By Christina VanGinkel
Choosing where to go on a family vacation, or what activities the vacation should include, can be a fun activity in its own right, especially if everyone in the family gets to have input. This does not mean that it gets to be a free for all, with everyone shouting out destinations, just that everyone has the opportunity to provide suggestions on what they, as individuals, would like to do. Children love to have a say about everything in their lives, and vacations are no different. Too often as adults, we just assume that kids will enjoy themselves no matter where we take them, and with some kids, this might be true. With families that have more than one child though, making sure that everyone is happy can be difficult sometimes, even impossible, but with a vacation, we should take the time to at least find out what would be intriguing to them when they think of a vacation.
Announce a family meeting at a set time and place, or at the end of dinner one evening, state that the following night, this will be a topic open for suggestion. Make sure everyone knows ahead of time, so the opportunity is there to put some real thought into his or her suggestions. Inform them that all suggestions will be given consideration, no matter how far fetched, that at this point in time, you are on an information gathering expedition, and that the activities they would like to do are as important, if not more so, than the destinations they might suggest.
If you have a large family, it might even be prudent to have each child write down their suggestions and have a parent read them, aloud, to the family. For each suggestion on an activity or destination, if they are old enough, ask them to also research what the cost involved might be. Small children should be excluded from this task; just coming up with a few ideas will be enough work for them. You will have to go back over each suggestion with more thorough research, but this will let the kids know that you are seriously valuing their ideas. It will also provide them with a reality check if they have suggestions such as taking a trip to Hawaii, and your budget is closer to driving to the nearest Waterpark. Tell them they need to consider transportation, lodging, meals, and activities. Be sure you participate in this task, offering up destination suggestions. Each family member should also write down one or two activities that are no cost, which they would like to do on the trip. Take a walk on a beach, sit on the top of the snowboard hill, and watch the sunset or rise, take some time to read a book, sleep, talk. A successful vacation always includes what I refer to as down time. The problem is if we do not recognize what we consider downtime, we will not set aside some time to do those things.
If they have suggested just an activity, instead of a destination, still have them research the cost. Skydiving for example, may be something older kids might suggest. Have them check both the cost and age requirements.
Once you have narrowed down where and what the vacation might consist of, have the children email, write, or phone for travel brochures related to the trip. Again, have older kids do some research online, or by calling the Chamber of Commerce in the area where you will be visiting to see if any discount books are available. Surprisingly, many destinations both large and small have discounts and coupons available for everything from lodging to attractions, just for the asking.
Getting kids involved in the decision-making and planning of a vacation has several distinct benefits. It shows them that you value their ideas, and that maybe you would have enjoyed Hawaii just as much as they would, but realistically, it just was not going to happen. It also makes them accountable to a point for how well they enjoy themselves. Kids that were given the opportunity to pick and choose at least parts of the vacation agenda cannot come back at you and say that the whole vacation is boring and that they are not having any fun, why did they not go here or there, or get to do this activity or that. You will already have gone over those issues.
Get your family involved in planning your next vacation and you will also extend the enjoyment, as planning and looking forward to a vacation can sometimes be as much fun as the reward of the vacation itself.