Family vacations provide an opportunity for parents and children to experience new activities and places together. They give everyone a chance to escape day-to-day routines and responsibilities and enjoy each other’s company. Siblings have a chance to bond, and parents have a chance to be playful and let down their disciplinarian demeanor. Everyone has a chance to unplug. In short, family vacations allow families to reconnect in ways they just can’t do at home.
Deb Cornick, publisher and editor of HaveChildrenWillTravel.com, says, “Many parents think they have to wait until their children are older to travel. But any age is a great age for traveling, provided parents plan properly and have realistic expectations.”
With that in mind, it’s never too early to start thinking about next summer’s getaway. Plotting your trip can provide distraction on a stressful day, even if your budget or your work schedule won’t permit a long break. In that case, it’s still fun to plan a trip to the Jersey Shore or another destination that’s close to home. So start collecting brochures and travel guides, bookmarking websites, and shaping your dream vacation.
Planning a Trip
When time off beckons, Cornick suggests getting the entire family together to discuss options. In choosing a destination, consider factors such as length of stay and budget. Acknowledge family members’ likes and dislikes. While Disney World may be the perfect spot for some families, others may not enjoy the crowds that are synonymous with this type of trip. Conversely, families that like sightseeing and action may be bored by a week at the beach.
Cornick suggests parents research guidebooks and visit both general travel websites (for hotels, airfare, traveling advice, etc.) and specific destination sites. Prepare younger children by letting them look through picture books and brochures so they know what to anticipate. Kyle McCarthy, editor of FamilyTravelForum.com, says, “Give older kids some ownership of the trip by having them complete their own research and help plan the itinerary.”
Many attractions offer advance ticket sales, allowing families to save money and avoid waiting in lines at their destination. See whether you can book advance meal reservations (theme-park character meals must be reserved months in advance). Also check hours of operation and age/height requirements for attractions (the Hotel Hershey, for example, has a chocolate spa only suitable for ages 13 and up) to avoid disappointment.
Big cities with landmark buildings, theaters, museums, and restaurants are a great source of entertainment for families. New Jersey residents are fortunate to have New York; Boston; Washington, DC; and Philadelphia close by and easily accessible by car, train, or plane. For those willing to travel farther, San Francisco and Chicago are two great cities to explore.
Teresa Sellinger of Sparta, NJ, the former New Jersey editor of Mommypoppins.com, says, “Big cities offer parents an opportunity to expose their children to different cultures and cuisines. In New York City, my son tried Indian food and loved it. He never had it because we don’t have any Indian restaurants where we live.”
Try to take advantage of the unique attractions of a city (ride a cable car in San Francisco, see a ball game at Boston’s Fenway park), but try not to overdo it. McCarthy suggests finding accommodations in a convenient and central location to allow for trips back to the hotel, where a nap or a swim in the pool can break up the day.
Theme parks and other destinations can provide nonstop family fun. Some, such as Legoland in California, are geared toward younger children; others, such as Disney World or Universal Studios in Florida, have attractions for every age. For a theme park experience closer to home, consider Sesame Place, Dorney Park, or Hershey Park, all in Pennsylvania.
All-inclusive resorts such as Beaches, Club Med, and Iberostar, located all over the world, are a popular family-friendly option. Meals, activities, and most amenities, are paid for in advance and available on site, allowing parents to put away their car keys and wallets and relax. Cruising is another option with all amenities at hand.
Whether families go camping or rent a house, get-back-to-nature vacations are great for all ages. These can offer strenuous physical activities, such as hiking or rafting, to banish couch-potato tendencies. Says McCarthy: “As people are becoming more environmentally aware, adventurous outdoorsy vacations are becoming more popular with families. Many families, especially those with older children, are considering vacations that include ziplining, snorkeling, and safari expeditions.”
Nature vacations can also be fun for families seeking a less-active pace or tranquil days spent fishing and boating at a lake or at the beach. Cornick says, “Nature allows for simple pleasures; a child surrounded by sand and waves can amuse [himself] for hours. Nature vacations allow families to enjoy quiet time together without being stressed by always following a schedule.”
Regardless of where families go on vacation, McCarthy says, “My best advice to parents traveling with kids is to cut your itinerary in half. I understand that vacation time is limited, and ambitious parents want to see every museum, go on every ride, and do every activity. But a trip that includes children should be geared toward the children. Instead of worrying about ‘missing something,’ remember that it is usually the detours—and even the missteps—on vacation that create the best family memories.”
Wherever you go, Sellinger says, just remember: “A positive attitude is the key to a successful family vacation.”
Randi Mazzella and her husband and three children, from Short Hills, NJ, have traveled together to 17 of the 50 states.