(Above: My family at Disney World several years ago – enjoying Animal Kingdom together with a basic outline of plans to structure our day.
Below: My family on the same vacation at Disney World – clearly more focused on getting the good “photo op” than on the fact that part of our team has run out of gas and has gotten seriously cranky.)
In the spirit of offering you practical guidance for your upcoming vacation planning and checklist, I am offering this post in the form of a Do’s and Don’ts list. My sincere hope is this post helps to bless your family with a most peaceful, enjoyable, and refreshing time as you make memories together in your upcoming vacation experience.
Do consider each member of the family as you plan your vacation and face each day during your vacation. Make sure your overall plans offer the genuine opportunity to bless your whole family.
Don’t plan more activity than you can actually enjoy in the time you have allowed for vacation. No matter how much you think you are blessing your family by giving them more to experience, you need to get this straight: you are stressing, rather than blessing, when you overbook your vacation time. Be sure you leave room for enjoying unexpected moments, taking restful pauses, adjusting plans, and even a bit of plain ole lollygagging.
Do have several family conversations before making final vacation plans. Be sure to discuss everyone’s hopes, expectations, and possible worries about your upcoming trip or time together. This helps each family member to feel valued, and decreases the chances of parents or kids getting blindsided by the experience.
Don’t get so focused on capturing the moment with pictures or video that you forget to be present and responsive in the moment. HD images are great and can bring enjoyment for years to come. But everyone’s memories of your family vacation will be better if you remain fully present and a positive and active part of what is happening.
Do have a brief family talk at the end of each vacation day about what everyone enjoyed and didn’t enjoy, and about what you are expecting in the following day.
Don’t spend more money than you can reasonably afford to spend in an effort to maximize short term pleasure. The long term stress of financial worries will far overshadow the brief window of fun you had blowing thousands of dollars on a few days.
Do have a big picture goal in mind for your family vacation, and try to keep it simple. It may be: relaxing (together or separately), building better relationships, having fun new experiences, learning together, facing a big adventure, or any number of other options. The key is to have a primary goal to help guide your decisions throughout your time together, and to make that goal simple enough to keep clear in your mind.
Don’t put so much time and weight on some family members’ ideas of fun that you leave no room to accommodate the family member(s) who have different ideas of fun. Depending on ages and circumstances, this may mean planning for alternate options for some family members, or it may mean committing to balancing time spent in different activities and such.
Do remember to lighten up! It’s vacation time. Enjoy. Captain Crankypants may be able to move people along and accomplish lots of stuff – but who wants to spend vacation with him?
Don’t let smartphones, tablets, gaming devices, or other electronic gizmos interfere with time together. By all means – bring them along and enjoy them at times. But set some boundaries around other times as digital free zones where everyone can be genuinely present with one another. If you want to really break some ground as a family, consider planning a screen-free vacation. Crazy – right?!!
Do consider including some “old fashioned” family fun as a counterbalance to our increasingly electronic and individualized daily culture. Working jigsaw puzzles, hiking, playing card games or board games, kite flying, cooking together, rock collecting, sand castle building, and so many other battery-free options can be wonderfully restorative and offer very special moments and memories together.
Do use vacations as an opportunity for spiritual and relational reflection as a family. This doesn’t have to be your primary focus, but take some time for a special family devotional or two and reflect on what positive changes your family could make when you head back to your life routine at home.
This is certainly not a comprehensive list. What else have you learned to do or not do to make family vacation time the very best it can be?