Summer is here, which means it’s time to think about family vacations! (If you haven’t been thinking about them all year, that is.)
The family part of family vacations, however, can make things a little complicated. You want to choose a destination that is fun for everyone, including the kids. You want to ensure they’re safe on the trip, wherever you go. And you probably want to figure out how to make traveling with them easier, too.
We’ve got you covered with some great tips, so you can relax when you hit the road—or at least after you get to where you’re going.
Instead of thinking about where to go, first think about what you want to do. Experts interviewed by the New York Times recommend starting with figuring out what you want to do on your vacation, because that will help you narrow your list of possible destinations. Want a laid-back trip with lazy days, but one that will still keep kids of all ages engaged? Maybe a beach trip is best. Looking for a few thrills? Theme parks are great for kids ages 3-12 (younger kids might not be able to go on many of the rides, and older kids might not be as enthusiastic). Think it would be best to give everyone a chance to do their own thing? Cruises have lots of family-friendly options, along with chances for kids to be more independent.
To help the kids feel good about where they’re headed, you can let them choose some of the activities for certain days, or actively involve them in designing the entire itinerary.
Think about how you’ll get there, too. Traveling with kids—especially young ones—can be a challenge. For trips longer than a couple of hours, one old trick is to wrap up inexpensive toys or treats for children and use them as a reward for good behavior. For every hour they’re good, they get to open a present. Not only will that help keep them in line, it will keep them occupied for the hour in between.
Some vacations require a flight, of course, but car trips and train travel can be great options for families. In the car, you’ve got flexibility and control—you can meander and explore along the way, break the trip up however you like, and pull over whenever you want for rest or a fun activity. You don’t have as much control on a train, but there’s plenty of space to move around, and kids often find it fun to watch the world go by outside.
Keep safety in mind. When you’re away from home, no matter what kind of vacation you’ve planned, make sure your kids know what to do if you get separated or there’s an emergency. Safewise.com recommends that families practice these situations—and create “information cards” for kids to carry that include phone numbers, where you’re staying, etc. Having your children wear bright, recognizable clothing, or even using GPS devices to keep track of them, are good ideas as well.
Another useful trick many parents use is taking a photo of each child every morning before embarking on the day’s adventures. Then, if someone gets lost, you have a current photo to share so people know exactly what to look for.
Don’t try to do too much. As one travel-company professional and mother of three told the New York Times, make sure to build some downtime into your itinerary—she recommends limiting planned activities to a half-day or less. The rest of the day can still be fun, but give yourself a break with some time at the pool or a local park.
There’s no way to guarantee a great vacation, obviously. But with a little planning and consideration, you and your family will be well on your way. Safe travels this summer!