When someone asks me to describe my fondest childhood memories, I always respond with the vacations we took as a family. Some of you share similar fond memories, while some of you have only horror stories as you recollect those times of family togetherness. Yes, family travels can be terrific or they can be terrifying. Although often the unforeseen can arise on a vacation, we still have the ability to take any vacation and make it a great vacation.
What makes a terrific vacation? There are three main ingredients to success. It begins with wise planning. I know that the best laid plans can (or will) go awry, so the next ingredient for terrific vacations is to remain flexible. The third ingredient for success is a good attitude. Honestly, it doesn’t really matter where you go, what you do or what happens along the way, if you have these three ingredients you will most likely have a successful trip.
What? We don’t need lots of money, first class tickets and a luxury hotel? No, in fact I know many people that can attest to the fact that extravagance won’t guarantee a good vacation. The material stuff is not essential. Even the destination is not all that important. It’s the preparation, the flexibility and the attitude that make it an enjoyable experience. Let’s explore how to make it happen.
Plan, but don’t over schedule. There is a healthy balance. Do the research ahead of time to find out what is worth doing, seeing and visiting at your destination. As much as humanly possible, keep the activities age appropriate (Don’t drag a three year old to ancient artifacts museum and avoid taking a teenager to a children’s playground). Do your homework via books, magazines, friends and internet. More importantly as your kids get older, assign the research to them. This will build their excitement about the trip and help them take ownership of the experience.
Using your research, create a list of opportunities, activities and interests that you can do on the trip. Have each family member circle one or two activities on the list that they especially want to do. Instead of scheduling every moment of each day, consider going over your list each morning during breakfast and choose one or two activities to do that day. This system helps you plan around the weather for that day and takes into account how family members are feeling physically (tired, energetic, sickly).
Plan your destination carefully. I’ve interviewed many families for this chapter and have heard the good, the bad and the ugly about family vacations. Two suggestions (or perhaps I should call them warnings) surfaced in my discussions. One was “Don’t take five kids, stuff them in a car with nothing to do and drive non-stop for six hours.” This is a prescription for misery for both parents and children whether you are traveling via car or plane. The other suggestion was, “If you have a wide variance of ages in the family, try to go to a place that has a little something for everyone.” Let’s tackle both of these warnings with a positive plan.
1. Make travel time enjoyable. Perhaps the most effective way to make travel time a success (whether you are on the road or in the air) is to prepare a Travel Goody Bag for each child. This can be a simple bag of goodies which you hand the kids right before you begin the journey. Customize the bags to your child’s interests and age. You will want to include a snack and a small drink, a simple game or book, colored pencils or markers, a journal or coloring book or puzzle book, and perhaps a small toy. For older kids you may want to give them a favorite CD for their player with earphones!
Plan to stop along the way. Do a little research to find out a good restaurant or park or place of interest along the route. When it comes to kids, your trip will be much more enjoyable if you offer a few bathroom breaks as well as a chance to stretch their legs. Certain auto clubs like AAA (aaa.com) will help you plan out a trip.
Add some entertainment. Many families now take their DVD, laptop or video in the car to watch movies the entire way. I do think movies help the trip go much faster and make the traveling much more enjoyable. You may want to also include a book on tape (or CD). I want to encourage you to leave some room for interaction or to talk about the trip itself. One fond memory that I have is of my mother reading a passage of the Bible to us during car trips. For younger kids you can have a story hour or even bring a long a puppet for entertainment.
Play a few travel games. Stimulate the brain and add some family interaction with good ole travel games. Here are a few to consider
• ABC Adventure – One family member begins by saying something like, “I’m Anne. I’m driving in an Automobile, and I’m going to Alabama.” The next person says a name that starts with a B (like Brittany), traveling in something that starts with a B (like a boat) and going to a destination that starts with a B (Bermuda). On so on throughout the alphabet.
• I Spy (Magazine Version) – Before the trip tear out pictures from magazines of objects you could possibly see out of the window as you travel (barns, houses, cows, people, planes). Find 3 or 4 per family member. Place the pictures face down and allow each person to take several. When the driver says go, everyone looks at their pictures. The first person to spy objects that match each of their pictures wins. You can then scramble the pictures and play again.
• 20 Questions – You start off saying, “I’m thinking of a place.” A family member responds, “Is it in America?” Each question demands only a yes or no response. If you make it through twenty questions and no one had guessed what you are thinking of then you win. If someone guesses wrong, they are out. If someone guesses correctly before twenty questions are asked, they become the winner and start a new round. You can begin with a person, place or thing.
• Car Trip Sing Along – You may want to bring a sing along tape, or if you are musically talented then you can do it yourself. Start with some of the kids favorites. Add in familiar songs from church, camp and patriotic songs. My favorites are: “Do your Ears Hang Low,” “This Little Light of Mine,” and “I’ve Got that Joy, Joy, Joy down in my Heart.”
For more ideas check out Karol Ladd’s book A Positive Plan for More Fun, Less Whining