Hopefully by now you’ve read Part 1 of In Search of the Next Great Family Vacation. If you haven’t you can dig in here. Transportation, check! Place to stay, check! You’re now on your way to a great family vacation! Now that you’ve chosen your vacation spot let’s talk about how to plan your time for maximum enjoyment. I promise if you do a little planning, you will appreciate being able to answer the nagging question, “What are we going to do now?”.
Unless you are going on a cruise, you’ll need to have some sort of a plan each day. When I go somewhere I am totally unfamiliar with I usually buy a guidebook so I can make notes and have a paper map. Rick Steves and I are good travel companions during European vacations although I usually pack more than khaki pants and a button down.
Remember when you had everyone choose their #1 activity? Refer back to that list and do some research. Do you already have specific dates/times set for activities you really want to do? Go ahead and put those in your calendar and work around your #1 activities to plan the rest. I am a visual person. I like to use index cards so I can fill in details about each day’s activities. Of course, working off of a spreadsheet works too. But in the event that my computer/phone dies from someone playing hours of Dino Zoo I like to have a paper back up.
Have the kids help you navigate
Get a map so they have something to hold and ask them to figure out how to get where you are going. It can become a game, especially when no one knows where they are going! My son practically memorized the subway map on our last trip and it definitely came in handy.
Plan for time to just run around
Get outdoors let your kids do what kids do best, run and scream their heads off. This can be a great release for you and them, especially if they have had to stay composed on a tour for several hours. Locate a park on your map for times you need to blow off steam. A hotel pool also works well. Ahhhhh!!!
Kids tours/scavenger hunts
Don’t rule out going someplace that you think isn’t “kid friendly”. I honestly don’t like that term most of the time. Almost anyplace can be kid friendly if you set expectations (for yourself, your spouse, and your kids). As long as it is interesting to someone in your group, you can make learning about almost anything enjoyable. Many museums nowadays have special guides for the kids that include interesting facts and even scavenger hunts. They are super interactive and lots of fun, not a word you think of when you think of museums. We also really like the Jr. Ranger program at the National Parks. Again, its a scavenger hunt format but a really cool, hands on way to learn. Look into these things ahead of time. Make learning fun! Just know the kids won’t last 5 hours in the museum. When you need a break, seek outdoor space STAT!
Explore the grocery
Some of the novelty of being somewhere new is seeing the differences from your hometown. Since I’m always dragging my kids to the grocery store, one of my favorite things to do is visit a local grocery store or farmer’s market. You are guaranteed to find some goodies that you don’t see at home. Go ahead, try something new! You’ll need travel snacks and breakfast items anyway if you rented a house or apartment. My kids love getting to pick out a special snack. Sometimes it goes over well, other times, not so much. We do not recommend shrimp flavored potato chips!
Try new foods
It’s so easy to get in a food rut and feed your kids the usual suspects on menus at restaurants – chicken fingers, pizza and burgers. Use a trip as a fully immersive “get out of your comfort zone” experience. We have a rule that we all have to try something new (adults too) when we travel. Warning, the kids may start to order off of the adult menu. Actual comment from my 7 yr old, “I’ll take the muscles please”.
Enjoy Eating Out
In order to keep your dining out options open, and resisting the urge always stop at “kid friendly” restaurants – there’s that word again – I recommend keeping your family engaged by playing games. It helps pass the time when you are waiting for your food and makes for a great conversation starter. I like to keep a pack of UNO cards in my bag and a pad of paper so we can play hangman or tic tac toe. If you have little writers in your midst meal times are a great time to journal. My kids hate to write ironically, so this hasn’t worked for me but give it a shot!
Play an ongoing game
As you know, traveling usually involves a lot of walking, waiting, standing, transporting, and waiting some more. On our last trip, we started playing a game to pass the time. My kids love seeing people who have dyed their hair fun colors. I’m talking pink, purple, blue, rainbow, etc. So we started counting the people we saw with fun colors in their hair. We kept a tally and would say the number and the color. So, “that’s #12 pink!”. I got crushed because I was usually navigating or figuring out where to stop for lunch but they loved it. And they just loved beating their mom. You could do any old game, just make it fun.
Meet other kids
A really fun way to learn about other areas is to ask a local. Kids are notoriously honest and hilarious so why not interact with some pint-sized locals to learn a little more. My kids are super shy but we’ve found an easy way to strike up a conversation is at a local playground or store. Don’t be creepy about it, just say “hi”. On one of our trips we met a British family and we all laughed about how we call things different names. We were on “vacation”, they were on “holiday”. Kids are equally interested in meeting kids from other areas too. It’s highly entertaining and dare I say, educational?!
Let them see you make mistakes
Traveling can be stressful. Even the most prepared vacationer can run into snafus. There are so many things that are out of our control; missed flights, delays, wrong turns, forgotten items, bad food, lack of sleep and the list goes on and on. Consider this a great time for you to show your kids that you are human. We make mistakes. The world isn’t perfect. How we deal with those bumps in the road are great lessons in life. I wish I could say that I have always calmly dealt with mishaps. I haven’t. But when I have acted calmly I can tell my kids are paying attention.
A few more tips right before you leave
Call your credit card companies and tell them your plans for travel so they don’t think someone has stolen your card when you use it outside of your hometown.
If you are traveling internationally, call your phone provider and see if they have any international travel plans for voice and data. You’ll want to use your phone to call home but also to make reservations or contact people locally. And, check out the data plans. Using your GPS abroad uses a lot more data than you might think. I guarantee you’ll be using your GPS.
Make copies of any important documents and keep them somewhere other than with the originals. I’m talking; your credit cards, passports, insurance cards, hotel reservations and even any important prescriptions that you have. You can take photos or also a paper copy to put in your suitcase. You may not always be near a computer or able to get to your email via your phone.
Okay, now you are all ready for your Great Family Vacation! Pat yourself on the back for pre-planning a bit because now you can sit back and enjoy yourself. Go out there and explore with your tribe! Happy travels.