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How can we plan a successful family vacation?

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The saying, “The family that plays together stays together,” has been supported by several recent studies. Strong families spend both work and leisure time together. This doesn't mean that healthy families do everything together; a balance of shared and individual activities is important. In most busy families, however, the leisure time spent together doesn’t occur unless it is planned. The family vacation is an important way for families to strengthen their ties.

You like the beach and your spouse likes the mountains? The kids want to go to Disneyland? Differing leisure preferences are the rule rather than the exception. In one study, 75 percent of families reported disagreeing about what to do with their leisure time. These differences are more likely to occur as children get older.

Holding a family council, especially with grade school and teenage children, is a good way to reach a decision about the family vacation. A family council is not just calling the children together to tell them what Mom and Dad have decided. It is a way to make a decision that everyone has been part of. These basic steps should be included:

Identify the issue (where to go, what to do on vacation). Brainstorm ideas (without evaluation at this stage; just get ideas from everyone). Evaluate the alternatives. Select an option. Think about it for a few days, gather more information. See if everyone still feels the same about the decision, modify it if necessary. Implement the decision and begin planning.

Some families may have a summer vacation tradition or activity they participate in each year. This makes the decision-making part easier. These vacation traditions can be an important part of a family's identity and roots. “Are we there yet?” or “How much longer is it?” may be the next words parents hear once the destination is determined and the bags are packed. Consider these suggestions to help children enjoy the family vacation too.

Prepare them. Discuss how you will travel and what you will see. Read books about the destination.

Plan activities. Help each child prepare a small box with toys, crayons or books. Take games to play in the car and books or music to play on the tape or CD player.

Reintroduce grandparents and relatives. If you are visiting relatives, help each child be ready to see them by reviewing photos, talking about them and preparing the child for hugs and kisses with people they may not have seen recently.

Be kid oriented. Adults like to see things, kids like to do things. Both adults and children will be happier if children are not expected to behave like adults.

When families spend time together on vacation, it can sometimes create conflict. The family is not used to being cooped up in the few square feet of car space or spending all day together, when they have ordinarily only been together at dinner time. Such changes may create conflict, and adjustments must be made. This is very normal. It is a good idea then, to plan both free time and time for independent activities. Groups within the family can combine for activities. For example, Dad and daughter can go shopping while Mom and son look for shells.

Travel logs, postcards, photographs or videos are all excellent ways to preserve vacation memories. The recollection of shared, happy experiences can be as important in creating closeness as the actual vacation. As children grow and leave home for school, military or other experiences, these memories will be more valuable than other things the vacation money could have been spent on. The primary benefit of vacations can be enhanced interpersonal communication. A change of routine allows us to see family members in a new way and to learn more about them. When free from daily pressures, it is often easier to discuss problems or concerns that began before a vacation. A vacation will provide opportunities for expressions of appreciation and for enjoyment of one another that will fill the reservoir of family unity and caring to sustain through future dry spells.

Posted on 10 May 2004

Tom Lee
Family & Consumer Science Program Leader & Department Head, Financial Management Specialist

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