Family Vacation

In Search of The Next Great Family Vacation – Part 2

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!

Indian food
My son trying Indian food for the first time. Not something he would have done at home. But the novelty of trying it on vacation gave him a sense of adventure!

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.

Kid's suitcases

In Search of The Next Great Family Vacation – Part 1

Apparently fall is in full swing.  I don’t know about you but, I find myself longing for the days when my family was making lifelong memories together on vacation.  Where did summer go? If your vacation didn’t live up to the hype and you are vowing to do better this year OR if you are in search of your next great family vacation, I challenge you to start daydreaming today.  It’s never too early to think (and save) for your next vacation. Heading to your local beach is what childhood memories are made of, but sometimes mixing things up and thinking bigger can be risky and I promise the reward is well worth the effort.  The idea may be daunting but it is manageable if you plan ahead just a bit.  I promise.  Here is a list of ways to plan an awesome family vacation.

Brainstorm

Brainstorming is a great place to start and an entertaining topic of conversation for dinner that doesn’t involve the dreaded question, “How was your day?”  Talk about places you’ve always wanted to go on your family vacation or experiences that your family wants to have together.  Do you really like animals?  Have you always wanted to be a cowboy?  Or are you looking for a little culture in the city?  And I love going old school.  Get a globe out, spin it around.  Think big and make a list.  There are no bad ideas but some just may not be feasible…yet.  Narrow your list down to places/experiences that are realistic.  A list of 2 or 3 is fine and then it’s time to head to the next step.

Research

Okay, I’m stating the obvious here but do a little online research to learn a little about your top locations.  Get your kids involved.  Go to National Geographic Kids and see if there are any videos about your chosen location.  Research some of the native animals or learn about a new state.  I also really love hitting the local library with the kids.  My favorite books to check out are the Who Is/What Was series.  It’s a fun way to read about an important person or event from your vacation locale.  Here are a few for sale on Amazon if you can’t get to the library.

 

Doing a little research can teach you about the local culture.  Traveling takes you out of your hometown, which means you are in an unfamiliar place with a different culture.  It’s important to understand and appreciate similarities and differences.  You don’t want to accidentally offend someone by showing them the bottom of your shoe or leave a tip at dinner if that is not customary.

Discover activities that are age appropriate for your family.  Will you have to walk everywhere?  Does your dream day involve getting out in nature or touring a museum all day?  Have the kids pick an activity or two that they can’t wait to do and you do the same.  That way, you can head off future grumblings about not wanting to do said activity with, “It was Dad’s #1 pick so let’s all find something we like about this pub.” (actual conversation on our recent trip to London)

Globe Family Vacation Planning
Around and around we go, where it stops, no one knows!

Rent a home

I love a hotel as much as the next mom.  Daily housekeeping, anyone?  But there comes a time when a small hotel room just doesn’t cut it in the vacation sanity department.  If you are traveling for more than a few days you may want to stretch out a bit.  You will want to unpack your bags and not eat out 3 meals a day.  It gets expensive!  I strongly encourage you to look into renting an apartment/home for your family vacation stay.  There are several sites that offer a great selection of spacious places to stay.  We’ve rented through Home Away and Airbnb in the past and had wonderful experiences.  They have homes for every budget and you can even book experiences through them.  Between Home Away and Airbnb you can choose homes, apartments, cabins and even boats!  I like to choose places with kitchens so you can make a quick breakfast in the morning or store wine for a nightcap after the kids are in bed.  Also having a washer/dryer is a bonus when your kids spill something on their clothes. Every. Single. Day.  And separate bedrooms mean that no one has to try and read books under the covers with flashlights while little ones sleep.  Although you won’t have a hotel concierge to pepper with questions, many of the people renting out their homes are happy to help you with restaurant recommendations or questions about the area.  We found that most places had local brochures and maps available.  Before you book check these things:

  • Check the location.  If you don’t have a car, is it close to transportation?  Within walking distance to major sights?  Is it on a busy road – that could be noisy and/or dangerous with kids.
  • Read the reviews.  What have other travelers said?  You have to walk up 3 flights of stairs with your luggage and 2 tired kids?
  • Check the amenities.  No WiFi?  Could be a downer when trying to plan your day.  Daily cleaning included?  Score.  Welcome basket with coffee and pastries.  Now you’re talkin’!
  • Understand your cancellation penalties.  If you cancel within a certain amount of time before your stay most will charge you for some or all of your trip.  You may be able to get trip insurance but, make sure you understand your vulnerability.  Life happens.

Make you sure you are prepared

If you are heading out of the country, check everyone’s passport NOW so you have time to renew or apply for a new passport.  Everyone in your family needs one, even babies, so start hunting around for your important paperwork and apply.  It can take up to 2 months so plan accordingly.  If yours is expiring soon, like within the next 6 months go ahead and renew it anyway even if it isn’t expiring until you get back.  Just to be safe.

If you plan on taking several trips abroad in the next 5 years, consider applying for the Global Entry Program.  It’s basically a fast-pass through customs when you return back to the US.  I’ve found when I return back on US soil one of the last things I want to do is wait in line with tired/cranky kids.  You can thank me later.  Again, everyone in your group has to apply so start the process early.

These days you really can’t be too careful.  Check in with the US Department of State to see if your travel location has any alerts or warnings.  You can register your travel plans via a program called The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).  It’s FREE and it notifies the US Embassy in the country you are traveling to know your plans.  They will send you notifications if there are any emergencies like a natural disaster, civil unrest or even a family emergency.  It’s just another way to feel safer traveling with your family.  And speaking of US Embassies, know where the closest one is in case you need to recover a lost passport. It happens.

Okay, now that you have picked out a family vacation spot and have prepared for the fun and memories, let’s talk about how to have a good time.  I know that sounds silly, of course you are going to have fun but let’s talk about EVERYONE having fun.

Read on here In Search of the Great Family Vacation – Part 2