By Patricia and Anthony Calabrese
Many families begin to think about travel when spring break (and then summer) approaches. Our world is now smaller with opportunities to travel in our state, our country, and even across the globe. While learning new things and meeting new people, traveling is potentially one of the best ways a family can bond.
When you recall the past, it’s the time you spent with others—not the things you had—that make you smile the most. Meaningful experiences with the people we love can provide us with many smiles in the future. While travel can be exciting, it can also be challenging, and even stressful— especially with children. So how can you help have a trip that will be a fulfilling, relaxing, and pleasant experience for all?
Start by deciding on the purpose of the trip. Is it to get some quiet time or relaxation from the day-to-day grind of work and school? Is it educational in nature, where you might even acquire a skill or learn a new activity? Is there an expectation that the adults will have alone time, or that the whole family will spend time together?
Other practical issues should be decided, such as the amount of time away, the budget for the entire trip, and any particular needs of each family member. These important decisions need to be made before phone calls and reservations are attempted, or any promise is made to relatives in another state. While selecting a place of equal interest to all family members is only possible if everyone engages in the planning process, parents must set limits on possibilities. Children having realistic expectations before any bags are packed will reduce arguments and misunderstandings.
It’s important to consider the age and interests of the travelers. Teenagers have very different interests and traveling styles compared to their younger siblings. Teenagers want independence, and while older teenagers usually have the capability to handle more responsibilities, younger teens will require more supervision. Children under age 12 have many needs when traveling such as constant supervision, being more physically active, an earlier bedtime, shorter attention spans and the need for rest. Elderly members of the family may have mobility issues, need more breaks, and may not want constant noise or activity. They also appreciate quiet meal times and opportunities for conversation.
Family vacations can implode if certain considerations are not made. Traveling with children of different developmental levels is a real challenge. As much as a family may want to take that once-in-a-lifetime trip together, attempting to see the sights with a 14-year-old, a 6-year-old and an 18-month-old just may not be feasible. A parent who has attempted to wake up a teen early each morning, and during the same trip has also attempted to keep a toddler awake for a restaurant dinner at night, knows that it is an uphill battle.
Having more control over your trip can make it easier. Using your own car or camper as opposed to joining a bus tour will allow you to stop when you need to stop. Bringing your own snacks and having distracting play items for young children is vital. Small children do well with novel surprises, both in the form of food and games. These can be introduced at difficult times or during delays. Allowing teens to have headphones when in a crowded car or plane is helpful, allowing them a level of independence.
The getaway, trip, vacation—or whatever your family calls it—should remain a shared experience to bring people closer together. These can take many different forms and do not have to cost much money. Spending more than your means will definitely increase your anxiety! It does not need to be a three-week European vacation, but can be a two-day trip to a local music festival, or a long weekend in a nearby location.
Structure and some form of routine, even on vacation, helps with an enjoyable time. Humans crave routine, and predictability helps lower anxiety. However, vacation is a change “from the old routine” and therefore innately lacks routine. So building in a regular wake up time, a family dinner time, and maybe morning tours and afternoon siestas, will help to give your trip some regularity.
Preparation and planning are crucial to ensuring a vacation that will create positive family memories. There is an old joke that people love spontaneity, as long as it’s planned. It is our experience that solid preparation and planning actually provide opportunities to be spontaneous and enable everyone to have a more enjoyable vacation to be cherished by all.
Patricia Calabrese, PMHNP, is a Nurse Practitioner for Pine Grove’s Outpatient Services. Anthony Calabrese, PhD, is the Director of Pine Grove’s Outpatient Services.