As I write this column, it is a wintery St. Louis day. When it’s this cold, it is difficult to think about summer travel. June is still a few months away, but a sunny weather vacation free of responsibility sounds relaxing and warm.
My kids are in their preteen years. Traveling with older children provides some unique challenges, as everyone has an opinion about where to go and what to do. When a family has little ones, choosing the destination is easy. A nice place with a few kid-friendly activities is all anyone needs. It is the logistical challenges of bringing what one requires versus what one wants that is complicated.
Productive packing with small children in tow is about preemptively planning to ensure that no one has a bad time. A portable high chair may sound unnecessary, but even family-friendly places may not have one available when you need it. A new toy may appear indulgent, but can be an excellent distraction when you need a break. And cough syrup may seem excessive, but you will be glad you brought medicine if your little one has a late-night fever. To successfully travel with toddlers, plan well and pack some patience.
As your young children morph into older kids with their own thoughts, family vacations can become a complex negotiation as generations clash over what to do. To pave the way for a relaxing and rejuvenating holiday, a different type of advance planning is required. A collaborative approach that allows opinionated offspring to have a say in the stay is recommended.
Include your older children at the beginning of the vacation-planning process. Each member of the family should discuss what type of activity he or she might enjoy. With this newly learned information, parents should retreat to the Internet or to a professional travel agent, and generate a variety of options. During a family dinner, discuss each locale and let your eager adolescent guide the way to family fun.
Once the destination has been decided, let the aspiring vacationers plan a day. Encourage your teens to research activity options, follow a budget and create a schedule of events, including transportation and dining. For this to work, however, parents must commit to the plan even if it means doing something outrageously adventurous or wasting away the morning with a late sleep. Teens typically will make good choices, and allowing them to own a piece of the planning ensures minimal complaining and maximum enjoyment.
Turnabout is fair play and parents also should participate in the plan-a-day process, but with an added twist. Choose an afternoon for you and your spouse to spend one-on-one quality alone time with each of your children. This can be as simple as a hike through the hills or as exciting as mountain-biking down a steep trail. The goal is to choose something that can be enjoyed together. Mixing it up generates positive parent/child interaction, promotes family bonding, and creates great dinner conversation as each share stories from their day.
Planning in advance, however, will not guarantee a peaceful getaway unless a family conversation regarding trip rules and expectations takes place before the departure date. Remind your traveling teens that all home rules apply: no smoking, no drinking, no cursing and no hitting your sister. Emphasize the importance of time—what time they need to return in the evening, what time tired teens need to wake in the morning, and what kind of time they must spend with mom and dad. Set some basic ground rules and discuss concerns as they occur to ensure that everyone gets along.
Vacations provide some of life’s most memorable moments. And while you may return to the same destination year after year, each visit will be different as your family matures and grows. Savor the time, leave life’s worries behind and take lots of pictures. Bon voyage!
Prior to going into private practice as psychotherapist and learning disabilities specialist, Russell Hyken, Ph.D., Ed.S, M.A., LPC, NCC, worked for more than 15 years as an English teacher, school counselor and school administrator. Visit him online at ed-psy.com.