Let’s be honest. The words “family vacation” and “relaxing” don’t always go together. Sometimes parents get bogged down with all of the planning, preparation and ongoing exhaustion that a family vacation entails that they end up feeling stressed, cranky and disappointed before the week is over. But wait! It doesn’t have to be that way. This your vacation too, dear parents, and you deserve a lot of fun and at least a little relaxation during your trip, as do the kids.
Let’s face it, it takes a lot of planning (and a lot of patience) to plan and execute a successful trip with the kids in tow, but it is possible. You actually can have fun and relax on your family spring break vacation—or any vacation you plan with your family. But how? Let us help!
Make sure you do these things and you’re well on your way to the best spring break with the kids ever.
Be prepared, then be flexible.
First things first. You must, must, must have some sort of vacation plan in place. Unlike your younger spring break days where it was just you and your friends, this time you’ve got a few other considerations. That’s okay! A family spring break can still be really fun, but just in a different kind of way.
Try implementing these planning tips:
Have a plan, but expect bumps along the way. Know where you want to go and what you want to do, and what is reasonable to fit into your vacation time frame. Planning a big attraction, event or activity every single day of your vacation is probably too ambitious, especially if you have younger ones along with you. You have to expect the unexpected with kids, as you already know. Allow yourself some wiggle room in case you need to make a change of plans. And don’t fret about it. Take a deep breath and deal with things as they come. There’s always a new set of challenges when you’re traveling with families and kids, but being prepared for them is half the battle.
Don’t be too rigid or too scheduled. Have an outline of the things you’re going to do, but stay flexible enough to make changes and adjustments along the way. You don’t want to try to squeeze in so many things that everyone is running ragged and not really enjoying the moments. These are vacation memories in the making, you don’t want it to be a blur of activity that results in everyone being exhausted and grumpy at the end of the day. No way! Allow time in your week for unexpected changes of plans, impromptu activities and even cancellations if the conditions just aren’t right.
Be flexible and allow for spur of the moment opportunities and unplanned adventures. As we mentioned above, you have to allow a little breathing room each day to allow for what may present itself or what your family may encounter and want to do that is outside of your initial vacation plan. Sometimes, these moments end up being the best of your vacation memories. You can’t always plan every adventure, but you can be open to them. A little bit of unknown is always good!
Value your family’s input.
Before you go crazy trying to micromanage every part of your vacation (hey Type A Parenting Personality, we’re talking to you!), take some time to really listen to what your family views as important. Ask them one by one and then discuss it as a group and come up with a plan that keeps everyone’s needs and wants in mind. You won’t be able to actually please everyone, but the fact that you took the time to ask their input shows you value what they have to say.
Here are some practical ways to get the whole family involved in the vacation planning:
Ask each family member to come up with a “top 3” list. This is a good starting point for getting the input you need to consider individual preferences and ideas of fun, while also working together as a collective whole and making these important decisions as a family. Narrow down the list of activities attractions until you have a workable list that is realistic for your vacation time and budget.
Involve your older kids in research and planning of local attractions, activities and things to do. Don’t take on all of the vacation planning yourself. If you have teenagers, give them some responsibility to assist in the research and planning of where you want to go and what you want to do. They are internet experts and social media savvy, so let them put those skills to good use by also looking for discounts, specials and other ways to save money on the big-ticket attractions you plan to visit.
Consider age-appropriate activities for all your kids. Of course you need to consider the ages of your kids, what their interests are, and what is manageable for your family. Try to plan for a range of activities that can include the whole family and also plan special days that are just for the toddlers or just for the teens.
Choose family-friendly accommodations.
Vacation accommodations are one of your biggest expenses and one of your most important decisions. You’ll be spending a lot of time here, so it’s important that they meet your family’s needs and wants.
Here are the two biggest factors you want to get right:
Pay careful attention to the sleeping arrangements so everyone is comfortable. You need to decide ahead of time if any of your kids will be sharing rooms or if everyone gets their own. You’ll also want to consider the layout of the vacation rental and make sure that the younger kids have sleeping arrangements that are close enough to you so that if they need anything, you’re nearby and accessible. Teenagers have more flexibility and can comfortably be on another level of the house if need be. At the same time, the minimum number of bathrooms that you need is an important factor. Don’t waste precious vacation time waiting for everyone to be ready for the day because you don’t have enough available bathrooms. Not worth it!
Choose amenities that your family needs/wants. Vacation rental amenities are a personal preference. What’s important to one family’s vacation may not be important to another. That’s the awesome benefit of choosing a rental over a hotel or motel stay. You have the freedom and choice to personalize and customize your stay from location to amenities and beyond. No cookie cutter stays or conveniences that are designed for the masses. You deserve more than that on a vacation!
Lighten your load.
Now that you have the accommodations taken care of and a general plan of attack for the spending of your precious vacation time, you can focus on packing for the trip. Don’t stress over everything you need to think about when going away for a week or two. Instead, break it into chunks and make it more manageable. Whatever helps you to stay organized and prepared, do it. Make a list, using a packing app, or print out a checklist. You can even make some copies for your kids! Put some responsibility on your kids to do their part, or at least a portion of their part, when it comes to packing and preparing for the trip. Even the littlest ones can pack a backpack of some of their favorite small toys or books to bring along. That can help take the load off of you.
Other packing tips include:
Try not to overpack. Make the first attempt at packing your stuff, then the next day go through and take out a few things that you really don’t need. Minimize to essentials where you can.
Don’t spend your time “managing stuff”. From unloading the car to getting situated in your rental, you do not want to spend a lot of your vacation time managing stuff. You don’t want to have to keep track of too many expensive technology items, tote a cartload of items to and from the beach every day, or pack your car to the hilt and not have enough room for everyone to comfortably enjoy the trip. Less is definitely more in these instances.
Pack what you absolutely need, not what you think you will need. You won’t be able to anticipate everything. Don’t pack that way! And remember, you can always buy something if you absolutely need to when you get there. Beach vacations are easier than most trips as you already know a lot of your time will be spent in swimsuits, flip flops and sunglasses. No need for too many bulky or extraneous items. Stay focused!
It’s about the journey, not just the destination.
Don’t get so focused on the destination that you forget about the journey. That’s part of the experience!
Here are some helpful ways to do just that:
Make the anticipation of the trip fun. Build up the excitement, count down the days and talk about the upcoming trip and all of the wonderful things you’ll get to do, see and experience as a family.
Make the traveling itself something to look forward to. Plan some extra fun perks for the trip itself. Special snacks, fun car or airplane games, or a little surprise for the road are all fun ways to make the travel part a little more exciting and to help it go smoothly.
Give your kids choices on how to make journey fun for them. Let them be creative and find realistic ways to make the traveling portion of the trip a joy and not an inconvenience. You’ll be surprised at how creative they can be. Let them!
Schedule in downtime.
To ensure everyone in the family gets to relax and stay well rested, it’s important to factor in planned downtime. Leaving gaps in between events or scheduled activities is a must. It’s easy to get overly ambitious and before you know it you have too much to do and not enough time. That’s not a vacation!
Here are some helpful tips on how to make sure downtime is part of your vacation time:
Mindfully schedule in and plan for downtime for everyone, kids and adults. It’s not just babies and toddlers who need rest. You do, too! Try and think of everyone’s needs as best you can and give dedicated blocks of time where nothing is planned. Nap, read, relax or just hang out together. Make time for it.
Spend some days and nights in. Make the most of your vacation rental by planning for a few nights in whether it’s a family movie or game night together, a dinner made and shared in the comfort and convenience of your vacation rental kitchen, or by taking a lunch break each day for a few hours back at your rental. Or scatter in a few “free days” where there is absolutely no schedule with nowhere to go and nowhere to be. Spending time at your home base lets everyone do their thing and slow down a bit.
Remember that you’re making memories.
Family vacations are memories in the making that last a lifetime. You want them to fondly remembered for the time spent together, the fun that was had, and the good times shared by all. You certainly don’t want the memories to be of stressed parents, cranky kids, and blur of activity that no one really enjoyed or even remembered.
Instead, remember to create positive, loving memories of special times and places together. At the end of your trip, compile an online photo journal of your spring break or create a scrapbook of memories where everyone in your family gets to share their favorite moments. It’s the perfect way to wrap up your spring break and capture the best moments for posterity.
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What tips or advice would you add to help families have the best spring break or family vacation ever?