Fiji, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

If you think you are safe because your rellies are closer to home, do not get too smug: VFR travel within Australia is also expected to grow in coming years.

So, if you are lucky enough to be happiest when surrounded by your family, feel free to stop reading now.

If you're more in the hard/stressful/scream-worthy category, I'm happy to share a few ideas. My husband is from overseas, so family visits tend to be more like a month than a few days - in both directions.

It does not make sense to fly all that way for the sake of a short trip, plus there are many people to catch up with when we go.

Sure, we could find other accommodation but the point of going is to spend time with family. Not to mention that it would cost a fortune to pay for accommodation for a month.

While I have not been terribly successful with it myself, I recommend trying to set some ground rules about how you spend your time, with a reminder that it is your holiday as well as a family visit.

I also recommend avoiding the "relative hop", where you drag yourselves all over the countryside doing duty visits and trying to do the right thing by everybody.

Having already travelled from the other side of the world, we have learnt to let people know where we will be and when; you soon find out who really wants to see you.

The best balance we have struck is basing ourselves in one place and taking mini-breaks (chosen without obligation) during our stay.

On our last visit, we spent weekdays with family and weekends away with friends, which was hazardous for the liver but made it more of a holiday.

Another option is to float the idea of meeting friends or relatives halfway, on neutral ground. What you spend on accommodation you could save on airfares, while being on neutral ground takes away the "hosting" factor.

Another strategy that has worked for us is making the most of stopovers, so you get a little holiday on the way there, or on the way home, or both. Even a couple of days can be a sanity saver.

Sydney Morning Herald