Traveling as a family is always memorable, but those memories aren’t always rosy. To get your next trip closer to postcard-perfect, I’ll pass on a few family vacation tips I’ve learned after traveling with multiple kids regularly, domestically and internationally, for work and pleasure from the baby years up through the tween and teen stages.
Set your sights on limited sightseeing
It is tempting to try to see and do aaaaaall the things because you’ve come aaaaaall this way and paid aaaaaall that money. You should not, however, because you will run yourself and your kids into the ground. Then all that money spent will seem like double the amount because complaints will be levied, tantrums thrown and arguments had.
That last museum, that final monument: they just aren’t worth it. If you miss out on touring one famous building or tower with a killer view, it’ll give you and/or your kids a reason to return another day.
And should your children return to that same destination, maybe with their own kids, they will have nothing but fond memories of their first visit there with you — their doting dad — who did NOT drag them all over the place to see every last thing in the guidebook. Of these family vacation tips, this one has legs.
Be a local, not a tourist, on your family vacation
Take the city bus, figure out the subway system, rent a bike, and use your feet to experience your destination like someone who lives there. Go to an area farmer’s market and shop alongside residents. Find a neighborhood cafe and ask your server what is his or her favorite thing to do in town. Then go do that.
In short: assimilate into the place, the culture, and vibe of your destination during your time there. This will make your visit more authentic and less touristy — all good things!
Pay more to stay centrally located
Yes, the hotels out by the airport are cheaper. But think about it this way: Do you enjoy your commutes to work or taking the kids to and from school? Does your family really want to spend precious time fighting traffic on vacation just to save a few bucks? Make the choice to stay centrally located in your destination, leave the car in the hotel garage, and be close to everything you want to do without dealing with traffic.
Don’t be afraid to ditch the hotel
My oldest child and I just stayed in a unique two-bedroom condo in downtown Ottawa, Canada, for the same price, if not cheaper, than a chain hotel would have cost. We each had our own bathroom and a massive, first-class kitchen (that we didn’t use nearly as much as we should have during our dad and daughter weekend road trip). Check HomeAway to find a place with more space, so when your day’s adventures are over, every member of your family might find a bit of solitude to recharge his or her batteries.
Think of your children’s perspective
If you have little ones in tow, be empathetic to their experience. I couldn’t understand why my toddler wasn’t having the same amount of fun as her mom and I while walking the streets of an amazing city until I crouched down to her level and realized that while I was getting an eyeful of storefronts with delicious treats in the windows, gorgeous hand-painted signs over doors, and iconic monuments peeking through the alleys as we turned corners, all she was seeing were the kneecaps and butts of every single person sharing the sidewalk with us.
Remember that perspective often informs experience, so be mindful of how your smaller family members are literally viewing your vacation.
Variety is the spice of vacation
I get traditions. I understand how important they can be in family life. However, the thrill of living is often found outside of our comfort zones. Consider raising your kids to appreciate and respect traditions but not be beholden to them — traveling to new places can help with this.
Unless you have budget for both the “every year” vacation AND the ‘trying someplace new” holiday, opt for new adventures whenever possible. It’s a big, big world out there with so much to see, do, experience and try. Make it a tradition to be untraditional with your family vacation.
Let kids help with planning
Empower your children by giving them a minority stakeholder share of the vacation planning and decision making. Let them help decide where to eat, which attractions to visit and so on. That’s energizing and exciting for kids of all ages. It also just might help them power through having sore feet and a hungry belly because the next thing on the family’s to-do list is THEIR thing.
By granting your children this level of control while traveling from a young age, you’ll get to see their personality flourish as they bring the whole family into their element.
Family vacation tips photos by Jeff Bogle.