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Family Trips or Vacation, You Decide

Photo @parents

As spring is in full swing, it is natural to look towards summer and get excited for the next break. I know I am. Children and parents look forward to staying up a little later, sleeping in a bit more, and easing up on the frantic school-time schedule. This is also the time of year when families finalize plans for summer trips.

For my family, it is around this time of year that my husband and I re-hash our yearly argument. He is in charge of most of our trip planning, as he is a master of dates and details, creating novel and exciting vacations. That’s usually when I chime in and let him know that I consider these adventures less of a vacation and more of a family trip. Family trips are important opportunities to spend time together with your children, experience new places, and learn about other locations. For me, family trips does not entail sleeping until the early afternoon, feeding only myself (and maybe my husband), setting my own schedule, and reading a book without interruption. Now that is a vacation.

Although we continue to have different definitions of vacation, for me, the distinction of a family trip helps me mentally get ready for the amazing time that I am going to spend with my family. It also reminds me that I will not be getting much rest.

As you prepare all the details for your summer, consider the following guidelines to set the right tone wherever your travels take you.

  1. Don’t forget to pack your best parenting techniques

The goal of most family trips is to be in a new environment, have fun, and hopefully relax from the usually daily chaos. But your children are going to be the same children on vacation. If your children argue at home, you should expect arguing while you are away. If there are tantrums when you say no at home, you should expect the same at a hotel. I say this not to set a negative tone, but rather as a reminder to pack some parenting strategies with you while you are away. Although you may want everyone to magically become their best selves on your trip, be prepared to stay calm and have your best parenting tools ready.

2. Consider the limits and ability of each of your children

Really consider the ages of your children and their capacity. We love camping but didn’t choose this activity as a family until our youngest was 4 ½. Think about what sets your children up for success at home and be ready to do the same while away. Do you need to schedule activities around naps for younger children or anxiety about new places for older children? If you are flying, are there times that get you to your destination earlier so everyone can get settled before the first night, even if that means tickets may be a bit more expensive? If you are driving, are your children the types who need frequent breaks or the types that like to get there ASAP and be done with the journey? Planning an extra day of travel on the front end or an extra day of settling back in on the back end may shorten the trip but make it that much more successful.

3. Prepare your children for the journey

Include your children in the preparation for the trip as much as possible. In the weeks leading up to the trip, review the itinerary with them and give them some opportunities to choose activities. You can show them pictures of where you will be staying and look up some of the sites you will see. Prior to leaving, let them help you prepare with regards to packing. Younger children can be in the room with you to help choose clothes. For older children, make a packing list with the type of clothing and number of each item needed. Then go through their choices and pack the suitcase together. The more they are involved, the more excited and prepared they will be for the trip.

4. Take a vacation from technology

Family trips are opportunities to spend time with your family, so make sure you set up ground rules for when technology will be available and when it will be off limits. When you are driving or flying, electronics can be helpful for everyone involved. But consider how often phones and tablets should be available the rest of the time and model the behavior you want to see from your children. For example, take all the pictures you want, but consider sharing them on social media at night so you can focus on the activity in the moment. If you are on social media throughout the day, your children will be too. Taking a break from technology can help you shift your focus away from everyday life and focus on connecting with your family.

5. Expect the unexpected

Hopefully your trip will be smooth sailing, but if not, all is not lost. When I think back to all of our family trips, I can usually distinguish them by which child got sick/hurt. Most of our trips have included a fever, a trip to a doctor, a concussion, or vomit. Be ready to stay calm, problem solve and adjust the day’s plan as needed. That may mean dividing and conquering so that one parent is on sick duty and the other takes the children out for a day of fun. Although in the moment it may be disappointing, these experiences can also be looked back on in a few years with a chuckle and a smile.

6. Don’t forget…have fun

Remember a main reason that you are going away in the first place…to have fun with your children. Although keeping some level of schedules for younger children may be helpful, do not feel that you need to plan every single moment of every single day. Enjoy the opportunity to not be bound by your usual responsibilities, smile, and be silly. Try not to sweat the small stuff, sometimes just being together is all it takes to remember what an amazing family you have.

Whether you consider them family trips or vacations, getting away together as a family helps build connections and creates memories. Even the worst cross-country family road trip will be looked back upon 20 years later with a smile. Safe travels!

Whether you consider them family trips or vacations, getting away together as a family helps build connections and creates memories. Even the worst cross-country family road trip will be looked back upon 20 years later with a smile. Safe travels!

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