More and more, families are discovering that traveling together can be an unparalleled experience. From the memories created for children to the novel way of seeing the world with young ones, a family holidays can be one of the most fulfilling and rewarding events in life. At all times of year, in any season, family travel can mean stressful travel. But it doesn´t have to be that way. Most smart parents learn from mistakes from past holiday mishaps and fiascos and with some reflection and planning, trips can become a success for the whole family. Taking the time to plan a full experience for all will not only reinforce family ties, it may also detach the kids from the barrage of technology that increasingly pervades their lives. Here are some tips to consider before you start buying those tickets and making reservations.
Make it a democracy
Not every family is the same. A family with one child is likely to be vastly different from a pack of five. Some young boys won´t like the same things as their sisters. Expand your possibilities. Talk about your trip before you go, get all the members of the family excited about the excursion, get feedback, ask the kids what they want to do, be honest and say what you would like to do, or perhaps something that you have always wanted to see.
Teenagers appreciate being involved in the planning process, and allowing them to participate in this stage creates a sense of personal investment in the trip, so they are more likely to make a genuine effort to enjoy the experience, and they’ll have clearer expectations of what is to come. Contrast that to a mopey, detached adolescent, unaware and apathetic of the next destination, simply following mom and dad around while staring at the phone.
With the younger ones, play a game in which they can express their wants. During the planning stage, hold a spontaneous vote and have the kids shout a silly word that expresses their enthusiasm (everyone who wants to go to the farm or the zoo, say moo!).
Yet with a responsible democracy come rules. Establish the parameters before you go. Will the family be sleeping in everyday? How much independence will the kids have? How much can they pack? How often will you eat out at fancy restaurants or eat fast food? Remind the members of the family that everyone has contributed but everyone must be aware of the limits.
Some families travel with other parents with children of similar age. In this scenario, kids feel like they have an escape from the constant eye of the parents as they share experiences with their friends from another family. This bonding will likely be lasting and positive.
Speaking of swimming, kid friendly beaches are always sensible, with shallow waters, no dangerous currents, a lifeguard on duty, and clean water (look for the blue flag). Tidepools and rocky areas are great for exploring, a wonderful activity to do as a family.
When choosing a destination, look for places that incorporate at least one aspect of your child´s interest. Themes of animals and dinosaurs are a sure bet: places like zoos, wild animal parks, educational marine parks and petting zoos.
Restaurants are almost always a hit. No dishes to do afterward, extra dessert. Eating out is a time to do something special. And terrace eateries are an excellent choice, as kids love to be outside.
Things to do
Anytime everyone is relaxed and not distracted, easy conversations pop up between family members, building the bonds between parent and child. When everyone is walking, swimming or horseback riding, (unlike sitting around the sofa watching TV) the activity becomes the catalyst, not the distraction. Some destinations have extensive experience in catering to families. In Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, families find an amazing destination for getting active together. From zip lining in the jungle to adventure buggy tours, from snorkeling excursions to surfing lessons, there is plenty to talk about at the family voting stage of your trip planning. In Tenerife, Canary Islands, the dominion of nature calls with its dormant volcanoes and 6 different vegetative zones for hiking and exploring. Make sure that you check the age requirements before you go (even before you suggest the idea in the first place). Especially in the more physical activities, it could be an unexpected downer if one of the youngsters is left out.
Educational activities are great for kids, like archeological or natural history museums. Just check if there are enough tactile, hands on exhibits. The type of museum is key. Three hours of Manet impressionism may tickle your fancy, but it may feel like eternal punishment for the kids. And who knows, one of those educational activities might spark an interest in your child’s growing mind, and interest that could grow into a future. The Miami Children’s Museum is a fine example, where younger children can learn about marine biology, environmental responsibility, civics and animal care, all in one place.
Some families enjoy going out to local markets, shopping for food ingredients and cooking together. If this sounds like your family, some exclusive hotels also offer apartment-style stays with kitchens. If you aren´t a group of budding chefs, the better all-inclusive hotels offer great advantages for families, with excellent family services like kids´ menus, playgrounds, nightly entertainment for young viewers and child care services.
Keep it safe
When travelling to a new place, it is important that the whole family has a clear protocol in the event of someone wandering off. Depending on the age, a mobile phone is indispensable (check the number, make sure it works at your destination). Make clear and easy, even before you leave, what everyone is to do if someone turns the wrong way in a crowded market. At each new location, find an obvious, easy to spot place to meet.
It isn’t over-planning to research medical facilities or what emergency services are available in the area. What is country’s equivalent to 911? Where can you buy medication? Make sure you pack all the paperwork for prescriptions and perhaps even insect repellant (if there are allergies, know the bugs that are indigenous).
The unforeseen details, foreseen
Make sure that you iron out the small details of the trip. It is amazing how a simple glitch like not knowing how to get from the airport to the hotel (or back to the airport again) can send the stress level through the roof. Pay special attention to public transportation (how and where to buy the tickets, the most economically sensible ticket to buy, children’s discounts. Find out if there any city shuttles or airport subway systems. Is there a bus that just goes from the airport to the center of town? Does the hotel have an airport shuttle service?
On the plane, you probably prefer to sit together. Spend the extra time reserving specific seats, saving the hassle of the airline not being overly considerate and doing it for you.
Check airlines´ carry-on policies; depending on the airline, they run the gamut from reasonable to cruel. This may become useful if you’re traveling with baby equipment and extra clothes. While at the airport, its easy to forget that the kids may need extra help with adult things like plane tickets and passports. Depending on the age of the children, it may be best if the parents manage the passports. For pre-teens and some adolescents, practical parents place the passport and ticket in a transparent pouch attached to a bright colored lanyard. There are even plastic clasps for the pouch that can pass through metal detectors.
Small details can even extend to your kids’ shoes. Such a small detail like uncomfortable shoes, or shoes not suited for the environment can lead to cranky children and moody parents. Try not to skimp with end-of-year discounts or settle on those convenient hand-me-downs. Take the time to put on the right footwear that corresponds to your destination, and your kids will be thankful for it (even if they don´t say it).