Choosing the Right Vacation for Your Family

Choosing the Right Vacation for Your Family

What Flavor is Your Vacation?

Not long ago, one of our writers, Allison, who works as a travel agent, posted a question on her Facebook fanpage. She asked us what kind of vacation we preferred – beach, mountains, theme parks, etc. – and the answers were interesting to read. They didn’t reflect the actual place that the person wanted to visit as much as they did the type or flavor of vacation each person desired. For example, some people said they preferred to be outdoors in a place with a lot of activities available while others said they would rather lie on a warm beach without distraction. Overwhelmingly, it was the pace and not the place of the vacation that determined its flavor.

Last Fall, my family went on vacation to my mom’s house. Many thought that this didn’t sound very “vacationy” but, for us, it is. We have a great relationship with my mom and stepdad, it costs very little money (a must at this point in our lives) and they live in a beautiful house at the end of a secluded cul-de-sac, nestled on the side of a mountain just outside of Gettysburg, PA. It is peaceful but surrounded by a wide variety of things to do. We’ve enjoyed making this week-long trek every October for almost four years.

Unfortunately, this year we didn’t respect the flavor of our beloved vacation. We all prefer different things on our vacation. I like to sleep-in and just relax, my husband likes some time to himself to visit historical sites and wineries. The kids want to spend time with Nanny and have fun…lots of fun. Last year, however, we tried to cram too much onto the agenda. My husband had some work commitments in the area and it seemed practical to combine those appointments with our vacation. It would save money on gas and I could have the help with the kids while he was away at a conference for a few days. The problem is that a week isn’t nearly as long as you think it is and sometimes practicality shouldn’t be the deciding factor.

We ended up nit-picking at each other, complaining about who spent time doing what, who went where and who didn’t and feeling like we had to pile too much activity into a shorter period of time. No one’s need for rest were adequately met. We had done the same thing with a vacation the previous summer, as well, so you’d think we would have learned our lesson but apparently we needed a refresher.

So, how can you plan a vacation that’s right for your family and make sure that everyone’s needs are met? After our last vacation train-wreck, I came up with a few observations to help us when mapping out our next vacation. Perhaps you’ll find them helpful, as well.

  1. Keep your vacation sacred. It is your family’s time to rest and reconnect, not your time to get things done or multi-task. Vacations are time to VACATE – disconnect from daily activity and work. Often we have a harder time letting go of work than work is at letting go of us. Try using your next vacation as a way of prioritizing your family. Let them know that they are important to you…more important than work. Be prepared to prove it by leaving work (cell phone, laptop, work files) at work.
  2. What does everyone want to do? Talk to everyone in your family about their expectations for the vacation before you even put pen to planner. In fact, once you’ve decided you want to go on vacation this should be the very next discussion. For example, is mom willing to do laundry and cook? If not, then you’d better nix that shore house. Does someone in the family loathe getting dirty at all and need a shower every day? Then perhaps you should rethink that camping trip. Did Suzi have knee surgery? The trip to Disney might need to wait.
  3. Be aware of the needs of each person involved in the vacation and respect their personality. Not everyone likes to pack their vacation days full running from site to tour to local hotspot and some people get bored after sitting still for 15 minutes. If someone in your family likes to spend most of their vacation relaxing then provide sufficient time for that. In the same vein, if you are the relaxer, don’t be offended if the tourists in the family leave you behind at poolside every now and then to go for a hike or a sunset cruise. It’s okay to do things separately on vacation if it means that everyone is having their needs met. However, make sure that you are intentionally coming together, as well. Families are about compromise and that includes vacation.
  4. Have fun. It’s important to know what that looks like for each person in your family and respect it without complaint. If Dad is a history buff then give him some time to tour the battlefields and peruse the museums without listening to you huff and puff in irritation every time he stops to read a plaque. If the kids are bored then make some time to get their opinion on what looks fun and check that out, as well. See step #2 (above) to help keep this problem at bay.
  5. Be realistic with your schedule and make sure you rest. One of the biggest problems that we have in our society is over-scheduling. This includes vacation activity. It’s okay if you can’t do everything that’s available to do on vacation. It is not okay to drag your exhausted family kicking and screaming to that rodeo show because you already pre-ordered the tickets. Make sure you have free or flex time available in your vacation schedule each day. You may find something interesting to do that you hadn’t anticipated. It is easier to add things to a schedule that is too open than to back down on pre-scheduled activities.
  6. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to be fun. For some of you this is a novel concept but it’s true. You might be pleasantly surprised to learn how much fun you can have on-the-cheap. During our vacation, my mom treated my kids to a trip to the zoo only to come home lamenting the complete waste of money. The kids spent more time climbing rocks and chasing each other than they did looking at the animals. Instead, they would have been perfectly content to eat a picnic lunch at “Nanny’s Park” (the playground just down the road from my mom’s house) and saved the hassle and cost of the zoo trip. It isn’t necessary to stay at a posh resort or drop hundreds of dollars at a family theme park to build lasting memories for your family. Regardless of where your neighbors go for vacation, if you can’t afford it then don’t go. If you have to put it on a credit card then you can’t afford it.
  7. Your family is more important than your vacation. Our family mantra is people are more important than things. Vacationing at the expense of your family, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, is the exact opposite of what you should be trying to accomplish. If your trip is erupting in constant conflict then it’s time to stop, re-evaluate the expectations and force some family bonding. Get it out on the table. Pull over, find a restaurant, call a family meeting…whatever it takes. Work it out. You’re the adult, so act like it. Vacation is supposed to be a time of family renewal, not a time for adding fuel to the family feud.

Hopefully my husband and I can remember to carry these lessons into our next vacation together so that we can savor the flavor of a sweet time together rather than the bitter taste of smoke from the vacation that went down in flames.