Family travel looks different these days than it used to. Today’s parents were raised in a slower time. Most families planned one or two trips a year, which were usually taken during school holidays, and in our case, in the family travel trailer. While there are still families that really don’t like to leave home for even one night (even though I don’t know any of them myself), the average household spends 2 percent of its annual income on travel expenses. A family’s average cost of travel is $4,700 per year according to Value Penguin and $4,300 per vacation according to Stuffed Suitcase. Many families spend around 30 days on vacation annually.
What impact do all those travel days have on family relationships? I think the hope is that they be positive. Parents have always known that to create lasting memories, families need to have shared experiences for extended periods of time just as a family, without any distractions! We all know that quantity of time has a greater lasting impact in forming a person than quality of time does. Smart parents are taking more time with their children, which is a positive trend.
Some parents who don’t want to spend the extra cash or have the distractions of the road are even choosing to do “staycations” and turn their home into the funnest place on earth. I hope they’re still choosing to have fun! Some personalities that are addicted to work and check lists could totally ruin a staycation.
Parenting Problems on the Road
Just because a family is on vacation doesn’t mean relationships always change for the better. Some older children who are addicted to their friends or phones may have a hard time breaking away and may treat family time with an attitude of indifference. Younger children who thrive in a steady home structure may melt down and get more emotional when things are constantly changing on the road.
Even though vacations often require some stamina, they don’t usually require a lot of work. Children get lazy and entitled. They complain, pout and attempt to disconnect when the laziness sets in. If parents correct these problems with emotional responses, the family memory becomes tarnished with the distinct remembrance of Mom or Dad’s monster moments. Monster moments create more disconnect in families — not more unity.
What can parents do on vacation to keep their children happy, connected and obedient without sacrificing the very relationship-building moments they hoped to create?
Traveling Tutorial for Parents
There are some simple and effective things proactive parents can do to help them stop living in the reactive zone while on a family vacation.
Prior to the trip, have a meaningful discussion about what the family wants the trip to feel like and the impact they want the trip to have on their relationships.
Pre-teach the children about adaptability and how to be adaptable on vacation so they’re prepared to experience constant changes. Even the best planned vacation takes some unexpected twists and turns. Planning for the unplanned helps families enjoy every memory and find the hidden treasure they didn’t know was there. One of our most-talked-about family memories was when Porter hit his head on a display case at the visitor’s center and had to spend the day at the Philadelphia Children’s Hospital. We definitely didn’t plan that!
Before leaving home, teach the children some basic skills, like how to follow instructions, accept “No” answers and disagree appropriately. These skills will be essential to smooth travel. Even little ones can learn these basic skills and be reminded to use them when they’re getting worn out. To help prepare your children to follow instructions and stay happy on vacation, learn these skills.
Pre-teach the plans daily and remind everyone to be adaptable. Talk in the car instead of letting everyone plug into their devices. Some of our best family discussions have happened in the car while driving to our destination. That’s one reason I really prefer road trips over plane trips, although we do a lot of both.
Stay off devices in hotel rooms or tents and play games together. Unplugging puts the focus back on the family relationships instead of on what everyone outside the family is doing.
Pre-plan what your negative consequences on the road will be and give the children work opportunities throughout the trip. They will love the vacation more when they contribute more. Even on vacation, there are countless tasks that can be shared or earned as negative consequences. Even while I write this my children are carrying the bags to the car in preparation for today’s check-out from the hotel. They didn’t earn this as a negative consequence; it was just a task I gave them as part of the day.
When things go wrong, don’t lose your calm. Just like you prepare your children to adapt to change or disappointment, you need to prepare yourself to adapt to parenting on the road. Essentially, parents also need to be ready to accept “No” answers. Sometimes days don’t go perfectly. Don’t get emotional if they don’t. Taking a mishap personally never does any good.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, remember that the trip isn’t about what you see or how much rest you get. Rather, it’s about your family relationships. If you don’t see a famous landmark, you still had the same number of hours together. No matter what happens, you still have 24 hours in a day. Have fun! If you’re a planner, plan to have fun. Laugh every day. Smile more. Be the person you want your children to become.