When it comes to family vacations, parents and kids usually have different agendas. That poses some interesting challenges. Your 4-year-old might be delighted to spend three days exploring the wonders of a tacky Santa's Village, whereas you develop a migraine after a couple of hours. You may relish the thought of spending a day at an art museum; your child would last an hour before collapsing in a puddle of boredom.
Here are some suggestions that can make family vacations more enjoyable for both generations:
- Break up the day. Remember that children are often most excited by simple and familiar pleasures. Spend two hours playing miniature golf if that's something your child likes, even if there's a similar course close to your home. Build a small sand castle with a plastic bucket and shovel. Don't focus on elaborate adventures.
- If you do take sightseeing trips on your family vacation, keep them short. A two-hour cruise on a harbor will be much more interesting to a young child than an all-day bus tour. (Check out our site article, Vacation Ideas That Work: The Two-Hour Outing.)
- Budget for time apart. Have your hotel arrange for a baby-sitter for an evening or two so that you can get some adults-only time. Don't feel that you have to do something exotic or dramatic; sometimes what you really need is a few quiet hours.
- Keep your schedule loose and flexible on your family vacation. Young children operate on their own time schedules. If your child's cranky in the afternoon, be willing to scrap your prearranged plans so that he (and perhaps you) can take a nap.
- Travel when the kids are tired. This varies from child to child. Some young children can be plopped down in a car or an airplane at 6 am and stay asleep until 9 o'clock. Others wake up instantly. You may find that the best time for driving is during an afternoon nap—your child's, not yours!
- Try staying in one location for the whole vacation. This reduces the number of new things your child has to adapt to, which lowers your stress level as well.
- Allow lots of extra time at airports. These days, traveling by air can make a family vacation very stressful, especially for young children. The frustration of a missed connection increases exponentially with every child who's with you. (For more tips, see our site article, Air Travel With Children.)
- Monitor your own emotions and attitude. Our children are extremely sensitive to how we feel. Often, they'll reflect our feelings in their own emotions. If we become upset, they'll become upset. If we're laid back in the face of a problem, they're more likely to handle things the same way.