By Eileen Ogintz
Tribune Content Agency
So much for spontaneity.
It’s hard to be spontaneous when you are carting a stroller, portable crib, diaper bags, toddlers and their backpacks.
Say goodbye to those days of taking off on a whim to a music festival, without a hotel or campground reservation. No more switching gears when you get to a train station in a foreign city and decide to go somewhere entirely different. (As did a couple I know on their honeymoon. They tired of too many tourist sites and headed to Malta instead.)
Of course, you don’t want to end up in a strange city with two sleepy (cranky) kids and nowhere to sleep. Of course, you have to schedule your time off, and when the kids are older, make sure the vacation schedule doesn’t coincide with a can’t-miss tournament, dance recital or summer school test.
If you’re flying, you have to plan ahead to get the best airfare deals, especially when you are buying four or five tickets.
And if you are planning to gather with friends and extended family, that can take up to a year of planning and negotiating to suit everyone’s budget and vacation style.
But that doesn’t mean you have to plan every minute (even if you are going to Walt Disney World). The unexpected — good and not-so-good — is what make a vacation memorable. Tell that to the super-planner in your house!
The day your family couldn’t face the theme parks, so you happily lounged by the pool instead (that was us). In fact, I’ve met many families at Orlando hotels who have returned theme park tickets because the kids preferred the hotel pool, especially since so many are huge water playgrounds these days.
The weekend you were supposed to hike in the White Mountains but it rained so hard you decamped to a bed & breakfast and played board games (that was us too).
The day you opted out of a shore excursion to enjoy the megaship when most everyone was gone (deals on spa treatments!).
Even if you are a Big Planner, don’t be afraid to pivot. Sometimes you have no choice, like when the weather derails your plans. (See that as an opportunity to do something else — maybe a tour of a local potato chip or candy factory!) Sometimes someone gets sick (when did you last have a day to hang out with just one child while everyone else is out and about). Sometimes you just wake up and feel like doing something different than you had planned.
Be flexible! If the kids love a particular museum, water park or beach, go back another day. If no one is enjoying what you’ve planned, do something else. I know that’s tough when you might have paid a lot for theme park tickets, but it’s not worth it if everyone is hot and tired of waiting in line.
The Taking the Kids Summer Fun section, (will add link when section launches next week) compiled with our friends at Family Travel Forum, offers 51 ideas for summer vacation, whatever your budget and how much time you have. Family Travel Forum also invites teens to blog about their experience in the 13th annual Teen Travel Writing Scholarship. And my Kid’s Guide Series to major American cities and parks can help the kids plan your vacation with you.
Another tip: Consider travel insurance, especially if you are flying and have booked a pre-paid resort or cruise. It only takes one illness or a single tantrum during an already tight layover to send your trip spiraling out of control. The good news is that travel insurance not only offers relief from plans gone awry but in some cases, insures the kids free.
Here are five ideas you may not have considered:
SEE WHERE YOUR FOOD COMES FROM. Well recognized in Europe, farm stays and farm vacations are gaining popularity as more farms offer overnight lodging, meals and the chance to see where your food comes from. The kids can help gather eggs, feed the chickens and more. The Family Travel Forum agritourism vacation guide is a good resource. At the very least, visit a local farmer’s market — you’ll likely find them wherever you are — or spend a morning picking seasonal fruit and then head out on a picnic.
HEAD TO A SKI TOWN. There’s as much to do in summer as in winter and even in Aspen, hotels are a lot less. Whether you opt for Park City, Utah, Breckinridge, Colorado, (where my family is gathering in July) or Waterville Valley, New Hampshire, you’ll find plenty of hiking, mountain biking, summer festivals, activities for kids (think alpine coasters and junior obstacle courses) and yes, farmer’s markets.
CARIBBEAN FLAVOR. Caribbean islands are popular with families in the summer because rates are so much lower than in winter, and the beaches and cultural attractions are just as appealing. This summer, we’re seeing a refreshed Bermuda, where activities range from beach to spelunking, marine exploration and dolphin encounters to electric cars. Consider Antigua, where Curtain Bluff is both upscale and kid-friendly. In addition, if your kids are pining to go to Atlantis in the Bahamas, consider staying at the newly renovated Comfort Suites next door where breakfast is free and you have access to all that Atlantis has to offer.
SAIL AWAY on a cruise, especially if you are planning a multigenerational trip. There will be activities for all ages (supervised programming even for preschoolers), you can cruise from a port that’s drivable from home, and everyone will know in advance what everything costs. Our Taking the Kids 2019 Family Cruise Guide can give you the rundown on what’s new this season, and which cruise lines are best for which ages.
CITY LIGHTS. Check in to a city hotel on a weekend after the business people are gone and you can often snare a good deal. Leave the car at home and then get around like the locals do, on foot or public transportation. Here’s the chance to let the kids lead the way, whether you are in New York (a new Statue of Liberty Museum has just opened), San Antonio (the Alamo is America’s latest UNESCO World Heritage Site and Texas’ most visited historic landmark), Denver (watch the Rockies play right downtown) or Montreal for a taste of Europe and where most concerts are free at the International Festival de Jazz de Montreal. It runs this year June 27 through July 6.
Now, just remember to be spontaneous, as least a little bit!
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