Three Steps to Enjoy Family Vacations

Updated: Jan 9

Our family is nearing the end of a five-week cross-country road trip that's included teenagers, their cousins, our parents, siblings, and friends. Sometimes during this trip, I thought, "What was I thinking being on the road for five weeks?!" But MOST times I was just grateful that we had the foresight to think through these Three Steps to Make it More Enjoyable for EVERYONE:

Step #1: Planning -

  • FINANCES: Our planning began by my husband and I looking through the financial resources we'd have available. We choose to use credit cards to earn rewards, but only if we can completely pay off balances each month to not have to pay interest. Sometimes that "stretches" our money, but we don't want to be caught off guard when the bills come in - so we can't just go all willy-nilly! Once we figured out how much we could use, we could then plan out where we could/wanted to go, how much time we could spend at each place, and so on.

  • SNACKS: Listen Mamas, when you are taking a trip ANYWHERE - but especially in a car - you must, Must, MUST plan ahead for snacks and drinks! Not only because eating "fast food" all the time takes a toll on your physical and therefore mental health, but also your financial health! We tried to stock up at grocery stores when we had extended stays to avoid paying $4 for a bottle of water or bag of pretzels at a gas station. Now, this didn't ALWAYS happen, because you know, LIFE, but when we found ourselves needing water at a gas station we would think, "Oh man, I wish we would've stocked up at Kroger!"

  • ACTIVITIES: We brainstormed all the things we wanted to do, people we were able to see, and asked the kids if they had any preferences. I found that asking the boys open-ended questions like, "What would you like to see or do on this vacation?" almost always got me an answer of, "I don't know." Which got really annoying to me. So, I started giving them choices like: "When we stay in Madison, Indiana we could visit the Ark Encounter or the Creation Museum. Which would you prefer?" Then, they could research and make an educated guess at which one they'd like to visit. As a side note, our family was given a very generous gift from my Early Childhood Team for this trip and we were able to visit BOTH of these places - praise God for their generosity!

  • KIDS STUFF: Planning with kids for vacation is important from as early as three years old. Think and talk with your spouse about these things first - and then let your kids know what your united-front response will be. For example, my husband and I enjoy finding Christmas tree ornaments as reminders of the places we've vacationed together. We know how much we're willing to spend on these items, so sometimes we don't get one because we can't find one we love for the price point we've set. It's like this with your kids: You need to figure out if it's OK for them to ask you to buy them souvenirs or snacks at every stop, OR will you give them a certain budget limit, OR will they need to use their own money? There is no one right way to do this, but if you have teenagers, I strongly suggest you help them figure out how to budget their own money (even if it's money you're giving them at the beginning of the vacation), so they can start to understand that they cannot have every single thing they want (oh how I wish it were true - but it's NOT and if we indulge our children in their every whim, rarely telling them "no" we will be doing them a grave disservice!) Or, if they choose get everything they want at the first stop...and then they have none left for the rest of the trip, it will be a useful life lesson for them - one they will remember much more than if you controlled the outcome for them.


Step #2: Expectations -

  • BEHAVIOR: Since we were going to be staying in hotels, with extended family members, and in rental properties, we made sure to talk beforehand with our boys about behavioral expectations. It's important to us that our children are aware of themselves and others around them. For example, we don't jump on beds or couches at home, so we won't do it at others' homes. We clean up after ourselves at home (dishes, clothes, trash, etc.), therefore, we are going to do the same when staying elsewhere. When we stay with family, we make sure to offer to help prepare meals, set tables, take out trash, and so on. It's just good manners! And, just because hotels have maid service doesn't mean we lose all sense of propriety - we still put trash in trash cans, gather our used towels together, and are aware that other people may be trying to sleep when we're getting ice, walking down hallways, and closing doors (I mean, how annoying is it when you are trying to rest in a hotel and doors are slamming down the hallway? This doesn't mean we have to tiptoe around, but be AWARE that there are other people around us and treat them with the same respect we would enjoy. This is the Golden Rule that Jesus taught in Matthew 7:12, "So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets."

  • MEDIA USE: My husband and I are not always on the same page with this, so it was important that WE came to an agreement of how much media would be acceptable during this trip before talking with the boys about it. During the school year, we have well-defined boundaries on media use. Since the boys had input on those boundaries, we asked them how much would seem reasonable for them during vacation. Surprisingly, they suggested less time than I thought they would, so that was a win! Also, during the school year, all phones in our home are on "downtime" between the hours of 8 pm and 8 am. But, we decided as a family to take off that downtime restriction so it was up to them WHEN they wanted to use their daily allotted time. If they chose to stay up all night and use it after midnight, they'd have none the rest of the day. This was hard for me to let go of, but good for them to work on self-control now so they could play later - or not!

  • EATING OUT: This is almost inevitable when you are traveling on the road! Even the most planned and prepared families can only eat so many pre-made sandwiches and snacks in the car and eventually will have to eat out at some point. We've already discussed setting budgets for this - and explained it to our boys as our "per diem" but we also wanted to remind them of proper manners at the table. This included; napkin use, chewing with small bites and mouth closed, waiting your turn to speak, listening when others are talking, asking to leave the table, and so on. For excellent help and more information on this, check out Sallie Plass's Etiquette Enrichment page. She's amazing!


Step #3: Flexibility -

  • RELAX: Mamas, you have planned for finances, snacks, activities, and kid's stuff. You have outlined expectations for behavior, media use, and eating out. There is nothing else you can do but relax and ENJOY your vacation! Remember that not everyone gets to take a vacation, so even the rough moments can be appreciated for what they are: YOU ARE ON VACATION!!!

Things are not always going to go as planned, because nothing is perfect. Now, if that freaks you out a bit, just Stop, Breathe, and Pray, thanking God for this moment and asking Him for His strength, peace, and comfort. You are not alone! Just because you planned and outlined expectations is no guarantee so please remember Step 3 is to relax and ENJOY your vacation... and I absolutely NEEDED this step right now because as I write this we are changing plans and I AM KIND OF FREAKING OUT...

ok, STOP, Breathe, Pray... God’s got you, Kate!

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