Plan a Family Vacation That Everyone Enjoys
Tired of spending hours buried under piles of brochures and logging late nights on Internet travel sites trying to plan the next family vacation? Maybe the best travel agents are the ones wearing footie pajamas right in your own home — your kids. This vacation season, let the kids get in on the action right from the start.
"When you’re planning your vacation, definitely ask the children and get their input on where they’d like to go and what they’d like to do," says Darcy Grimes, manager of travel marketing for AAA Carolinas. "They're a big part of the trip, so it's great to hear their thoughts on the vacation."
Choosing the destination
If you and your spouse have a specific destination in mind, be clear with the kids from the start so they know that while the destination is already chosen, the rest of the details are not, and that you’re open to suggestions. But if you’re flexible about everything, from destination to the return route, let everyone brainstorm together.
After narrowing down some of the parameters, get a map and let kids know what guidelines exist. For instance, are you thinking about flying the family to a destination? Was the idea of a big amusement park high on your list? Or did you have a local, outdoor adventure in mind? You can guide the conversation to stay within your parameters: “We’d like to go camping this year for vacation. Where do you think we should camp?”
If you’ll drive to the chosen destination, draw a circle on the map around the range you’re willing to drive. If you’re thinking a road trip to Charlotte is your limit, don’t let the kids think you’ll haul to Orlando.
Use the following tips to guide the discussion:
- Give options. Especially for younger family members, provide a list of acceptable choices. For example, you could say, “We’re thinking about going to the beach this summer. Look, here’s the map. We could go to Nag’s Head, Emerald Isle or Myrtle Beach. Which one would you like to visit?” Share information about the differences among them.
- Explain limitations. Let the kids know what’s realistic, and what’s not. Be clear if your vacation budget means a week’s stay at a campground or a long weekend at a deluxe hotel with a pool.
- Keep everyone’s interests in mind. Have a brainstorming session to find out what everyone is really interested in. Your 4-year-old’s growing interest in dinosaurs might spark an idea to visit the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., which meshes well with your 10-year-old’s growing enthusiasm for American history.
Don’t forget the details
Taking care of some of the details ahead of time can help resolve potential trouble spots before they arise, and let the kids feel empowered about some of the decision-making. Let the kids help decide:
- Sleeping arrangements. If you’re in a hotel, will the kids share a bed? Guide the discussion, but let the kids hash out who gets to sleep on the cot or who gets the top bunk if you’re in a kid “suite.”
- Travel time. Be clear about how long traveling will take. If a car trip will take eight hours of straight driving, ask the kids to figure out how often they think you should stop, reminding them that more stops means a longer day. Ask them to choose what they think they need to entertain themselves in the car and give them a limit. (“Everything has to fit in this ‘backseat backpack,’” or “You can bring three items each.”)
- Schedules. If you have children of varying ages, talk about what the older kids will do when the little ones need some time to rest. Are there quiet games the older ones can pack? Let them brainstorm options such as heading to the hotel pool with one parent or trying an activity the little one wouldn’t enjoy.
Have fun before the trip
Once you know where you’re going and have some general ideas of what you’d like to do at the destination, keep the kids looking forward to the trip with pre-trip preparation activities like the following:
- Gather goodies. Especially for younger kids, hit the dollar store and let them each pick out a pre-selected number of items for a special travel bag they can either use en route or at their destination.
- Prep for photos. Pick up some low-cost digital cameras for the older kids or get a couple of disposable film cameras for them to take their own photos. Spend some time, pre-trip, to brainstorm possible photo-ops or give them a crash course in photography.
- Learn something new. If your scheduled departure isn’t for several weeks (or months!), let the kids come up with some vacation-related activities. Maybe they could research their destination: Learn about the Wright Brothers if you’re heading to the Outer Banks or check out a book on tying knots to prepare for your upcoming camping trip.
- Make some money. You know the kids will want to purchase souvenirs at the destination. Provide opportunities for them to earn extra money with vacation-related jobs prior to departure. Younger kids can fill plastic bags with pet food for the pet sitter or kennel or put batteries in flashlights for camping trips. And older kids can clean up the car (vacuuming and clearing out excess junk) or air out the tent.
With everyone involved in this season’s vacation planning, it’s sure to be a hit with the whole family.
Kathleen Reilly is a Triangle-area writer who enjoys traveling with her family.
For specific age-related suggestions on getting kids involved, check our "Trip-Prep Activities for Tots to Teens."
Get ideas on where to go based on recent new attractions from the mountains to the shore.