Summer at our house launched with a family reunion in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, then I hit the road with a gals and kids trip across the American West and unplugged with a familiar weekend at our favorite camp spot close to home.
Travel, like so many things after having kids, constantly shifts shape – and we’ve been strategic and creative to shift with it, or else it would be too easy to get stuck in the orb of everyday life, or to get overextended with too much travel. Luckily, there are travel tips and strategies that accommodate budget and busy schedules while prioritizing the interests and relationships of any crew. Here is our guide to mix it up for a realistic balance of travel and family life.
Visit extended family on a schedule
Family holidays can be time-consuming and expensive if air travel is required or multiple families are vying for visits. Take turns, be transparent, and set a schedule. We can’t fly our foursome across the country every year (plus inconvenience neighbors to pet sit our furry animal assortment), so we coordinate our circus extravaganza every other year, with no promise it’ll land on a major holiday when airline costs increase. The grandparents like it because they know what to expect and it works with our budget and desire to explore other parts of the world too.
Benefits: Setting boundaries protects time and budget to leave room for new destinations and unfettered holidays. Clearly communicating those boundaries avoids hard feelings.
And sometimes it's okay to take your dog.
Bring the kids on some trips, leave 'em on others
If my kids had their way, every vacation would include putt-putt, bunk beds and a swimming pool. While we cherish entertaining these interests, their dad and I also have interests (gasp!), and they include – well -- hikes longer than a mile and leisurely dinners with cocktails rather than crayons. Aim for a regular swap of kid-friendly and parent-friendly travel, alternating 'big' family trips (in terms of time, cost and distance) with smaller adult-only trips, and vice versa.
Benefits: It’s easier to tailor vacations when there are fewer competing interests and less pressure to ‘do it all.’
Check out a few of our favorite destinations for family travel.
Consider a solo trip
So your best friend from grade school is having a destination wedding in Jamaica the same week as your kiddo’s state soccer tournament? Or your spouse’s cousin’s graduation will be a long haul across state lines the day after you’ve returned from a work trip, but...probably somebody should go? Don’t be afraid to send a solo traveler. Family life doesn’t have to dominate travel life, but it does demand flexibility.
Benefits: Sending a representative maintains relationships outside the family unit without disrupting the family routine. Far-flung folks appreciate the effort, the solo traveler appreciates reconnecting, and family at home appreciates undisturbed schedules with the bank account intact.
Here are some of our best tips on how to travel solo.
Plan joint family activities
It’s a magical phenomenon when two families with children harmoniously align. Take that to the beach, lake or mountains for a week and the built-in friendships and entertainment create memorable shared experiences for all. Point in case, I still wonder to this day if the adults at the Stroud/Halloway ski cabin knew about the kids sledding downstairs on mattresses...or if they were perfectly happy ignoring us.
Benefits: In addition to shared cost, shared responsibility helps divvy up meals, planning and parenting. Rest assured, no one is ever bored, but there might be mischief.
San Diego is a great place for adults and kids alike.
Bring one kid on one special trip
Maybe it’s a long weekend to Legoland for a double-digit birthday, a night at a hotel downtown to catch a first concert, or maybe it’s a day trip playing hooky while sibling is at sleep-away camp. Life gets busy and kids get lost in the shuffle. Special, one-on-one trips shift priority back to the relationship.
Benefits: You can’t go wrong with one-on-one time with a child, and honoring individual interests in such a tangible way is a powerful mentoring move.
Learn something new that both of you have been wanting to do
Schedule a splendid twofer around a work trip
If you can’t fit travel into life, wiggle in a work-around. Twofer a work trip into a special parent-child trip. If you know someone in the family will need to travel for an event, search out nearby attractions and tack on a few extra days that’ll appeal to the rest of the fam. Best yet, during your semi-annual visit to the in-laws, mastermind the coveted threefer! Leave the kids for a night with in-laws (kid-friendly and extended family-friendly), so parents can enjoy a local hike and winery (parent-friendly). Win, win, glorious win.
Benefits: Since twofers simply extend travel plans that are already set, they are more time and cost-efficient than concocting a trip from scratch.
And when you're ready for that big family adventure try one of these.
Remember that it's OK if the fam doesn't come along
The stars don’t always align for everyone to travel together or for everyone to always go where they want, so align the stars you can when you can. But when you can’t, that’s okay too. As my daughter says, ‘You come home from work every day and I don’t really care, but when you come home from a long trip, I actually want to talk.’ I think what she means to say is that mixing it up has its merits and being away from each other to do things that honor ourselves benefits everyone.
Once you’ve mapped the various needs, wants and configurations of travel for your family, it’s easy to be strategic and advantageous when opportunities present, seamlessly swapping players, or expanding or shrinking travel scope.