Which sounds more toddler-friendly? The beach or the Louvre? What kind of a vacation would appeal to a teenager? Kayaking in whale watching territory or shopping for antiques?
The most crucial piece to planning a successful family vacation is matching the destination and the family. If you’ve traveled with another person – your husband, friends, siblings – you have hopefully learned the art of travel compromise. He hates to shop, you live for it. He spends hours and hours in museums, you like the cursory visit. Add children of varying ages and interests to the mix and you have an entirely new set of things to consider.
First, accept the fact that travel will never be the same again. Gone are the days when you could walk for hours through the labyrinth of Venice or push past meal times while you search out that historic London pub. That’s not to say it won’t be enriching, exciting, fun and stimulating. It’ll just be different. So once your mindset is adjusted, consider these tips from moms and dads whose kids have traveled so much they can find their own airplane seat, thank you very much.
- Convene a family council and talk travel (even if the only verbal family members are you and your spouse). Don’t take anything, or anybody, for granted and give everyone a vote. Even preschoolers have opinions. We all know families are not really democracies, so parents can maintain veto power, but your kids will appreciate being part of the discussion no matter what the outcome.
- Think kid-friendly destinations beyond Disneyland. Many beach resorts offer kids’ programs and babysitting. Club Med has family-oriented resorts that keep children busy all day long with educational and fun activities. Ski resorts will strap toddlers and teens on snowboards and skis, teach and feed them for most of the day. Some dude ranches have terrific riding and ranch activities designed for children. Many countries and U.S. states offer specific tips on family activities and some have “passports” your child can have stamped when he or she visits an attraction. Cruise lines have multiple options for families and are excellent because everybody can go their own direction and meet for dinner, all the happier for it.
- Research and ask lots of questions. If your chosen vacation spot advertises kid-friendly, ask for specifics. Find out costs and exactly what’s included. Ask for references then contact other families who’ve visited that spot. Go to www.tripadvisor.com and read reviews by parents.
- Travel off-season if possible. Spring break, the long Thanksgiving weekend, Christmas holidays and summer are prime time and are best avoided. Pretty hard to do when you have kids in school, but not impossible. Consider taking your child out of school for a few days before or after peak travel dates. Talk to their teacher ahead of time so your kids can make up assignment they’ll miss.
- Make it educational. Get creative and offer to have your child do a destination-specific project for extra credit. We’ve helped our kids create a Hawaiian-English dictionary, write short papers on Mexican folklore and put together a scrapbook of pictures of indigenous plant life. Sneaky way to turn a vacation into relevant education. For everyone.
- Flight plan. Avoid commuter flights (before 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m.). For long-haul trips, take advantage of overnight flights. If you’re traveling internationally, national carriers are sometimes less expansive than U.S. airlines. Reserve your seats when you make your flight reservations.