Ah — the family vacation! At its very best, it gets everyone out of their routines and strengthens family connections. When it’s not so great, parents can end up spending a fortune to be the instruments of their own misery.

Here are some tips for planning a memorable (in a good way) trip.

Who: Before you decide what you’re doing and where you’re going, you need to know who’s on board — with special attention to age groups. Also, decide if this vacation is just for your immediate family or if you’d like to vacation with friends or extended family.

What: Once you know who’ll be with you, decide what you want to do. Does your family enjoy camping, sightseeing, museums or amusement parks? Choose a range of activities that provides some fun for everyone. What’s exciting to a 5-year-old might be agony for a 15-year-old (and vice-versa!). Make sure to call a family meeting and ask your kids what they want to do. If you get their input up front, they’ll be more enthusiastic and cooperative.

When: After settling on your “what,” it’s time to think about when. Check everybody’s calendars. Do you need to schedule around work obligations for parents and older kids? What about sports schedules, camps or school start dates? Choose a time that’s best for all involved.

Where: Now, with your budget firmly in mind, make a final decision on destination. Does it make sense to stay closer to home, or do you want to travel farther? Check the operating hours for any specific destinations or attractions so you don’t have big disappointment when you get there. Anyone who’s seen “Family Vacation” remembers the Griswolds’ arrival at Wally World — hilarious on film, but not so much fun if it were to happen in real life.

How: Finally, make your plan for how you’ll travel. If you’re going by car, how long will it take? When will you leave? How many hours a day do you want to spend in the car? And how many drivers will you have? If you’re traveling by plane, determine your transportation to and from the airport, and make sure everyone has appropriate identification. Review the airline’s baggage guidelines. Set a time for packing.

With some careful thought, you can set your family up for a meaningful and relaxing time together. So, call a family meeting and start planning for your family vacation!


Laura Holmes Buddenberg joined Father Flanagan's Boys' Home in January 2000. As a training manager at Boys Town, Buddenberg works as an administrator, writer and trainer, specializing in teen dating and relationships, media awareness, family spirituality, abuse and other issues affecting today's families.

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