Traveling as a family presents a wonderful chance to spend time together outside of your daily routine. Adults get to unwind, children can explore new places, and everyone can reconnect in a meaningful way through fun shared experiences.
In our experience, a big part of the excitement around a family vacation comes from the months of planning leading up to the trip. Why not take advantage of vacation planning as a unique way to give the kids a sense of responsibility and ownership of the experience?
From route planning to cool attractions, kids have tons of creative energy and enthusiasm for planning their own adventures. Before you hit the road for your next vacation, consider these ways that the youngsters can help make it happen.
Start the conversation about your vacation well in advance, at least a few weeks before you would normally book accommodations. Set the parameters before soliciting ideas; it’s amazing how quickly you can end up taking month-long expeditions to Mars when an eight-year-old takes the reins. For younger kids, they may do better spitballing ideas for entertainment and fun after the destination has been chosen, but older kids and adolescents often have great ideas they’ll be willing to share.
To narrow the scope and keep the family meeting from dragging on for hours, instead of asking, “Where do you want to go on vacation next summer?” narrow the choices to two options. When you settle on a destination, browse accommodations and attractions together, and let them help decide where to stay and what to do while you’re there.
Vacation planning is the perfect time to discuss money. It’s good for kids to understand that every experience comes at a cost and that both time and money are limited. Explaining the financial difference between flying and driving, hotels or camping out is a great, natural lesson in finance that no child is too young to learn.
While you’re talking money, consider pocket money for incidentals like cotton candy or plushies. Everyone likes to buy treats and souvenirs, but who is going to pay for them? If each child will have a souvenir budget, let them know in advance so they can plan accordingly. Maybe suggest that they save some of their allowance, or find other opportunities to earn or save additional spending money for the trip.
Shared experiences are what make family vacations so much fun, but not everyone is wired the same way. Each family member is attracted to different types of activities, and it’s impossible to please everyone all the time.
Give each child a chance to plan the itinerary for one day (with parental guidance, of course), to ensure everyone will get something they want. Let them choose the event and menu for the day, and encourage them to take ownership of their plans. This also teaches kids the value of time management and organization.
Getting there can be part of the fun. Kids love to stop and see the sights along the way, so if you plan to drive, look for opportunities to visit historical and cultural sites, unique restaurants, and natural wonders along the way. Let the kids help decide where to stop for food, gas, and leg stretches along the way.
Even if you’re flying, chances are you’ll follow a route over landforms that look really cool from 35,000 feet up. Check out the route before you fly and, if weather and seating permit, try to locate the Rocky Mountains or the Mississippi River as you fly over.
Once everyone knows your trip’s destination and the number of days you’ll be away, help your kids research the weather forecast so they can choose their own vacation clothes. The more people on the trip, the less space available for extras, so why not challenge everyone to pack like a minimalist? With some guidance — and possibly a plan to wash laundry mid-trip — each person should be able to pack light, which will save you so much time while you’re away.
What family trip would be complete without a few travel games. They keep kids occupied on travel days, rainy days, and when the grownups are napping after lunch. Teach your kids the classic road trip games like I Spy, Punch Buggie, and parents’ all-time favorite Quiet Game, or save a few educational movies or TV shows to your tablets for when everyone needs a break.
Family vacations are the times kids will remember for the rest of their lives. By including them in the planning and organization of family vacations, kids learn valuable lessons that they can build on while they grow up. Not only will the trips be less hassle and more fun, but your children will have a deeper appreciation for the time you spend together as a family, and the work it takes to make it happen.
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