How Can I Plan A Successful Vacation?



The saying that "The family that plays together, stays together" has been supported by several recent studies. Strong families are ones that do both work and leisure activities together. This doesn't mean that healthy families do everything together; a balance of shared and individual activities is desirable. In most busy families, however, the leisure time spent together doesn't occur unless it is deliberately 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 recent study, 75 percent of the families reported disagreeing sometimes about what to do with their leisure time. These differences are more likely as children get older.

Holding a family council, especially with grade-school and teenage children, is a good way to decide on 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 go about reaching a decision that everyone has helped make. 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 all the ideas from everyone).
* Evaluate the alternatives.
* Select an alternative.
* Think about it 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, an activity that they do each year, that has become accepted and "right." That may make the deciding easier. These vacation traditions can be an important part of a family's identity and roots.

"Are we there yet? How much further is it?" These are words often heard by parents traveling with young children. A few factors may help them enjoy the family vacation too.

* Prepare them: discuss how you will travel; what you will see; read some books about vacations.
* Plan activities: help each child prepare a shoe box with a few selected toys, crayons, etc.: learn some games to play in the car; take books/tapes, music, to play on the tape player.
* Re-introduce grandparents and relatives: help the child be ready to see relatives they haven't seen recently by reviewing photos, talking about them, and preparing the child for hugs and kisses with these "semi-strangers."
* Be kid oriented: adults like to see things, kids like to do things. Both adults and kids will be happier if kids are not expected to behave like adults.

One paradox about families spending time together on vacations to become closer to each other is that too much time together may create conflict. The family has not been used to being cooped up in the few square feet of car space or spending all day together, when they ordinarily have been together only at dinner time. Such changes will require adjustments and may create conflicts. That's all normal. It's a good idea, then, to plan some free time and some time for independent activities while on the family vacation. Different groups within the family can combine for some activities. For example, Dad and daughter can go shopping while Mom and son look for shells.

A travel log, some postcards, photographs, or videos are all excellent ways to preserve the vacation memories. The recollection of shared, happy experiences can be as important in creating closeness as was the actual vacation. As children grow and leave home for school, military, or other experiences, these memories will be more valuable than the things vacation money could have been spent on instead.

The primary benefit of shared leisure activities, like vacations, may be the resulting enhancement of 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 dry spells that may come.

Posted on 31 May 2001

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

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