When my kids were growing up, there is nothing I enjoyed more than our family vacations — a time when we could leave our laptops behind (or in the hotel room) and disconnect from our cell phones (or mute them).The key lies in being resourceful and creative and to be keenly aware of what excites and challenges your children at their current age and attention span. There can also be different target goals for a family vacation such as relax and reconnect or teaching them about the world and new cultures. A trip can be both meaningful and fun.
When they were young, yes, we did the Disney thing…many times. But as they grew older, I wanted my children to know there was a whole world of new adventures outside of Orlando. One of the things we decided to do was to take them to a different tropical destination every February school vacation. Getting away from the snowy, cold northeast was really a treat. They learned to snorkel, try exotic foods, and enjoy other ways of life – experiences that will serve them well throughout life.
Teens are attracted to destinations that offer activities to challenge and excite – like a zip line, white water rafting, jet skiing, or kayaking. By including at least one of these activities in your schedule, your big kids will be active, engaged and satisfied – and more likely to enjoy – or at least tolerate – other non-adrenaline activities (like a visit to a museum) planned in the same vacation.
Variety, variety, variety. You’ll find your teen will even try new things they wouldn’t normally want to try — my daughter tried surfing and my son tried salsa dancing lessons. Both were hilarious!
Encourage your kids to eat new things. My daughter ate octopus in Puerto Rico and we still laugh at the memory of her picking a tentacle with tiny suction cups out of her braces!
No matter what the age, bend the rules a little. I’m not saying let them behave like savages, but letting them stay up late (or sleep in late!) and eat not-so-healthy food (at and between meals), can make an impact on attitude.
I also allowed them to participate in choosing some of the activities. I did mega-research months before we left and made a list of all the fun things to do in that destination. First of all, seeing that there were more fun things to do than time would allow always got them keyed up and looking forward to that particular destination – especially if it was not someplace that is familiar to them. Then I let them express which activities appeal most to them, and we come up with a list that included (1) activities that appeal to everyone, and (2) some activities that one or more family members are really eager to do. For me, seeing my kids really enjoying themselves on vacation truly made my heart sing. . . which is why I agreed to do things like horseback riding and banana boat rides –which were not on my list of favorites. And I really must add that I’m was a very good sport because laughing at my lack of equestrian skills and inability to stay on the banana boat were part of the fun for my kids, and they love to tell and re-tell the those stories.
On a trip to Key West, we splurged and rented a brand-new townhouse and both children had their own room and en suite bath. While the townhouse was beachfront, the ocean on that side of the island was not the most beautiful, but my children were just thrilled about the luxurious accommodations. We’ve also rented beach homes that were not so over-the-top but my kids still talk about laughing and playing cards at night around the kitchen table.
No matter what digs you choose, or where you decide to go, just go. Quality family time is the secret to a happy, healthy family.