It ain’t easy pleasing both parents and children at every moment on a family vacation. Dragging my husband and I around an expensive amusement park leaves us as unhappy as my kids would be if we dragged them around for a day of wine tasting.
ROAM contributors have found success incorporating “peacemakers” into their vacation itineraries. These five simple ideas will help keep your traveling family as content as a toddler with a backhoe in the bay.
1. New Experiences The best traveling experiences we’ve had as a family are going to places or doing things we’re all doing for the first time together. This allows everyone to have the same initial impressions, rather than parents showing their kids somewhere they’ve been before.
When we took our kids to Japan for the first time, we spent a lot of time near Tokyo showing them places we enjoyed when we lived there years ago. Surprise: They weren’t super impressed by our favorite izakayas or hearing our stories of how Takeshita-dori used to be.
The most fun part of the trip for all of us was traveling to the Japanese Alps – visiting Shirakawa-go, hiking part of the Samurai Trail and staying in an authentic ryokan – all firsts for everyone and the source of many fun memories (including figuring out how to not-do-it-wrong at an untouristy onsen, ordering dinner through a vending machine, and being served deep-fried bee larvae as part of one kaiseki course.) Now we make an effort to always include mostly “new” stops on our vacations – even if its an area Don and I want to revisit and show our kids.
2. Water The promise of a splash in the water is something both kids and adults can get behind. Visiting Angkor Wat in blistering heat, we constantly reminded our kids of the pool awaiting them after the next temple. During Paul’s trip to Vancouver Island, every hotel he chose was on the water, had a pool/hot tub, or both. During the day or at the end of a day of sights, it was great to paddle, surf, swim, soak, or play tag in the pool. Booking places with water access will always keep the peace. This is a great tip to keep in mind when visiting big cities: Don’t forget to book a place with a pool. You will not regret it.
3. Hobbies/Interests Paul’s teenage son can get his fill of parent time when traveling. So Paul and his wife Lynne decided to look for ways to integrate their son’s current hobby – scootering – into the itinerary. They researched the area and found a skatepark in every town they were planning to visit. Skatepark time gave his son a chance to scooter nearly every day and meet local kids too. Because he got to indulge in his hobby, their son was then more open to other activities that would typically inspire whining.
Another smart mom, Amy, promised her daughters “a playground a day” on their European vacation. Parents love a playground as much as kids do – even if it means getting a few minutes with a book or relaxing on a blanket in the shade. But be sure to incorporate these outings as you plan your trip. Otherwise, taking an afternoon off to hit the skatepark or playground probably won’t fit into your travel schedule.
4. Rest Days Kids like here and now. Unless they are bored or tortured with adult activities, “here and now” is always better “there and later” – even when what’s coming next might be the most awesome thing ever.
We’ve found our kids love to have days where there is nothing to do. A sub-par beach town with lousy weather doesn’t bother a kid at all. “Let’s go swimming,” or “Let’s play a game” or “Let’s watch a movie.” It’s all good, relax time to them – no homework, no sports, no running around, nothing on the agenda at all. Bliss!
Normally, adults would be pro-rest day too, but we know too much: We know what we’re missing by taking a break from the sightseeing at hand. Today might truly be our only chance to see that famous landmark/museum/waterfall. What to do?! Incorporate do-nothing days – or at least afternoons – into your itinerary from the start. You’ll all be happy you did.
5. Hall Passes Plan to let your kids skip some activities. Maybe the tweens/teens can stay in the hotel alone. Or maybe the parents can tag-team and take a solo afternoon/day to do their own thing. Or maybe you hire a local sitter. As “horrifying” as it is to have your kids miss a “world class” something-or-the-other to stay in the room playing an iPad or Snapchatting friends at home, it breeds happiness all around.
On a trip to Jerusalem, Debra kept begging her family to go to the Israel Museum until finally she went alone and had an epic time at the “most fabulous place on the planet.” Her family survived the loss. Our kids were tired and jetlagged on our third night in Ortigia so we left them with iPads and take-away pizza bread while we went out and lingered over another fabulous Sicilian meal. They bonded over NetFlix and we devoured lemon tiramisu – topped with crushed pistachios no less!
And peace reigned…
by Maryann Jones Thompson, Updated September 2018
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Keywords: family vacation, family travel, travel with kids, family vacation planning, travel planning, family vacation itineraries