Spring break: Create lasting memories on a family vacation

Mar 12, 2013 at 1:30 p.m. ET

It's spring break time and many families are heading out of town on vacation. When it comes to family travel, what matters the most is not where you are going but that the family is going together.

Travelling family

The U.S. Travel Association is releasing a new study, conducted by Harris Interactive, that indicates traveling together as a family strengthens bonds and creates a lifetime of memories.

Many adults report that family vacations are clearly remembered decades after the fact. Sixty-two percent of the adults surveyed said their earliest memories were of family vacations taken when they were between ages 5 and 10, and these memories were significantly stronger than memories of school events or birthday celebrations. Youth participants in the survey strongly agreed that they get to see and do things on vacation that they’ll remember for a long time (64 percent) and that vacations bring their family closer together (53 percent).

Also, consider bringing Grandma and Grandpa along on your next trip. The survey revealed that kids are enthusiastic about traveling with their grandparents. Sixty percent of the children questioned reported feeling closer to their grandparents after a family vacation together. You can learn more about the "Family Vacations Create Lasting Memories" survey at TravelEffect.com.

Four preschoolers

Cruise balconyMy husband and I are blessed to have four preschool-age children. And though kids this age (or any age for that matter) can be a handful, it doesn't stop us from traveling together. With a little extra planning, you can enjoy family trips, no matter how old your kids are. In the last six months we've gone on five family trips, ranging from an RV vacation to a Disney cruise. Each time, we've learned a little more about how to make our travel experience a little less hectic.

If your kids are young, start out with a short trip — just a weekend away with a very loose, flexible itinerary. Bring a lot of things that you know will calm your kids when they need it. For example, my 3-year-old daughter is very into music. So, my husband burned a CD of all her favorite songs that we bring along and play on extended car trips. If your child has a special pillow or toy that she just can't do without — make room for it when packing — it's worth it.

No one says that traveling with kids is a breeze, but you shouldn't put off a trip with your little ones just because you think it might be a hassle.

Travel expert Eileen Ogintz offers these tips to reduce the stress of family travel:

Involve the kids in the planning

Take a virtual tour of the theme park or museum before you visit and let your children help decide what you are going to see first. If the kids are older, let them plan the itinerary for a day. You will be amazed at the adventures they will lead you on! They will be much happier if they have a say, and we all know happy kids mean happy parents!

Cut the itinerary in half

Whether you are touring Washington D.C. memorials, an Orlando theme park or a major museum with kids, you aren’t going to see everything. So don’t even try. The theme park, the monuments and the museum will be there next time. Focus on what captures the kids’ attention — and yours — and leave when everyone has had enough. Make sure there is time for the hotel pool, the beach or the playground!

Look for ethnic restaurants

Seek out ethnic restaurants (they always welcome children and kids can always find something to eat) and look for healthier meals while on vacation. Locate restaurants that not only offer healthy kids menus but also allow kids to order half portions for half price from the kids menu. Ask the doorman or the bellman at your hotel where they take the kids in their lives out to dinner. Follow the locals! The National Restaurant Association has an initiative Kids LiveWell that now has some 33,000 restaurants on board that have increased fruits and veggies, whole grains and lean proteins and limited fats, sugars and salt in their kids menus.

Read this piece that Ogintz wrote for the Today show website about healthier meals when traveling >>

Opt for a vacation rental or suite hotel

With this type of lodging, you can spread out and cook some meals (who wants to spend $50 for breakfast the kids don’t eat or eat out every meal for a week). You’ll not only save big bucks because rentals often are cheaper than hotel rooms, but also you will be more relaxed. Plus, you won’t have to go to bed when the 5-year-old does.

Use TSA family lanes

TSA family lanes are available at many airports. Use them! You won’t get stuck in front of a harried business traveler who has no patience for the toddler who doesn’t want to put his “lovey” on the belt.

Buy a seat on the plane for your baby

You don’t have to do so until your child is 2 but everyone from the American Academy of Pediatrics to the FAA suggests that you do because young children are far safer in their own seat in turbulent skies. Did you know babies are the only thing not required to be strapped in for takeoff and landing?

Alternate free attractions with those that cost money

This might mean an afternoon at the pool, at the local farmers market or on a factory tour. Joining that pick-up soccer game at the park or talking with a local farmer may end up being a high point of the trip.

Don’t expect perfection

With kids, perfection doesn't exist! Remember why you are on vacation in the first place — to have fun, make memories and share new experiences. Revel in the imperfect moments! They make the best memories anyway.

Split up

Divide and conquer if the kids are different ages or have different interests. You don’t have to be in lockstep all the time!

Share your passion

Use vacation time to share your hobby or passion with the kids — whether it is baseball, scuba diving or theater. At the same time, indulge their passions (from dinosaurs to fashion).

More about traveling with kids

Celebrity mom Holly Robinson Peete talks travel and more
Simple tips for road trips with kids
The daddy packhorse: Tips for air travel with kids