Traveling with children always requires some extra prep time. Even when you pick the best family vacation destinations, there's no guarantee everyone will have a great time. Bottom line: you know the personalities and idiosyncracies of your kids and family best. That should largely serve as a guideline on how you go about it. While it's easy for our luxury travel agency to plan your best vacation in Hawaii, or an all-inclusive Club Med vacation, planning luxury family vacations such as European, Asian vacation and beyond is more challenging. So here are some general observations about family friendly vacations I hope you'll find useful.
1. Take the kids and expose them.
We know children are like sponges in absorbing new sights, sounds and smells. While there are some adults that prefer children not be dragged about the planet because "they're too young to appreciate it, and it's a waste of money;" most parents know exposing children to travel, to other cultures and to new experiences is a great way to acclimate them to grow up to become better rounded individuals. (While this blog isn't about politics, I'm always worried when an elected official to higher office is poorly traveled -- they generally exhibit a much narrower viewpoint to the world's problems.)
2. Let your kids be your guide to new experiences.
For parents traveling with children, there's an added bonus. Seeing new destinations through the eyes of children is part of the joy of family vacations. At least that's been my experience traveling with my kids over the years. They often notice and call attention to things that I may not have given a second glance to or considered.
3. Do some advance preparation so your kids have an idea of where they're going and what to look forward to.
When we planned our first trip to Europe with our kids, exposing them to a bit of history and art was important. We went to the library and took out some children's books that dealt with castles in Europe (knights, royalty and all that), and art. Reading these illustrated books, written in language they can understand, prepared them. When we visited a castle or chateau, they had a better appreciation of it, and what life was like in centuries past.
4. How to make a museum visit last longer for everyone's increased pleasure.
We enjoy visiting the world's museums. It's important to limit the time one exposes younger children to at a museum -- there's only so much they'll take or can absorb. But you can make it fun. Our kids have always enjoyed pretty postcards, so sometimes we've gone to the gift shop first, looked at the postcards, had the kids find those they like, then we're off on a treasure hunt in the galleries to find those works of art. Another "game" is have them find paintings that depict certain things, like a castle; or a saint, and what do they think about that portrayal; or an animal, and talk about how the animal is depicted.
5. Don't make all the decisions, let the kids plan some of your activities.
Involving kids in the decision of day-to-day planning is also important. If parents program all the sightseeing without kids' input, and without appropriate down time, kids will generally get bored, have issues, and have a propensity to whine. Making a list of "things to do," and allow everyone to pick their favorite. It's one way to engage kids and cut down on complaining, because they know they got their pick, too. If a full day of sightseeing precludes that, then allow a day just for the kids to do what they want to. If traveling in warm summer months, staying at a hotel with a swimming pool, or near a beach, is advantageous. With the promise of an afternoon swim after some sightseeing, kids can be more patient.
6. Give your kids travel "homework"
Finally, we've always encouraged our kids to keep a travel diary or scrapbook of their adventures. We give them time at the restaurant (waiting for dinner to be served), or before bedtime, to record something about each day. When they were younger, we gave them questions to answer about their day, to make it easier. Saving tickets, pictures, and postcards is also fun and creates memories for them later. Of course, giving them their own digital camera to record their impressions is a bonus. As kids get older, sharing their experiences in the classroom is also useful, and we've encouraged their teachers to let kids talk in class about their adventures abroad, because that's of benefit to all children. (Sometimes they've earned extra credit in class for doing so!)
In working with so many families planning vacations over the years, it's not uncommon, after listening to a client's initial trip request, that I've had to ask: Is this trip for you and your wife, or is it for your kids, or are we planning this so all of you have a great time? It makes them consider that maybe they've left out an important equation -- their kids, or in some cases, themselves and their own needs. That helps us plan a better paced vacation that takes everyone's interests into account.