FOR MANY FAMILIES, summer is a time to hit the open road or fly to a far-off place. But it’s not the destination that matters. Traveling together is your chance to get everyone’s attention off their digital devices and onto each other as you experience something new.
With so much quality time together, your family trip is the perfect training ground to teach your kids the social and emotional skills they need to thrive in the real world. We’re talking things like resourcefulness, planning, compromise, compassion, bravery and communication.
By taking a few simple steps, you can make it not only a fun and memorable summer trip but a learning experience as well.
Include Your Kids in the Travel Planning
Many parents are opting to let kids play a bigger role in charting out trips, from choosing the destinations to full-blown planning. Travel experts say the most successful family trips involve both parents and children in choosing the locale and making plans, so don’t leave the kids out of the process. And what better way to make sure your children enjoy a vacay than to let them pick a place they want to go?
If you’re not ready to hand over the reins altogether, you can simply let them decide between different activities, tours or restaurants at your chosen destination. The fact that they have a voice and can potentially make an impact teaches them decision-making skills and shows them that their opinions matter.
Put Their Google Skills to Good Use
Let’s face it, most of your travel planning is going to take place online anyway. And who in your house is the master of the internet more than your kids?
Give your kids some parameters and let them help you with the big travel research. They’ll learn about logistics, information gathering and maybe even budgeting. This is the time to embrace their screen savviness. Just don’t be surprised if you get dragged to a very Instagrammable spot or have to make a stop for that extremely photogenic gelato.
Embrace Every Moment of Quality Time
It doesn’t matter how much you plan in advance, some of the best travel moments come from unplanned stops, last-minute cancellations and changes to your very strict, “we are going to see everything” itinerary.
The key is to maintain a positive attitude and use a little humor to get through those unforeseeable moments. Embrace spontaneity. When your kids see you making the best of what comes your way, however unexpected, they’ll learn to do the same. You’ll teach them optimism, humor, kindness, respect, resourcefulness and communication skills that will serve them well in the future.
The number one factor driving the growth of family travel is a desire to spend quality time together, according to the travel industry, so don’t get caught up in the details. Let yourself enjoy each other’s company – your trip will go so much more smoothly if you remember its overall purpose.
Take Time to Do Things Everybody Likes
It goes without saying that your kid’s idea of fun might be much different than yours. So let everybody have a hand in selecting your trip’s activities, and try to compromise when it’s not something you absolutely love. Respect each other’s differences, and try new things. You might just find you’re a fan of something you once thought you hated.
Zip lining remains on my “won’t try” list, but nothing makes me happier than to watch my kids soar across the sky. Whatever your family members’ interests may be, just make sure to create time for everybody to do something they enjoy.
Learn Something New Together
A big part of the fun of travel is seeing new places and trying new things. Keep an open mind and find something that’s new to all of you so you can share that fun, first-time experience together. Learn to surf, try yoga, go dancing, take a cooking class, or do something silly like rollerblading. Your kids will be impressed at your curiosity and sense of adventure. (Wait, you mean Mom is actually cool?)
Things like this keep your kids curious while getting them out of their comfort zone. By encouraging your children to practice bravery, try new things and not be afraid of taking risks or looking silly, you’re teaching them important life skills.
Personal Tips Based on My Family’s Trips
In late August each summer, we go away for seven to 10 days on our “big trip.” We’ve driven along the coast of California, hiked and biked in Whistler, Banff and Lake Louise in British Columbia, and zip lined in Costa Rica. After my kids reached high school, we followed our wanderlust farther abroad to places like Spain, Ireland, Portugal, and this year, Switzerland.
When planning our activities, we like to mix it up. We plan for some good old-fashioned fun (like a mud obstacle course in Ireland), time to experience the local culture, and of course, lots and lots of eating!
You’ll know that you’re having a successful family vacation when everyone’s able to forget about their overloaded schedules, put down their digital devices, and genuinely enjoy each other’s company. Traveling with the whole family can seem like a big undertaking, but it’s one that will reward you with lasting memories for years to come. Not only will your travels strengthen your bonds as a family, but your kids (and you) will grow as individuals, and they’ll learn important life skills. That just comes with the territory when you travel together.