A vacation may be defined as “a time of rest or recreation,” yet, with whiny and restless children (and no place for a traditional time-out) it may feel more like an incarceration. But, by taking five “time outs” of a different kind, we have seen a profound difference in the quality of our family vacations.
Take Time to Plan Ahead
Take time to plan your trip before ever leaving home. The more planning you do ahead of time, the less stress you’ll have once you hit the road. Just remember to be realistic when it comes to the ages and attention spans of younger children. want to know.
Ask your kids (and your spouse) what they want to spend their time doing. Do you want to go to the beach or to the mountains? Do you want to visit an amusement park or do you want to go camping? Do you want to be able to shop or do you want to be away from crowds?
When our family lived in Maryland a few years ago, we planned a trip that extended into New England and eventually took us all the way to Canada. With so many possible sites to visit, we decided to include our children in the planning. As a family, we studied maps and tourist guidebooks to ensure that this trip would be one that everyone could enjoy. We balanced visits to Plymouth Rock and a replica of the Mayflower, which were perhaps more interesting for Mom and Dad and our older children, with a slow-moving kiddie train ride which was a thrill for the younger set. Had we not planned ahead, we might have missed some of these options along the way. But in doing so, everyone had a chance to make a contribution.
Take Time to Be Flexible
While planning is essential, once you’re on vacation it is equally important to take time to be flexible. Like a suspension bridge, you may collapse if you’re too structured. You can take some pressure off by incorporating wiggle room into your plans. See an interesting gift shop off the next exit? Why not stop there for a lunch and bathroom break instead of in the next major city as you had previously planned. It won’t take much more time, and you just might discover a new favorite stopping place along the way.
Flexibility in our travels can also apply to our mindset as much as our itinerary. In our haste to get to an Oregon beach one summer day, we ignored the posted warning signs and two of our sons nearly drowned when pulled out to sea by a strong undertow. Thankfully, they received a clean bill of health after a two-hour visit to a local hospital. Though traumatic, unexpected and, yes, costly, we were able to step back and assess what had taken place, and to go over those previously overlooked rules. We were then able to make sure that the rest of the week was an enjoyable and safe experience for all of us.
Another way our family has remained flexible is by not making reservations for every night on the road. Without such a rigid schedule every day, we have discovered beautiful scenery and interesting museums, and have had the time to explore these sites with our children. But be forewarned: Without good planning, this spontaneity may backfire, as it did for us on two different trips. Unbeknown to us, we arrived in Vernal, Utah at the height of Dinosaur Days, and some years prior, in Lexington, Kentucky during the Kentucky Derby. It was well past bedtime when we finally found hotel rooms on those nights.
Take Time to Serve Others
Take time to be aware of others. This can happen when an older sibling reads to a younger one during a boring stretch of highway, or perhaps shares a treat during a much needed rest stop.
While traveling through rural Idaho, we watched in amazement as a small herd of cows trampled a fence and sauntered across the two-lane road to a neighbor’s farm. We waited patiently for the daring bovine to cross, and then proceeded to the owner’s house to inform him of the escape. In spite of the colorful language he used out of frustration, this local farmer really did appreciate what we had done, and we were able to teach our children the importance of recognizing the needs of others.
You can also serve people who work and live where you vacation by showing an interest in them and their community. This can mean more to them personally than buying a sack-full of souvenirs at their curio store. We caught more of the local flavor while visiting with fishermen on a Prince Edward Island beach than by checking out the nearby visitors’ center. And often, these people may reveal local “hidden treasures” that aren’t included in any guidebook. On another trip, we enjoyed a fourth of July fireworks display at a small Pennsylvania high school because we took the time to talk to people working in that community who then informed us of the upcoming event.
Take Time to Rest and Relax
Take time to rest while on vacation. How many of you have arrived home with suitcases of dirty laundry (only to be greeted by overgrown lawns and piles of unopened mail) and exclaimed, “I need a vacation to recover from my vacation?” The Loyola University Health Systems in Chicago reported, “When it comes to driving vacations, we tend to push ourselves too much, and fatigue can be a significant problem. Even a regular night's sleep can be disrupted by strange surroundings and unusual noises, an uncomfortable or unfamiliar mattress, poor diet, and lack of physical exercise during the day.”
Responding to these physical needs will help ensure a safe arrival at your destination. Make sure you and your family members are getting enough sleep each night and not overdoing the junk food. If you see your children playing with one too many toys acquired at fast food restaurants, maybe it’s time to choose another place to eat.
Many of us try to get away from it all and in the process, may forego or forget about less obvious needs of our family. By packing intangible traditions that are important to your family, you can stay focused on what matters most. Many vehicles now come equipped with DVD players to entertain the youngsters while you drive. But try to think beyond the latest movie release to some other options. Does your family enjoy playing games or reading good books? We have been pleasantly surprised to see our children entertaining themselves with a simple card game in the back seat or listening to a book-on-tape and actually enjoying it. Also, don’t underestimate the impact of playing on a swing set at a local park. These acts remind us of the simple joys of our lives amidst otherwise hurried visits.
Incorporating family prayer, scripture study, and Sunday worship into your plans, will help feed your family spiritually while on vacation. After arriving in a small Kansas town on a Saturday night, we attended church the following morning at the local LDS branch. There we met a delightful older couple who invited us to their home for dinner after the meetings. Our spirits were lifted and rejuvenated by their generous offer, especially since they graciously overlooked the spilled drinks and crumbs on their carpet left by our small children.
Take Time to Remember
Take time to remember your vacation, through photos, videos, and plenty of “Do you remember when . . .?” sessions. Our children recently recalled with fondness the time we spent reading The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis while waiting for a ferry crossing into Nova Scotia, and then turned their attention to that “big hotel room” we stayed in somewhere in the state of Massachusetts.
Your memories (both good and bad) will be woven into the tapestry of your family fabric. Through laughter and tears, your hearts will be knit together in love towards each other.
Sometimes reliving these memories can be just as good the second and third time around.