Set realistic expectations
What was the first trip you remember as a kid? Chances are it was great or absolutely horrible! I guarantee you'll want to make trips with your kids live up to the wonderful times you had or make up for the not so great times you wished you hadn't. The first thing to do is dump unrealistic expectations! There's no such thing as the "perfect trip!" You should focus on the goal of the trip. Is it to relax? Learn something new?
How can you accomplish it all in one vacation? Break your vacation into smaller trips: one with the kids and one for adults only. That way you can keep your focus. Define the purpose of the trip and stick to it! The last thing you want on a vacation is to be fighting. Strained relationships, guilt and obligation are all big issues to deal with. Delaying travel until family problems are resolved is highly recommended. Also, leave reality at home! Any mention of bad study habits or your teen's shady significant other is off-limits!
Remember that not everyone is always going to get along. Sometimes there are people you can't get enough of or only take so much of. Don't plan a five-day vacation with kids and Grandma if your spouse and Grandma tend to rub each other the wrong way. Maybe a daytrip is the way to go? Know whom you are traveling with and plan accordingly. Now that you are healthy and mentally adjusted -- it's time to start strategizing!
Gather your resources: Internet, AAA, travel magazines and friends -- never underestimate word of mouth suggestions.
Just the facts ma'am: Chances are you are going to have to confer with your spouse or partner before you embark on your trip. Before you bring anything up, make sure to do your research. Prepare before you present. Be sure to get specific and get to the point! Give your partner a few choices. Outline prices, dates and requirements for them to make an informed decision. You'll make a better argument for getting away with all the facts in front of you.
"7-Up" survey: Don't leave the kids out of the equation. If your children are seven and older, ask them what they would choose from the possibilities you've come up with. After all, the trip is for them too. Allow them to feel privy to the decision making process.
Trickery & Bribery 101
Many of you will have to resort to trickery and bribery depending on what age your kids are. Not many adults can remember much about trips they took before age six. And if you can, the details are probably sketchy. Getaway without going away! Stay at a hotel with a pool and take a picnic to the zoo. The kids won't know its only five miles away from home! The kids are happy -- and so is your wallet.
People assume that since I traveled through Arizona, I must have gone to the Grand Canyon. I did, but I was only five years old, so I don't remember it very well. The next time I saw the Grand Canyon I was 27 years old and 30,000 feet up on a plane on the way to Denver. It was breathtaking but not the same as actually being there. Honestly, I don't think I'll ever make it back there again. We all get this kind of "been there, done that attitude" about visiting places again. Our brain tells us we've been there before so why bother paying a return visit as adults? Sad but true.
With that in mind, save the biggies like Disney World and Washington DC for when your child can appreciate them, and more importantly, remember them. They will thank you later.
Twelve and up: Bribery works! I hate to say it, but money talks. A promise to stop in the gift shop or pick up a treat on the way home can sweeten the bargain with museum or history-reluctant teens. On longer vacations, give teens a set amount of mad money to spend however they wish. You don't have to give them the world; even a small wad of cash can make a difference.
Allow older kids their independence from your own itinerary. Consider a suite so they have their own room (this works for little ones too). In addition to the 1,100 Kidsuites in Holiday Inns throughout the US, try "Crayola Rooms" at Howard Johnsons and "Sleepy Bear Dens" at Travelodges located throughout the Northeast.
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