Parenting: Creating Memorable Family Vacations
Q & A with Dr. Dave and Donalyn Currie
Some of my best childhood memories are from our family vacations, but now that I have a family of my own, it seems like we can’t afford to do any of the things that my family used to do. Do you have any ideas for creating memorable family vacations on a tight budget?
Dave: I, too, have a collection of amazing and fun family vacation memories. Looking back, I realize now that the joy in the experience wasn’t because of dollars my parent’s spent or novel places that we might have visited. The joy of the experience was because is it was our time. The most critical thing to keep in mind when planning a family vacation is that it’s not solely about where you go or what you do. Sure, the event or the destination does help create the initial interest (especially to teenagers). But you will find that what really matters is that you have some dedicated, undivided time together as a family. Every family needs to get away from the daily routine and the distractions of everyday life just to have fun together. That’s how relationships are strengthened and memories for life are made.
Donalyn: That’s right, Dave. To a child, love is spelled T-I-M-E. That is what they really want from you as a parent. In the long run, it’s not so much what you do that they will remember, but that you had lots of time and did it together.
Dave: Yes, and that means finding a way to leave the work at home. If necessary, leave the cell phone at home, and focus on finding a way to just be a mom and a dad. Your family is worth that investment of time and energy.
Donalyn: You know, I often think that parents and kids have a different idea of what kinds of things are fun. As parents, we would love to get away to a luxury hotel and be pampered for a week, whereas the kids would be just as happy spending a week in a tent or a trailer by the lake. And ultimately, a family vacation should be about the kids, and making it fun for them.
Dave: Camping is a great, low-cost option. For kids, every new campsite is an adventure. Some of our best times as a family and even for myself as a kid have been telling stories and sharing laughs around the campfire. To tell the truth, it was playing in the fire. Why do kids like to burn stuff? While it seems every kid loves to roast marshmallows and make s’mores around the fire, for me, I just plain loved playing in the fire.
Donalyn: Or how about playing card games until it gets so dark that you can barely make out what’s in your hand?
Dave: Yes, we’ve done that a few times, haven’t we? We’ve also had many great times hiking and enjoying God’s creation together.
Donalyn: Exploring? How about getting lost?
Dave: Well, yes, that happens from time to time as well. Actually, family vacations seem to be prime time for a crisis, whether it’s getting separated on a hike, or having all your food eaten by an animal, a car breaking down in the middle of nowhere, or my favorite, rain storms in a tent.
Donalyn: That’s not always a bad thing though. Once the crisis has passed, it becomes something that you talk and laugh about as a family for years. Actually, I think those small crisis events can do a lot to bring a family together and turn you into a team.
Dave: For sure. Now, what about families who aren’t really into camping?
Donalyn: Visiting family and friends in other towns is always fun. The kids have a blast playing with cousins that they don’t get to see very often, and it is an inexpensive way to enjoy some time away from home, even if the kids are in tents in the backyard. We’ve also really enjoyed vacationing along with another family – not going to their house, but actually getting away to a lake or wherever as one big group.
Dave: It doesn’t even always have to be an overnight trip. If you’ve got a lake nearby, take your kids out there for a day. If you can afford it, air mattresses, a rubber dingy, snorkeling gear and boogie boards will provide your kids with hours of entertainment. Trying to throw Dad into the water also keeps them amused for a while.
Donalyn: It keeps the wife amused too! But you bring up a good point about day trips. A large part of the cost of summer holidays is tied to the idea of going away: transportation and accommodation. But you can have an amazing vacation using your own house as home base. Play tourist in your own area for a week and enjoy the local attractions within an hour or so.
Dave: That’s a great idea. If you’re going to do that, though, it’s important to plan ahead and stay focused on your objectives for that time. Treat it like a real vacation and don’t allow yourselves to get pulled back into regular life. Unplug the phone if you have to. Remember that this is your time to be with your family. You are away even if you are around.
Donalyn: Another option would be to stay at a cheap hotel close to home. You still save on travel costs, but you get the experience of being away from home, and mom gets a much-needed break from beds and cleaning.
Dave: Another item that eats up a lot of money is food, if you can pardon the pun. Eating out is expensive. Whether you are staying in a hotel, or camping, or staying close to home, you can save a lot of money by buying groceries and making your own meals, instead of going to restaurants. You can spend $15 at the grocery store, or $45 at a fast food place. Over the course of a week or more, that really adds up. (To say nothing of the health factor!)
Donalyn: That’s for sure – seven days of fast food doesn’t sound too appealing.
Dave: I would also suggest that if family vacations are going to be a real priority for you, it needs to be reflected in your ongoing budget. It is likely easier to set aside $100 or $200 every month than to suddenly come up with $2,000 or more extra every summer. If you can, decide a year in advance what you would like to do next summer and work towards it as a family during the year. The anticipation of that time together is a lot of fun as well – like collecting bottles for your entrance fees into Disneyland.
Donalyn: That’s right. In fact, every aspect of a family holiday should be fun – even the long drives! The driving doesn’t have to be a necessary evil; it can actually be part of the holiday. Car games like visual scavenger hunts for different items or car model counting contests can make the time in the car go by a lot faster. Create packages for the kids to open each day with new games or puzzles in them.
Dave: Whatever you do this summer, I would just encourage you to make the time to bond as a family. Don’t worry – your work will still be there in a week or two, but you can never replace this precious time with your kids. The memories you build together will be well worth the time and money that it costs you. You’ll never regret putting your marriage and family first – especially when it’s summer vacation.
© Dr. Dave Currie – June 2011