Three Tips for Great Family Getaways

vacationA recent girl’s night out included some shared appetizers, cool beverages and tons of conversation. It had been a while since this group had all been together and we had a lot of catching up to do.

Eventually the conversation focused on “what I did for summer vacation.” A big birthday and significant anniversary had been celebrated with a trip to Portland. An upcoming New York weekend, including a Broadway show, was discussed. And two shared their version of the Chevy Chase “Family Vacation.” You know the ones: rock-hard beds in tiny shared quarters where you learn way too much about one another. The kayak river trip in a mostly dried up creek, or the beach trip that featured six straight days of rain. People can get cross with the circumstances—and with one another.

We laughed till we cried, but later I thought about the tradition of family vacations. We laugh at Clark Griswold’s family because we’ve most likely been there at some point. All that togetherness can be a challenge.

Vacations with little ones can be stressful; they’re away from the familiar, routines are disrupted, and the items that comfort them are unavailable. Our own summer getaways when our boys were young were spent in the 113 degree heat of Palm Springs at the Oasis Water Park and Resort. Sounds swanky, right? In the winter, we’d have paid a premium price. But in July, $99 a night bought us a two bedroom condo with maid service and daily water park passes for the entire family. Living big, I tell you.

We continued the tradition as our sons became adults, adding their wives and little boys as they appeared on the scene.  We’ve enjoyed snowy mountains at Christmas, Florida’s DisneyWorld, and the many attractions of Southern California. Each trip offered a challenge or two, but we enjoyed them and recall them fondly. It’s been two years since our last trip, and we’ve added four more little boys to the mix in that time, but we look forward to the next opportunity to do it again.

Traveling with adult children is a very different experience and requires a process that varies from when they were little. And even though the traditional summer vacation season is drawing to a close, three day weekends and trips for the holidays are year round. We’ve gained some insights over the years, so  I’m sharing some ideas that surfaced as we’ve traveled together. Here are three tips we’ve discovered that can make a big difference.

  • Include EVERYONE in the planning process. You might be surprised to learn that your services as travel director and tour guide are not always welcome. You may prefer to hit the beach while others would rather see the museums or area theme parks. Let everyone weigh in; we all like to be heard. Does everyone have to do everything together everyday? Or is there room for a freestyle day when the group splits off to pursue varied interests? A break from all that togetherness can be a great bonus!
  • Clarify expectations. What are the financial arrangements? Will the cost be shared evenly across the family? What if one couple has three kids, and another has none? Will they pay the same for the lodging, rental car, and meals you prepare in your condo or cabin? Do the math well in advance so everyone knows what to expect. And what about chores? If you’re in a rental home, consider creating a plan. Rotate cooking, clean up and trash duty. Discuss it before plans are made so no one is surprised. A family meeting to discuss the details will make a big difference.
  • Be flexible. The cabin might be a bit musty, hikes gets rained out, and rental cars break down on occasion. Know going in this stuff happens, and if it does, make the best of it. Air out the cabin, do a rainy day movie marathon, and tell Hertz you expect a big upgrade in the replacement vehicle. Remember the unofficial beatitude: Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not break!

The “vacation” might simply be a family visit to celebrate the holidays together. Will the grandparents be expected to be on-call babysitters? We usually offer a time to let the big kids have some time together while we enjoy our grandsons. Recently we split it up: the girls stayed in with the six little boys one night, and the guys were on duty the next. Again, communicating is key; make no assumptions.

Lastly, remember that one of the big benefits is the chance to be together, to enjoy one another’s company. It should be a feature of the vacay, not a cross to bear. Whether it’s a Thanksgiving weekend, a Christmas trip seeking sunshine, or a traditional summer vacation, a little pre-planning can make it one for the scrapbooks!

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