By Thomas Haller and Chick Moorman
Summer is fast approaching and school is coming to an end. Soon it will be time to load the family in the car and head down the road on a vacation you hope will be more than fun for all.
Perhaps you're thinking of vacationing somewhere new this year and taking in the sights of our beautiful country. Or maybe you're planning on spending some much- needed R & R around a campfire at your favorite campground. Whether you plan to vacation for a full week or a few long weekends, how you prepare the family can make or break this year's vacation. The ten tips below can help you make this year's family vacation the best ever.
#1 ESTABLISH A MUTUAL PLAN: Allow every member of the family to have input on the type of vacation and/or activities they would like to experience. Pick a destination together. Reach consensus on what type of vacation you want to create. Then brainstorm all the possible sites to visit and potential activities. Build a list of things you want to do, making sure that each family member has a top priority on the list. When everyone has a say, you build commitment and lower resistance.
If your children are younger, establish the destination with your spouse, and then discuss with your children various options about what to do when you get there. As your children get older, increase their input on decisions.
By allowing every family member to have input, ownership is established. Each family member can now look forward to the specific part he or she desires while allowing other family members to enjoy their special preferences.
#2 VACATION WITHIN YOUR FINANCIAL MEANS: Plan a vacation that you know you can afford. Stress builds as the money dwindles. Do only what you can afford to do. If you can't afford to take a vacation the way you'd like, plan to take that vacation at a later date and get everyone involved in building the funds to do so. Agree that for now you will vacation within the limits of what the family can afford. This models fiscal responsibility for your children and teaches them to work and save for something desirable.
#3 STICK TO THE CHILDREN'S REGULAR DAILY SCHEDULE/ROUTINE: The younger the child, the more important it is to stick to your regular schedule. While on vacation, children under the age of ten need to go to bed, get up, and eat at the same times they normally do. Young children's bodies are not able to adjust quickly to time changes and schedule adjustments. The more adjustments in their traditional schedules your children are called upon to make, the more mood swings and irritability you're likely to encounter. For a less stressful, more relaxed vacation, keep the changes in schedule to a minimum.
#4 BE FLEXIBLE: No matter what the plan, be willing and able to adjust it. No matter how well you planned beforehand, surprises and unexpected events will occur. Flexibility allows you to bring variability and energy to your vacation plan. When roadblocks occur, stubbornly insisting that the plan be precisely followed can create unwelcome tension. Relax and roll with the punches.
#5 DON'T ATTEMPT TO DO IT ALL: Slow down. The more you and your family members attempt to "fit it all in," the greater the chance that irritability and frustration will occur. Set a steady pace that attempts to accomplish a little bit of the plan at a time. Don't push to accomplish everything on your list. Remember, a vacation is about enjoying and savoring time away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
#6 REMEMBER THAT BOREDOM IS A CHOICE: When traveling (especially by car), take a variety of games, toys, books, and videos to occupy time. Be creative. The words "I'm bored" or "This is boring" are cues that it's time to make a different choice and change to another activity. Perhaps it's time to get out of the car and run around. It could be time to stop at a new restaurant. A travel center could provide treasures of trinkets, books, and brochures to rekindle interest.
#7 DON'T ATTEMPT TO DO EVERYTHING TOGETHER AS A FAMILY: You don't have to do everything together as a family all the time. It's okay to split up. Different people have different interests. Allow for opportunities to explore these different interests without feeling the need to stick with those who will find them boring and be inclined to "grumble and moan" about it. Seek opportunities to have one-on-one time with each of your children. The experiences of the individual will add life and energy to the family as they are shared and talked about later.
#8 FOLLOW A HIGH-VOLUME DAY WITH A LOW-VOLUME DAY: Give yourself and your children the opportunity to recuperate and reenergize. Mix a day of rest and low activity in with the fast-paced, high-energy days. The entire family will be able to enjoy the high-volume day when everyone's energy is strong. Your family will only be as energetic as the least energetic person.
#9 EAT HEALTHY WHENEVER POSSIBLE: So many vacations are riddled with fast food and high-sugar drinks. As the vacation progresses, the body's need to manage stress challenges the immune system. Eating healthy and drinking water instead of soft drinks increases the body's ability to adjust and cope with change. No one wants to be sick while on vacation. Eating healthy increases your chances of staying healthy and full of energy.
#10 MAKE A "BE" CHOICE: Discuss and choose how you are going to "BE" during various parts of the vacation. Decide to "BE" playful at times, serious at other times. Talk about the various choices in mood and temperament that are available to everyone during a specific activity. If a trip is planned in which waiting in line is likely, some choices are to "BE" observant, friendly, patient, frustrated, curious, or talkative. Help one another make choices that enable the vacation to be enjoyable for the entire family. Support one another in making a helpful "BE" choice and in BEING that choice.
Once your vacation is over, come together as a family and discuss how it went. View pictures together and reflect on what each person remembers about that moment. Debrief and evaluate what worked and what didn't. Consider adjustments that would make the next family vacation smoother and more enjoyable. Begin to plan the next trip, keeping in mind the highs and lows of the trip that just passed. Doing so will put you on your way to making your next family vacation the best one ever.
Thomas Haller and Chick Moorman are the authors of Parent Talk Essentials: How to Talk to Kids about Divorce, Sex, Money, School and Being Responsible in Today’s World. They are two of the world's foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. They publish free parent and educator newsletters. To subscribe to the newsletters or obtain information about how they can help you or your group meet your parenting needs, visit their websites today: www.thomashaller.com and www.chickmoorman.com.