Summer is the time when many families go camping, visit grandparents in another state or travel abroad. Whether your vacation is an extended weekend in New York City or a six-week, cross-country camping trip, you'll want to avoid pitfalls that can ruin good memories and family fun. You'll also want to maximize family togetherness and quality time. Here are some guidelines that can help you plan happier family vacations.
- Don't have unrealistic expectations for your vacation. Vacations won't bring together families that are experiencing serious or chronic conflict. You won't be able to have a year's worth of family fun in one or two weeks and can't save up all your "quality time" for the summer vacation.
- Don't get children over-excited and stimulated as they wait for their vacation. Too-long anticipation can lead to crushing disappointment.
- Don't spend more money than you can afford. An expensive vacation is not necessarily a happy or satisfying one.
- Don't leave home without realistic plans, including contingency plans. If you're camping, plan for rainy days. If you're touring a big city, gather information about sites, hours and activities in advance.
- Don't hurry the family through a hectic schedule of sightseeing or attraction-hopping. Children, and many adults, prefer a vacation that is leisurely and relaxing. Standing on long lines or coping with crushing crowds is not anybody's idea of fun.
- Don't take children unless you plan to make the vacation mostly child-centered. If you and your partner want to shop, eat out at fancy restaurants, visit museums, or go to the theatre, make plans for your own vacation or go some place where babysitting services are available.
Steps to a successful vacation
- Involve children in planning the vacation. Children can help with research, evaluating information, making decisions, picking travel routes and packing. Not only will you be fostering their sense of responsibility, you will understand their needs and preferences.
- Make a vacation budget and stick to it. Plan how much cash you will take and how much credit you will use. Avoid the temptation to "charge" more fun than you can afford. When the bills arrive, your wonderful memories may turn into painful ones.
- Make plans for a safe and healthy vacation. Prepare for emergencies like illness and accidents. Investigate possible health resources like doctors and hospitals upon your arrival at your vacation destination. Establish a system for reconnecting in the event family members become separated or lost. Reinforce rules for water safety and protect children from over-exposure to the sun.
- Keep vacation plans simple and flexible, especially when you're traveling with young children.
- Plan plenty of breaks. Kids will need breaks when traveling long distances in the car, visiting attractions or when they have been very active.
- Set some clear rules about eating out, snacks and treats, and souvenirs. A bad case of the "gimmes' can really ruin a vacation. Children often do not understand how much a vacation can cost. They never see the hidden costs of vacation: airfare, fuel, tolls, hotel costs, etc. All they know is that you won't let them play one more game of miniature golf or buy them some useless trinket, and they have a tantrum. In this case, the parent feels that the child is spoiled and doesn't appreciate the parent's efforts. Such hard feelings make it tough to have fun.
- Bring some things from home for kids to do in the car or hotel. There are many good books on travel games for kids in your public library.
Vacations can be a great time for families to reconnect, enjoy time together, have fun and relax. Without clear expectations and some planning, however, they can become a trial by travel, resulting in bad feelings and unpleasant memories