Whether your family likes camping trips or beach vacations, amusement park rides or lazy days by the pool, we all have the same vision when we set out to plan a family trip: Plenty of relaxation with your spouse and kids, and lifelong memories of that quality time together. So why do so many vacations end up stressful, full of arguments, and not nearly as happy as you’d hoped? Keep these five easy tips in mind when you’re putting together your next trip and you could avoid all the drama – and end up with the kind of vacation you’ve always dreamed of.
1. Involve the Kids
One sure way to end up with bored kids or cranky teens is to assume they want to see all the same sights you do. So before you pick a destination, book a hotel, or buy tickets to that one-night-only dinner theater, ask your kids what they think would be fun: They might prefer baseball games, aquariums, boat rides, or just hanging out at the hotel’s indoor pool for the day. Older kids can do their own travel research while younger ones can help choose from websites and guidebooks you pick out. Who knows? You may even end up at an art museum, animal rescue center, or water park that you never would have considered on your own.
2. Look Close to Home
Nothing gets a trip off to a rough start faster than airport lines, weekend traffic, or a train that pulls out just as you’re reaching the platform. Minimize these potential hassles by looking for a vacation destination near where you live – especially if you have small kids who aren’t pro travelers. Chances are good that your nearest big city, beach, or mountain area has a tourism board of its own – and that other people travel from far away to visit a place practically in your own backyard – so you can reap all the benefits of getting away without the stress of getting there.
3. Consider the Off-Season
Work schedules and school calendars may limit your ability to travel for most of the year, but when you are able to hit the road, broaden your destination options to include those in their off-season. Sure, you may need to bring an extra jacket or raingear, but you can save a bundle of money on hotels and travel plans while avoiding the biggest crowds by considering Europe in December, the mountains just after ski season, or the Caribbean on a September long weekend – just to name a few. Bonus: With fewer tourists in town, you’ll have an easier time chatting up the locals for their thoughts on the best restaurants and other can’t-miss local spots.
4. Don’t Break the Bank
This can be easier said than done, but it’s not hard to figure out that stretching your budget to its breaking point to pay for your annual vacation isn’t going to reduce your stress level. The last thing you want is to be counting the cost of every soda with dinner, admission ticket price, and parking charge. Instead, figure out what you can spend in advance and then choose a spot that fits within those limitations. Look for friends and family with vacation homes that you can swap your own talents and services for, check into long weekends instead of full-week trips, and scout out free activities at your destination before you go.
5. Toss Out the Schedule
Some of your vacation activities may have to happen at certain times – a museum that’s only open on Tuesdays, a concert in the park that’s every other Saturday, a stop at your favorite ice cream store that’s closed on Thursdays – and you should plan ahead so that you don’t miss out on those. But leave big blocks of time open in your traveling schedule to give yourself and your family time to explore, to take another ride on that harbor ferry, to sneak in a mid-afternoon nap – or just to sit around together laughing at the terrible old movies on your hotel room’s ancient TV. Often it’s these unexpected moments that become the ones you talk about for years to come.