Let’s face it. Despite all the glorious photos, a vacation with kids in tow can turn into a pretty stressful experience for parents and children alike. We’ve all dashed through an airport to reach a gate that seems to be getting farther and farther away with every labored breath; we’ve all left much later than we planned; and we’ve all forgotten phone chargers on our nightstands. (And we often don’t realize they’re missing until we have only 43 percent battery remaining. Not speaking from personal experience or anything.)
In spite of all that, there are plenty of good reasons to go on a vacation, and there are also ways to reduce stress and enjoy time away.
For Macie Pate, vacations are a crucial part of her life as a school counselor at North Central and mother of two.
“We all live under the same roof,” Pate says. “We see each other everyday. We’re in such a routine – chores, making dinner, etc. – that we often don’t stop to connect with each other on a deeper level. It’s so easy to get caught up in that day-to-day routine.”
Pate says that removing yourself and your family from the daily routine and the stressors that come with it helps you appreciate moments and understand your family members without anything to cloud your mind.
“When you’re away from the dishes, the looming chores and the unmade beds, you get to stop and fully focus on each other,” Pate says. “Family vacations show your kids that you’ve intentionally carved out time to spend with them. They’ll see that you’ve made them a priority and that you want to understand who they are and keep up to date with their changing interests. It makes time for relationship development and refreshes everyone on the idea that you love the people you’re around every day.”
With benefits like a reduction in stress levels, improving social awareness in children and building lifelong memories with your kids, it’s time to start planning your next family adventure.
WHERE IN THE WORLD?
The first hurdle to tackle is choosing where to go. Though this might seem to be the most enjoyable part of planning a family trip, there are plenty of hurdles to jump before settling on your destination.
“I have a running list of places that I want to go,” says Donna Garrison, founder of PackedForLife, a family travel blog based in Canada. “It’s a family decision, so we all sit down together and have a discussion about what a trip to each destination could look like.”
Garrison started her travel blog because of her passion for travel and for helping people. PackedForLife details her exploration of the world with her partner and children by her side. She shares tips on how to effectively plan, budget and enjoy trips with family while keeping calm and living in the moment.
“Including your kids in the planning process is so important,” Garrison says. “It makes them get involved and excited about everything that’s to come. Traveling became a bit difficult once my partner and I started a family, so having them involved in every step of the way is a great bonding experience.”
Choosing your travel destination based on mere desire is one way to go about the planning process, but some may not have that luxury. Choosing your destination based on what you and your family can afford is a more practical approach to family vacation planning and can save you big bucks in the long run.
“We ask ourselves questions like ‘How long do we have to save for the trip?’ and ‘What activities do we want to do?'” Garrison says. “We use this strategy when we have more time to plan, and it pays off because we often have more time to get excited, which improves the overall mood and attitude of the family in the months leading up to the trip.”
BEFORE YOU GO…
Traveling in a group can add tension to an already potentially stressful situation. Logistics are more complicated as you try to keep track of kids, and all that luggage, while getting from your point of origin to your port of call.
But more than the logistics, dealing with the constant outflow of money associated with taking your merry band on the road can ratchet up stress. So if there’s ample time before your vacation, consider taking a certain amount of money out of each of your future paychecks and stashing it in an account specifically for vacation funds. That way you won’t be tempted to use it for anything else, and once you’re on vacation, knowing that the money that’s flying out was earmarked just for this occasion can help keep sticker shock under control.
In a time crunch? Look for deals on airfare by setting flexible travel dates and destinations, bundling your hotel and airfare, or considering a road trip. Here in the PNW, we’re lucky enough to have multiple nearby destinations that make for unforgettable vacations.
Arriving at your destination is actually a part of your vacation, so try to make it enjoyable.
“No matter how we’re getting to our destination, I always make sure to have a few comfort items for my daughter.” Garrison says. “In stressful environments and situations, it’s a good idea to have familiar items for your kids to engage with.”
Things like coloring books, favorite stuffed animals, books, playing cards and, yes, even a tablet loaded with games and shows are essential to keeping kids occupied during long trips in the car or aboard an airplane.
“Long-haul trips can easily wear down on your patience,” Garrison says. “For the good of your own stress levels and for the sake of your kid’s memories, prepare activities that can keep everyone level-headed. Sometimes we even sing songs together in the car or we just have a steady conversation that keeps everyone on an even keel.”
If you’re traveling with your school age kids, it’s also important to check with their teachers to see what the expectations are for their schoolwork, Garrison states. Ask if there are any worksheets or specific activities that your kids can be sent home with and complete during travel or during downtime on vacation.
LET THE FUN BEGIN
Congrats! You’ve made it to paradise. Whether it’s warm and sunny or you’re hiking over snow-covered ground, it’s time to have some fun and throw your day-to-day routine out of the window for a little while.
Now’s the time to figure out just what to do with all of the free time you’ve been granted.
“It’s good to be realistic about what you can accomplish in one day,” Garrison says. “One major activity per day with some scattered smaller activities is a recipe for success. Too much stimulation can lead to cranky kids and stressed out parents.”
Make sure to carve out some “me time” as well. “You don’t necessarily have to choose a specific day to be a rest day,” she says. “But if you start to notice that energy is low, maybe take the next day and just hang out by the pool or sit in your accommodation and read a book for a while. While vacation is about having fun, it’s also about being refreshed and relaxed.”
With all the expense and planning involved, it’s still most important to remember that flexibility is key to having a successful vacation. Don’t plan every moment, and be ready to roll with the punches and take things as they come. Things may not work out just the way you anticipated, but you might just discover something amazing along the way.
“I really like to make sure that my kids grow up to be good global citizens,” Garrison says. “Vacation is an incredible way to connect with other cultures and other ways of being, so always keep an open mind.”
Whether you’re getting on a plane, driving through the mountains or taking family selfies by the pool, remember that vacation is a time for rest and relaxation and the time after vacation should make you excited for the next one. Enjoy the memories made with your family, look back and laugh at photos, and then… start planning the next one.
Including the kids in the planning process gets them involved and excited!
TOP 10 PNW ROAD TRIPS
Cannon Beach: Visit the beautiful coastline and take a Goonies tour in Astoria, Oregon.
Olympic National Park: See rugged coastlines, dense rainforests and staggering peaks all in one location.
Columbia River Gorge: See dozens of waterfalls and hike through forests on this scenic drive.
Leavenworth: See what it’s like to live in a Bavarian town for a while. Eat great food and take scenic hikes.
Cape Disappointment: Despite its name, you won’t be disappointed by the rich history of the Columbia River and the sprawling landscape.
Seattle: Explore Washington’s largest city from the gum wall to flying fish at Pike Place Market.
Painted Hills: See the gorgeous, colorful striations in Oregon’s John Day Fossil Beds.
Craters of the Moon: Visit a 750,000-acre lava bed in Idaho that truly looks like the surface of the moon.
Palouse Falls: Marvel at the massive waterfall that appears out of nowhere and also do some serious bird-watching.
Mount Rainier National Park: Visit the highest point in Washington reachable by car and, of course, views of the iconic Mount Rainier.