12 years of family travel… the lessons learned

They say all good things must come to an end, and sadly for us, we are fast approaching the last family holiday the three of us share for some time. So here are some lessons we learned along the way.

They say all good things must come to an end, and sadly for us, we are fast approaching the last family holiday the three of us share for some time. So here are some lessons we learned along the way.They say all good things must come to an end, and sadly for us, we are fast approaching the last family holiday the three of us share for some time. So here are some lessons we learned along the way.

As Dana finishes her last few weeks before her final High School exams, and prepares to head off to discover the world on her own, I am both excited and a little sad that Christmas 2015 will be the end of an era for us.

There have been some unforgettable experiences along the way, some amazing sights, lots of laughs, a few tears, and many stupid hats. (But that’s another story)

So as this adventure draws to a close I feel it is a good time to impart a little wisdom gathered from our experiences, the lessons learned along the way.

For anybody just beginning the family travel adventure, or maybe even part way through and hoping for a little advice on how to avoid some of the “learning experiences” we had, read on, I hope you get some ideas that will make your vacations better for the whole family.

Get your kids to do some research

From personal experience and feedback from family and friends I rarely have come across a case where kids haven’t loved a holiday. Sure, you get some odd responses, like the time I asked a friend’s 5 year old what was the best thing about the cruise they went on only to be told “the ice-cream”.

OK, maybe I was expecting something about the Pacific Islands they visited but at least he had a good time.

What I have found is that kid’s who have done some research on the destination seem to enjoy the trip more. Maybe it’s because they can overcome any culture shock a little faster, or maybe because they have discovered some things that will interest them and it becomes a bit of a treasure hunt to try to discover them during the trip.

Maybe get them to learn a couple of words in the local language and encourage them to use what they learned. It’s amazing how a child trying to be polite in a foreign tongue can break the ice with a local.

I don’t mean you should be getting your youngsters to plan and book your itinerary but at least get them involved before you go. It always brought a smile to my face to hear Dana calling for me to come and have a look at this amazing thing she found whenever she was investigating our next destination. It made us all more excited!

In Thailand with Dana and her cousins. The kids all learned to say

Let everyone choose some “non-negotiables”

Over the period of a few trips we worked out another thing that got the kids involved, almost an extension of the first idea. The idea of “non-negotiables” became part of the planning and the results were very surprising.

A “non-negotiable” is something on the trip that everyone must do, whether they think they will like it or not. The number of these per person would vary depending on the length of our vacation. We would each choose either places to eat, attractions to visit, places to stay, or similar and they had to be added to the itinerary.

It sounds like it could be a nightmare having to spend time at a place your 8 year old daughter thinks would be “so cool”, but I have had a great time at most of the special places Dana had chosen over the years. Things or places that I would have written off or bypassed turned out to be great fun. All it took to find them was to look from a different person’s perspective.

For those of you with more than one child there is an added benefit. It is amazing how a child that might be complaining about not wanting to do whatever is on today’s agenda can be calmed when you remind them that tomorrow everyone will be doing one of the things they have chosen before the trip started.

Dana decided we had to go to the Haribo candy factory in France. It was more fun than I expected.

Don’t take things too seriously

At some stage during a vacation every parent will believe something isn’t going to plan. Your protective instincts will kick in and you will undoubtedly overreact to the situation.

A couple of our vacations have included a road trip. During these sections it is not uncommon for us to have planned our destination with a few days to just go as we please.

Now this sounds like the right way to road trip, and I believe it is, but it also leaves you open to the panic that arises as you pull in to a town late in the afternoon and decide you will spend the night, only to find the first few hotels are overpriced or have no vacancy.

You start to curse yourself for not planning things better, but then you find a place and find out that it was only you feeling any stress about the situation. Ask the kids, they didn’t care, it was all part of the adventure to them. I have to admit to feeling this way more than a few times. Funny thing was, in most cases, the place we finally spent the night has turned out to be some of the best places we have stayed.

The third hotel we tried in Carcassonne, France. The others were booked out but what a view we ended up with.

Slow down! Do you have somewhere better to be?

I was reading a post on a road trip blog I like called US Longcuts and they had a nice quote from one of their kids that not only defines their site name but also helps me make this point. They were asked “Can’t we just take the highway instead of Dad’s long cuts?”.

As a Travel Agent I constantly have to attempt to slow people down when they tell me their travel plan. Sure it’s a long way to get anywhere from Australia, and it’s only natural to want to pack in as much as possible once you get there, but better to see the whole of one amazing thing that just a small piece of everything.

Too often clients have come home with lots of photos but no clear memories of the places they went. Take your time, use the scenic route instead of the Highway.

Real life is lived away from the Interstates and Autobahns of the world. You will be amazed how many interesting things you will find if you slow down a bit when you travel.

Taking the scenic route in Arizona and we stumbled upon these amazing Indian ruins.

Take a chill pill

Once again, this ties in with the previous point. Every member of your family, especially the kids, need to recharge now and then. Not many can go non-stop for two weeks and still be enjoying a vacation to the fullest. Make sure you leave time in your schedule to do nothing.

I don’t mean lock everyone in the hotel laying on the bed for a day, but rather have some time where you just take it easy with no set time to do things. Maybe that means just walk around town, play in the local park, find a little beach area. It can be anything that lets everyone unwind a little.

Children especially need some down time and, believe me, they are much better traveling companions after they rest than if you try to keep them on the go.

A day in Playa del Carmen, Mexico with nothing to do but meet some happy locals

Make it fun for everyone

No matter how big a fan you are, everyone has a limit to the number of medieval Churches they can view on one vacation before the joy wears off. Kid’s generally have a much shorter span of attention than adults, so remember that next time you decide the family needs to see 17 museums during your week away.

However, there are ways to keep the kids interested for longer than they usually would. Make a game of it! Have competition to see who finds the weirdest statue, get them to count the gargoyles on the Cathedral, give them a camera and have a photo of the day award.

Children love games, and if you can work a way to make it educational without them catching on, all the better. You just might have some fun as well.

Dana dances Uptown Funk in the Louvre. We like to have silly photo competitions.

Find a way to have some “grown-up” time

It’s during vacations that family ties can be stretched to breaking point. If at all possible find some time away from the kids. While it was mentioned above that the little monsters need some down time to recharge, it is just as important for parents to have a few moments to not be parents.

Does the hotel offer babysitting? Go and grab a quiet dinner without the kids. Is there a kid friendly activity in town where they are fully supervised and you can go and get a coffee or walk at the park or beach?

If you are travelling with another family maybe arrange to look after their children for a while and then they can return the favour.

We love our kids but we need to maintain our sanity!

My cousin joined us in Hawaii and stayed with Dana, while Pauline and I went for dinner.

Vacations should be fun, but they can be educational

We always found ways to make Dana learn things when we traveled. Sometimes she was missing school so we felt even more strongly about this.

The research mentioned above was a good start but we also did a few other things which seemed to have worked out well.

  • work out a simplified version of the exchange rate if you are using a foreign currency and if your child wants to buy something, have them work out the equivalent in your usual money. Kids can be good at maths if it means they might be able to buy something.
  • if you have a computer with you and your child has found something interesting during the day, have them look it up at night and tell you more about it.
  • get them a camera. You may be shocked at some of the photos they can produce, they may be better than your own!
  • most teachers I have known, especially through junior school, will allow the kids to tell the class about their recent trip. Have them keep a travel journal during the trip and remember to leave some space for them to stick some photos. It is also something that you will treasure more than just a photo album in the future.
  • a great keepsake from a vacation is a video journal made by your kids. It can be a simple as spending a minute or two at the end of each day asking them a few questions about what they did. Don’t try to over direct them. A child’s innocent thoughts can be incredibly funny when you look back years later. It’s also a great way to bring back your own memories.

Dana took this amazing shot in Hong Kong. I couldn't believe it.

Have you learned any lessons to make family travel a better experience for everyone? Let us know.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Some solid and very good advice about lessons learnt from family travel! I just wrote something similar on my son’s 10th birthday this June – about 10 lessons learnt from travels with Shahaar 🙂 I loved ‘take a chill pill’ 😀

    • Thanks Samiya, I haven’t read that post of yours yet but I will. I think too many parents end up taking a headache pill when all they really needed was that “chill pill”.

  2. What a great collection of good advice you have! I especially like the idea of non-negotiables chosen by the kids, though we do do that in a way, because my daughter knows that whenever she sees a playground, we might stop by right then and there or come back at some other time, so that she can just play.

    • Before Dana was old enough to do her own research we were in exactly the same boat as you Jolanta. Every playground that had a swing or a slide ended up on the agenda. It made for some very long days on the road.

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