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Taking a break from your family

Even people who love travel find it can be stressful. And everyone's family is at least occasionally stressful. So here's a tip for holiday travel, whether you're going by plane, train or automobile: Schedule some time for yourself, by yourself. Leave the rest of the family behind (with the possible exception of your significant other) and go to a museum, take a hike, get a manicure.

Mary Karr wrote in The Liars Club: "A dysfunctional family is any family with more than one person in it." Go ahead, try and dispute it. Tell me that you don't need a break from the squabbling, the competition, the icy silences, the constant taking-measure, the compulsive games of Charade -- whatever it is about your family that starts to drive you crazy after the first 24 hours of togetherness. Uh-huh, I thought so

If your host's feelings are hurt easily, tell him or her in advance that as long as you're going to come all that way, you want to slip out and (fill in the blank). If necessary, make it something he or she doesn't enjoy and something that you can't easily do back home -- a book-reading by an author, a strenuous hike, a museum exhibit that your host would find excruciatingly dull. Guess what? They might not admit it, but they'd love to have a few hours of guest-free time to themselves too. Offer to pick up groceries or run an errand as long as you're out and about -- a signal that you're still involved.

By the time you rejoin your family, you'll find that your mental health has improved. And maybe theirs has too.