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Making the Most of Family Vacations

I love vacations. I have been accused, and I can’t disagree, of having a Vacation Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I particularly enjoy family vacations to anything Disney, and trips with my wife to go diving. Why is this? I think a good part of the reason has to do with the opportunity to have fun with my wife and/or my boys. The fun with them, is ten times greater than without them.

There are a couple of commercials for Orlando that have caused me to think about this topic.   In one of these commercials, a father and son are experiencing an attraction. In the middle of the attraction the father transforms into a child the same age as his son. This is initially a bit confusing as to what happened. Then the two boys cast a reflection on some surface and you see that one boys reflection is actually the fathers reflection. The other commercial is of the same concept except this time it’s a mother and daughter.

When I saw this commercial the first time, I told my wife how much I liked it. To which, she replied, “Of course you do, it’s about you.” To which I have to fully agree. There is something special about sharing fun with my family. It creates a bond and memories that I will cherish forever.

I think I come by it honestly.  One of my favorite memories from my childhood, is riding the log ride at Six Flags over and over with my dad when he realized that there was virtually no line.  We must have done that at least six or seven times. Even as I type this, I can’t help but feel that joy again.

Whether it is a multi-week, trip of a lifetime, or a simple day trip, vacations create special opportunities to connect with family members.  As we enter the summer season and consider our vacations, put a bit of planning time into creating those truly special connections and memories.

Some ways to enhance your family vacations can include…

  • Involve the entire family in the planning of the trip.  With the travel books and internet sites available today, it is difficult not to be overwhelmed by information about virtually any vacation destination.  Why not make the planning a family project.  Encourage everyone to research and explore the possibilities. This way, each member can know they contributed to the process of organizing a trip that may have lifelong meaning.
  • Create family traditions around vacations.  If you are a family that goes to the same place over and over, get your picture taken in the same place and pose each year. Visit the same restaurant you all love.  If you go to a variety of destinations, you could do some sort of scavenger hunt.  Some families have discovered Geo-caching using their GPS. Visit a historical place or go to a museum.  All these are things that can be used to connect the positive times from one year to the next.
  • Do a service project together.  This might be the primary focus of the entire trip, a family mission trip.  It could be a one day project associated with a ministry or volunteer organization in the area you are visiting. It could be delivering supplies or some item the family has created together previous to the trip, i.e. blankets or care packages.
  • Take the opportunity to teach your kids.  If you are traveling by plane, and have enough time between flights.  Let the kids do the work of figuring out what gate to get to for the next flight.  Obviously this may not always be an option, but, in the right circumstances it can be an opportunity to teach real life thinking skills and reasoning.
  • Also, take advantage of unique educational opportunities in the destinations you are visiting.  A little research before hand, or upon first arrival, can reveal some pretty amazing opportunities.  Upon visiting the Grand Canyon, we discovered a Jr. Ranger program.  My then 9 year old son had a blast learning and exploring as he fulfilled the requirements to attain his Jr. Ranger badge and certificate.  I have to admit I was quite proud of him as he took his Jr. Ranger oath. Now, all four of us have an appreciation for things we would’ve never given a second thought.  For example, we spent most of a morning observing California Condors that we all learned about as he pursued his badge.  Opportunities like this come in all shapes, sizes and natures.  You can find them at most, if not all national parks.  Even places as seemingly different from national parks, as Disney World, often offer opportunities for learning.
  • Take lots of pictures and videos.  With today’s technology and the ability to take hundreds of pictures, there is no reason not to overdo it.  Then you will have a record of the time you spent together.  Often, the pictures you cherish the most will have little to do with the destination and a lot more to do with capturing the things you love the most about your family. Some families use these pictures/videos to create scrapbooks, slide shows and even youtube style videos to commemorate their vacation.
  • Be flexible and spontaneous.  Purposely build in unscheduled time into the vacation.  Some of the greatest memories will be things you just can’t plan.  It may be as simple as laughing together over someones slip of the tongue.  It may be an opportunity to observe something that just spontaneously happened.  On the same trip mentioned above, we stayed in a hotel in Flagstaff. One morning our porch was visited by a Tasseled Eared Squirrel who literally tried to come into our room.  The silliness of that morning is now a precious memory for our family.
Remember, vacations are not going to cure your families ills.  If you have some issues as a family, a vacation may not be the cure.  In fact it might just serve as an opportunity to exaggerate some of the problems that are already there.  If there are things you need to fix in your family, start that work well before the vacation.  Once that work is finished, then the vacation can serve as an opportunity to celebrate the families accomplishments.
This is just the tip of the iceberg.  I hope this article as given a vision of the value a vacation can have for your family.

Eric Clements, M.S.

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