How to Plan Your Next Family Vacation
All this time you’ve had it all wrong.
The most “impressive” thing about our year away together as a family of four traveling the world isn’t that we hit six continents and 29 countries. It’s that we came back as a family, fully intact and with only a few scars of our “togetherness” to show for it. You know what I mean.
You too have started conversations with “Don’t get me wrong, I love my husband but…” or “It’s not that I don’t want to spend time with the kids, it’s just that…” I know you have because so many of you have taken the time to write to me to ask the question that the rest of you are thinking: “How did that saint of a woman manage to hang out with her family for all that time?”
(Okay, okay so maybe “Saint” wasn’t used exactly…)
Anyhooo…The answer isn’t simple but I do think there are some common mistakes we make as parents that can end up jeopardizing our family travel happiness.
Want to make this summer’s trips better? Thinking of a longer term getaway and want to come back more (not less) in love with your loved ones? Keep these things in mind:
1. Plan it together
You may think you know what would make a great family vacation but you might be surprised at what your partner or your kids will tell you. Gather the family together and try to get a sense of what everyone is looking for out of this trip. Is this about relaxing? Having an Adventure? Seeing as much as you can? Having a few conversations about what everyone needs will help you to better plan a trip that doesn’t leave you feeling like you never had a vacation when you get home. Even younger kids can participate. For our year away we put up a big Post-it note on the wall and had the kids write down the experiences they wanted to have on the road (sky diving, ice cream for breakfast, pyramid touching, chocolate croissant eating…) and then we tried to work some of those experiences (swapped a hot air balloon ride for skydiving because I’m not completely insane) into the trip.
2. Set some ground rules
It’s so easy for a vacation to get away from you. You wanted to spend quality time with the family but the kids spotted the kids’ club and you haven’t seen them since. Or your partner thought the “no gadgets on the trip” rule was only for the kids and now your downtime consists of him/her playing fantasy football online. If you set some rules before you leave home you’re likely to get more adherence to the rules once you’re on the road.
We had the “You have to eat what’s available” rule for our trip and so our picky eater knew that he’d have to try new things at some point. When the time came, he went for it and fell in love with seafood. The trick is to give everyone, especially kids, a lot of advance notice about what the rules are and how they’ll work, so no one is surprised when they’re enforced.
3. Pack light
It’s one of the easiest ways to sidetrack your travels: Over packing happens when you’re trying to bring home with you. The best part of travel is when you are free to explore and experience a place without feeling weighed down or trapped by what you have to carry. We took one bag each with us on our trip around the world, which meant that our hands were free to hold on to the kids, take photos and generally experience the place. We packed for a year as if we were taking a two-week vacation. If you’re only going to be there for two weeks? Pack even less. Limit the amount of electronic gadgets and other distractions that are going to take away from your travels and leave you worrying about having them get lost or stolen. A lot of hotels and destinations have games rooms where you can play board games, borrow a book or play cards. No need to bring it all with you.
4. Do Good
I was lucky enough to visit one of Me to We’s Family Adventure camps in the Masai Mara, Kenya. The camps offer families a vacation option that includes delicious meals, safari opportunities and community development interaction. While I was there our group participated in building a wing of an all girl’s secondary school and a maternity ward. This is the type of trip that is going to leave you all feeling good about the time you shared together and leave a lasting legacy. And because you are living comfortably in glamping style tents and cottage accommodation it makes a great inter-generational option too.
Plenty of other companies offer great opportunities to give back. that range from donating a portion of your trip to offsetting your carbon emissions. And many hotels offer opportunities to add a “giving back” option to your stay where you can help out at an orphanage or purchase souvenirs directly from local craftsman. I’ve found that the more hands on you can be, the more it’ll make a lasting impact on your family.
Do some research to make sure you’re comfortable with the companies you’re working with. Going with a friend’s recommendation is usually a good bet.
- Challenge Yourselves
Doing an adventure as a family has a double effect. It forces everyone to step a little bit out of his or her element and it unites you in a memory that will last a lifetime.
On our trip to Saguenay, Quebec we tried Via Ferrata. It’s essentially horizontally – and sometimes vertically – scaling the side of a cliff face while harnessed in and attached to a cable. Is that something I typically do on a Tuesday afternoon? Absolutely not. But there are so many of these types of soft adventures across the country that allow you to try something new with your family while still staying safe.
We had a similar adventure last summer with G Adventures in Costa Rica. G is a great Canadian company that offers the rugged active trips they’re known for now tailored for families with kids as young as five. We were zip lining through the trees and doing things that the kids weren’t necessarily expecting their parents to do and again it made for great memories.
The results of the trip were kids that felt they’d had an adventure and pictures we still chat about today.