Summer breaks are a blessing. The days are long, the sun is warm, and school’s out of session. If there is anything that can add more joy to the already delightful season, it’s a family vacation—an escape from the rigorous academic routine that can take a toll on our little angels. Sadly, for most kids, the stark contrast between their expectations of summer and reality can take the fun out of their breaks. And for parents, this can bring disappointment, exhaustion, and a feeling of utter failure.
For one, taking care of children’s needs means keeping track of food, clothes, entertainment, and medical issues, the thought of which can overwhelm even the most responsible of Moms and Dads. It gets even more demanding for those whose kids have special needs. Notwithstanding these challenges, a getaway with your family can be fun and a great learning experience, as there are a million places you can go and lots of activities you can engage in to ensure you all have a swell time.
Just like you, many parents are going through the hustle of finding a sweet spot. In fact, reports reveal that 95% of family travelers prioritize keeping their families entertained and happy, which is why in this guide, we’ve detailed the ultimate checklist for the near-perfect family vacation.
As parents, we often make the mistake of doing all the planning ourselves for several reasons. For one, we believe we know what our kids want, and we also want to stick to our budget, prioritize safety, and consider practicality—which isn’t entirely wrong. However, this approach puts our children in a position where they feel like they’re just along for the ride, not actively part of it. In simpler terms, we turn it into “our vacation” rather than theirs. The result is an uncomfortable family trip that leaves a bitter taste in their mouth.
Consider discussing vacation plans with your kids. They might be young, but this is a way to teach them the value of teamwork in planning. Kids are generally more excited about participating in activities they’ve helped plan. With their interests taken into account during the decision-making process, it becomes easier for them to take ownership of the decision and compromise where needed.
But as you plan together, keep an eye on a few things to avoid making the process overly demanding for your child:
- Create a tentative plan or list of activities and take a vote on what everyone wants to do.
- Don’t force your kids to join the brainstorming process if they’re not keen, as this can be counterproductive.
- Avoid planning too many activities per day; let the children’s age determine how many activities you can organize.
- Be prepared to let go of some activities to accommodate new choices. You may have to improvise.
- Remember to have an open-ended discussion with your kids about how they’re feeling, what they want to do next, and whether they’re getting tired.
Before deciding on your destination, consider the age and interests of your children. It helps to choose locations that offer a blend of family-friendly enjoyment and relaxation. Take, for example, Hersheypark in Hershey, Pennsylvania. This family theme park combines an amusement park, a water park, and a wildlife park in a single location. Its delightful themed areas include Hershey’s Chocolatetown, Pioneer Frontier, Founder’s Way, Kissing Tower Hill, Carousel Circle, and Midway America.
There, your children can indulge in sweet treats, learn about the chocolate-making process, enjoy interactive gaming with the Reese’s Cupfusion ride, experience popular rides like the SkyRush roller coaster, and have a blast on water rides like the Frontier Flyers and the Coal Cracker. Keep in mind that not all destinations that are fun would necessarily captivate your child’s interest. Some may be child-friendly but more tailored to adults.
Notable examples include an Alaska fishing adventure, a NASCAR experience in Charlotte, North Carolina, or an art exploration in Santa Fe, New Mexico, all of which might be fun for you and your partner, but likely boring for your kids.
While there are hundreds of travel advisors, you want to choose one that specializes in family vacations. Such professionals understand your specific travel needs and preferences, enabling them to craft an ideal itinerary for you and your family. Recent research indicates a growing inclination, with 52 percent of families now opting for family advisors to plan and book their trips. This marks a substantial rise from the reported 17 percent in 2021.
It’s also worth mentioning that most travel advisors have a list of contacts and destinations they work with, which means that you’ll get good advice on the best locations for family vacations. To find a suitable travel advisor, you can get recommendations from family and friends who have used their services or have a look at Leadar to pick the most suitable match for your family.
In a world that revolves around technology, documenting memories has never been easier. However, you don’t want your vacation to turn into a constant “Take a picture” session, as this could leave everyone stressed. So, consider a mix of activities that incorporate other tools. You can encourage your kids to document the trip through drawing or a travel journal. This way, they can be creative with their thoughts and express their experiences.
If you prefer photography, you can get a disposable camera for each child, teaching them how to use it and ensuring that they capture their own highlights. At the end of the trip, you can develop the films, store them in memory albums, and review them with the kids to relive the experience together. Video recordings are another great way to capture precious moments.
The attention spans of children differ and depend on age. So, if you’re traveling with an infant, you’re likely to have fewer stops than if you’re traveling with a toddler. Toddlers are known to be more physically active and therefore require more frequent stops. For older children, you may need to plan shorter routes that are easier to manage—meaning a long-distance travel plan will require several stopovers to allow for rest, meals, and stretching.
You can also make a game of road trips, such as playing the ABCs of your destination. When you find a road sign that starts with an A, for example, the first person to spot it and call out aloud gets to choose the next letter and the person who spots it gets the next turn. This turns the travel time into an opportunity for educational engagement, as you can quiz your kids on road signs, landmarks, or the geography of the place you’re visiting.
A family vacation is undoubtedly a worthwhile investment in strengthening family bonds. However, the true success lies in making the trip enjoyable for everyone, especially your little ones, of which we’ve discussed the precursors in this guide. These guidelines aren’t set in stone, as even the best-laid plans don’t always work out. So, you must be adaptable enough to improvise when situations arise.