A recent poll conducted on behalf of the US Travel Association found that family vacations create some of the fondest and most lasting memories for children and adults. The results, released by the nonprofit organization that promotes travel to and within the United States, are probably not a surprise to most families. For advice on how to make sure the memories are good ones, we turned to syndicated columnist Eileen Ogintz, author of the “Kid’s Guide” travel book series (Globe Pequot Press) and creator of the website www.takingthekids.com .
Q What makes family travel memorable?
A A trip does not have to be as far-flung as the Galápagos or Africa to be memorable. What matters is that it is an experience that you are sharing. You often think that kids don’t want to be with their parents. But the US Travel Association survey showed that it is important to them. Whether your kids are teenagers or younger, include them in the planning and they will be happier campers.
Q How do you go about planning a family trip?
A First sit down and have a conversation about what kind of vacation you want. Are you going to drive or fly? Are you going to the beach or the mountains? Are you going to a city or the country? Once you zero in, it is easier than ever to get the kids involved. They could start by taking a virtual tour on the official city website or the website of a theme park or big museum. Let the kids figure out ahead of time what it is they are most interested in so you are not as overwhelmed when you get there. And then make sure each member of the family has a say in the itinerary. The adults can always split up if the kids are different ages or have different interests.
Q Do you have other advice for families with children who are widely apart in age?
A Some families like to join forces with another family with kids of similar ages or with extended family. That saves money if you are renting a house or a condo and gives the kids built-in playmates. And it gives the parents built-in child care. They can swap and get time for themselves. If you are doing a trip where there are organized activities, such as a resort or a cruise ship, kids of different ages will be able to find activities and friends their own age.
Q Speaking of age differences, the survey noted that children like to travel with their grandparents. Any advice for multi-generational trips?
A Cruise ships or all-inclusive resorts are a good choice. I also find that families like soft adventure tours. That takes the onus for planning off one person. Everybody can relax and no one has to be the tour guide. Renting a condo or a house is also good for an extended family. You have a gathering point and not everyone has to participate in the same activities. Just be really clear about who is paying for what.
Q Do you have other advice about lodging choices?
A If you can stay someplace with a kitchen that really helps. Kids don’t find going out to eat all that exciting, especially three meals a day for several days. You can plan to picnic or cook in. You will eat healthier and save money.
Q Are there common mistakes families make in their vacation planning?
A I always tell families to cut the itinerary in half. They tend to plan too much. You want to have time to just relax, to sleep in, to go to the park, to play in the pool. That is what vacation is all about.
Q Can you offer advice for families who are planning a “staycation”?
A Rather than saying “oh, bummer, we’re not going anywhere,” make it more of an adventure. You can let the kids lead the way and see what you can come up with that you have never done before. It all depends on your attitude.
Q What should parents pack to keep the kids entertained?
A It’s a lot different now with electronics, but I think old-fashioned games can be fun too. Teach the kids how to play a favorite card game or board game. In the car, it’s good to listen to a book on tape. Ask the children’s librarian for suggestions. Maybe there is a book set in the place where you are going or written by a local author.
Q Are you ever surprised by what kids find most memorable?
A The survey showed that kids were looking for things that were different, to try something new that they had not done before. A lot of times, I think kids find it most memorable when things go awry, when they don’t go as planned. You have to remember that nothing ever goes perfectly when traveling with kids. That’s OK, because it makes for pretty memorable moments.