Ask any adult about their fondest memories of childhood and many will tell you about one of the unforgettable holidays they enjoyed with their family. Indeed, family vacations spent running on the beach, exploring theme parks, skiing down mountains, or discovering foreign countries provide years of memories that remain imprinted on one’s heart.
Traveling with your children is a great way to bond as a family. These holidays also provide much more, including educational and cultural opportunities and just plain old fun…something families often lack in this busy, busy world.
But vacationing with children isn’t always easy, especially during the early years when some holiday destinations just aren’t suited for little ones. Even when the kids become tweens and teens, choosing the right holiday can be tricky as well. There’s much to consider, including destination, means of travel, length of vacation, what to pack, and more.
Choosing the Right Destination
Often, whether or not your vacation is successful depends largely upon your chosen destination. Since the evolution of air travel, the choices are endless and with the advent of the internet, it’s easy to research destinations that you might be considering. The information you need to make a wise choice is often right at your fingertips.
If you’re a city lover, you might choose one of the great urban areas of the world, like New York, Rome, London, Amsterdam, or Singapore. But is a city holiday appropriate for your 4-year-old? Perhaps you enjoy the beach. But what beaches and resorts are most family-friendly?
It’s often best to begin by determining what kinds of activities your family enjoys or which are appropriate for the age of your children.
- Beaches and watersports – If it’s sun and surf you seek, there are plenty of options for fun family holidays. If you’ve got little ones, choose a beach where the water is shallow and the sand ripe for castle building. Older kids will enjoy beaches that welcome boogie-boarders, surfing, and perhaps jet skiing. If possible, select a resort on the beach or within close proximity so as to avoid long, tiring treks to the water and the need to tote lots of heavy equipment like chairs, umbrellas, etc.
- Cities/Sightseeing – Many families enjoy incorporating a bit of education into their holidays. This is fine if your children are old enough to enjoy museums, ancient ruins, old homes with antiques, and other such things. Little ones tend to be bored by sightseeing vacations. If you do choose to sightsee, however, try to keep it somewhat kid-oriented. For example, in many major cities in the U.S., you can book a Duck Tour; a ride on an amphibious vehicle on both land and water, with narration by very witty guides. Many cities also boast hands-on science and technology museums and other interactive attractions.
- Theme Parks – This is probably the most kid-friendly form of vacation on the planet, but even trips to places like Disney World can be trying with small children. Be sure to plan the day to include a relaxed pace, ample snacks, and perhaps an afternoon nap. Make sure rides are appropriate for your child’s age range so as not to frighten them.
- Winter Sports – If your family loves the snow, the destination possibilities are many; from the Alps of Europe to the Canadian Rockies to Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains. If you’re traveling with children who are too small to ski, make sure an accredited baby sitting service is available at your chosen resort or plan to take turns skiing and babysitting. Plan for extreme temperatures and remember that kids love the snow and may forget to tell you they’re cold!
Many individuals view cruises as the ideal family vacation. They may be right! On a cruise, you’ll have everything at your fingertips without having to travel more than a few hundred yards. If you choose the right cruise, not only will you visit awesome destinations but you’ll also be able to take advantage of top-notch children’s programs that will keep your kids busy all day long.
Most cruise programs for kids begin at age 3. Sometimes younger children are accepted if they are potty-trained. These days, most cruises also include amazing teen programs that will keep even finicky teen travelers happy. Activities are age-appropriate and administered by trained professionals who actually enjoy playing with your kids. An added perk is the knowledge that your kids are safe while you’re enjoying some adult activity or a bit of leisure.
The cruise lines with the best kids/teens programs include Disney Cruise Lines, Carnival Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, and Royal Caribbean. Luxury cruise lines don’t refuse children but are geared more towards entertaining adults.
Somewhat akin to the cruise is the all-inclusive vacation. Many of these resorts are found in Mexico and the Caribbean, including the Bahamas, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic. Like cruise lines, family-friendly all-inclusive resorts offer special kids programs, many included in the price of your stay (though some are extra). Such programs give your children the opportunity to play with other kids and allow you plenty of leisure time.
Families also enjoy these resorts because lodging, food, and activities are all in one place, eliminating the need for a rental car, unless you want to explore the area, which is sometimes discouraged, especially in certain Caribbean destinations. Once you’ve arrived at an all-inclusive, there’s no need to leave the complex until it’s time to go home!
How Will We Get There?
Once you’ve determined your destination, think about your mode of transportation. Will you drive or will you fly? Obviously, with some holidays, you won’t have a choice. But if you do, you should know that both have advantages and disadvantages.
- Road Trips – Each year, thousands of families hop into their car and embark on their annual holiday. Many take days to reach their destination while others only travel for a few hours. Before choosing a driving trip, think about your kids and their reaction to car rides. You know your children best. Are they too young to keep themselves busy? If so, an extended multi-day trip may not work. If they’re old enough to play hand-held video games or read, a road trip will probably be fine. However, no matter what the age of your kids, be sure to make ample stops for food and rest room use. Even older kids need to get out and stretch.
- Plane Trips – If you can afford it and your kids don’t enjoy car rides, consider taking a plane, even if your destination is within reasonable driving distance. Nonetheless, you should always bring ample activities for your kids to enjoy, regardless of their age. Remember, if the kids get antsy, you can get out of the car, but you can’t leave the plane. Cranky kids make for other cranky passengers. Also carry juice and snacks in case of delays. A full stomach means a happy kid.
Being away from home for a long period of time can be traumatic for some kids while others are natural born travelers. If you’ve never traveled with your child before, start with a short holiday to a nearby destination and work your way up to longer vacations. Remember to bring something familiar from home, like a favorite blanket or stuffed toy. Those comforting items also come in handy if your child is feeling a little under-the-weather during your vacation.
What to Pack
Take time to research your destination so you can determine what to expect as far as expected weather and appropriate clothing. The only thing worse than a cold child is one that’s extremely hot! As was mentioned previously, also be sure to pack favorite foods (especially if you’re going to a foreign country!) and familiar items that remind them of home.