Ahh, vacation. A time to relax, unwind and bond as a family.
In the past, I used to make charts and timetables of what we would see and when we would see it. I used to spend weeks researching details about our travel destinations and make as many reservations as possible for dinners, shows, etc. Now I look back on that time, smile and think, “Wow, did I ever overdo it!” Control freak? Um, yeah. I’d say so.
So, over the years, I’ve really tried to lighten up. While I acknowledge the usefulness of the charts and schedules, I don’t think you can effectively vacation that way as the kids get older. When kids are little, they follow you anywhere and do so without question. As they get older, however, they start to wonder why they’re going where they’re going and often lobby for different destinations (especially when they’re on vacation).
When the kids want more of a say in the itinerary, we parents have a few options. First, we can surrender control and completely cave in to their demands. “Okay, sweetie, whatever you want.” We would then change things around and proceed to the new place without the benefit of hours of at home research. But that’s risky. You don’t know what to expect! What sounds good in a PR soundbite could be boring (or worse–freaky) when you actually experience it.
Alternatively, we can be complete control freaks and insist on the original travel plans (designed completely by us, of course). With stacks of research papers in hand (and maybe even some brochures sent in advance by the museum or other place of interest) you proceed to the original destination at the designated time, disregarding the kids’ points of view. Grumbling, disappointed and discouraged kids follow along like scolded puppies with tails between their legs.
Not an ideal situation. So what’s the third option?
Well, you can find some kind of compromise where you get information about the place the kids would like to see (i.e., ask a local or the hotel concierge or someone else with knowledge (or, if you’re really tech savvy, look it up on your iPhone or laptop)). Then, if it sounds like a good idea go ahead and change your plans and rearrange things on the schedule. Do you really have to go to that museum? Nah. So take it off the travel plan and replace it with the kids’ idea. Engage in a little compromise. The result? Your kids feel like you’ve heard them and you get a pass if the place stinks. If you’re lucky, you’ll end up in a place that’s a real winner and everyone will benefit.
It worked well for us this summer. DH and I set up the details for the plane, hotel and car and left everything else pretty open. Well, okay, I had a general outline and two tabbed guidebooks, but I was open to suggestions. Each night we looked through the brochures and guidebooks and, as a family, we talked about what worked and didn’t work, what family members liked and didn’t for each of the previous days and we collectively figured out what to do for the next day. We used the services of the concierge and did some online research. Also, after seeing some of the attractions, the kids’ levels of interest changed. So, in some cases they wanted to spend a lot more time in one spot, other times they didn’t want to go anywhere near the place. So we changed things around. Without incident. It was great. The kids felt like their opinions mattered and each day we had a plan. It worked well.
Now that we’re home, we all agree it was the best vacation yet.