You think you've thought of everything to plan the perfect family getaway. You checked the web for the best airline deals. You've mapped out the construction zones and speed traps between you and your dream destination. The hotel reservations have been set for months to get the best rooms. At long last, you've made it! Everyone should be thrilled to start a great experience, so why do you sense a combination of apprehensiveness, indifference and, perhaps, disgust? Perhaps not all vacations are created equal -- at least between parents and their kids.
That's the message from years of research conducted by Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell, a leading marketing, advertising and public relations agency serving travel and leisure-industry clients. According to Peter Yesawich, PhD, chairman and CEO, the "time poverty" experienced by many families (70 percent of whom are dual income earners) encourages vacation planning that "gives family members a chance to reconnect with each other."
However, parents and kids have different ideas about which activities are best suited to reach that goal. "Parents tend to be interested in education- and enrichment-focused experiences," comments Yesawich. Such activities may include museum visits, cultural festivals, volunteer vacations, and even family reunions.
They can appeal to adult interests and multiple family generations while engaging the kids -- if they're inclined to participate.
However, kids are less likely to view intellectual pursuits (even if laced with social activities) as the dream vacation experience. Recent research reveals the a majority of kids feel they need a vacation from homework and school (the most frequently cited causes of stress), so educational activities are not likely to be high on the "must do" list.
"Our research" states Yesawich, "continues to show that kids are especially interested in water-based activities and theme park destinations." However, kids are increasingly interested in cruising as a vacation activity. The latest research also shows that most kids believe an "ideal" vacation is seven or more days, much longer than the average length of four days.
So what's a parent to do? Below are some tips to put the research to work for you:
Get the kids involved in planning -- Nearly two-thirds of kids have no major role in planning family vacations, so there's ample opportunity for parents, regardless of their good intentions, to miss the mark when deciding on destinations and activities. Surf the web together to brainstorm ideas. Consider your kids' extracurricular activities (sports, hobbies, etc.) and look for venues (museums, fairs, conventions, etc.) geared toward them.
Make education less obvious -- Don't be surprised if the kids shy away from any activity that reminds them of an academic subject area (unless they have a sincere interest in math/physics/etc.). Find "out of the box" educational experiences that take kids outside of the typical classroom setting. Pick a topic/activity neither of you know well but are curious about (cooking, animation, etc.) and sign-up for a hands-on introductory class.
Explore regional options with kid appeal -- One vacation activity kids like the least is riding in a car. If you ideal destination requires several hours of automobile time and flying isn't doable, discuss with the family why the destination is of interest and investigate whether regional alternatives (theme parks, water rides, etc.) are a good compromise.
Keep in mind that many of kids' favorite vacation activities ("go swimming/have pool time, eat out in restaurants, stay in a hotel or resort") can be done within a couple hours' drive from home at nearly any destination.
Recognize the value of quiet time -- It's likely to be difficult to reconnect with family during vacation if everyone's going a mile a minute, so make time for quiet family meals to encourage dialogue. During the trip to and from the destination, take a break from the radio or in-flight movie to check in with your kids about what they've been doing and share your perspectives on family ups and downs.
Yesawich observes, "one of the most revealing insights from the research is that kids want 'quality time' with their parents on vacations as well, and fully two-thirds say they do things with their parents they wouldn't normally do at home. The number one activity mentioned? Sharing a meal (48 percent)!"
Lengthen the time off -- Vacation time doesn't have to be away time. If the kids need more time off, but your vacation schedule is limited, consider extending their vacation by given them a couple extra days off at home with supervision by a relative/sitter or going to local community center activities.
Or stagger time off between parents so one person has extra days off available to spend with the kids.