This article originally appeared in the March 29, 2012, edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Family spring break can create memories that last a lifetime, but memorable trips require preparation and planning—especially when kids are involved.
Many people put off traveling with young children until they are older, but trips with little ones can be a wonderful time. My children are older now and love to reminisce about road trips to the Outer Banks of North Carolina and to Florida. One time we surprised the youngest two by telling them we were going to visit relatives in Tennessee when we were really planning a surprise trip to Disney World in Orlando. They were pretty sleepy and didn’t realize that something was wrong with our direction until they saw the signs for the Florida state line, at which point my wife, Cathy, and I put on our Mickey Mouse hats and yelled, “Surprise!”. This was followed by a lot of laughter and they rapidly forgave us for the deception!
An important part of any trip is research. What are you and your family looking for in a spring break? Do you want a beach where you and your kids can relax and build sandcastles and swim? Or perhaps camping is more your family’s style. Some families love the opportunity to unwind and spend a week with quiet relaxation, while others prefer more active vacations jam-packed with activity. Fortunately, there is a vacation for everyone.
After you and your family decide on a destination, go online or talk to your travel agent to find kid-friendly spots to visit. Although destinations like amusement parks are obvious kid-centric picks, families can find enjoyable activities for kids no matter where they are headed. Many vacation spots have family-oriented places to visit such as mini-golf courses, water parks or zoos. Visiting the website of the local visitors bureau can turn up a number of fun spots for families to enjoy.
Enlist your kids in planning the trip to build excitement. If they have a hand in choosing among activities, this will enhance their enjoyment and give them ownership of the positive memories they helped create. Kids love picking things the entire family can do.
Assigning vacation “jobs” based on each child’s personality is a cool way to get them actively involved in the trip as well. If you have a child who loves taking photographs, enlist that child as the vacation’s official photographer and help them create a scrapbook when the vacation is over. The detail-oriented child can help document the trip—where the family went, what you did, where you ate. This travel journal will be a great keepsake to look at when spring break is over.
Of course, the destination isn’t the only enjoyable part of a trip. Whether your family decides to fly or drive for your spring break, getting there can be a lot of fun as well. Family road trips can be a wonderful opportunity to get to know one another better and play some games—with a little planning. Tried-and-true favorites like “I Spy,” “20 Questions” and the “License Plate Game” can make road trips more entertaining as can interactive trivia games with Mom or Dad as the host.
Families can also buy journals so kids can write down what they see along the way. For younger kids, parents can cut out photographs from magazines so kids can create a picture journal of what they’ve seen along the way. The destination will determine the sights, but some good starting items might be cows, fire trucks and school buses. You can throw in some vacation-specific pictures, such as snowy mountains for ski trips or palm trees for beach trips.
For families that decide to fly, the Transportation Security Administration has some great videos to help children get ready for flying. These videos are hosted by kids and explain the many security processes that children can expect at the airport. For children who have never flown before, these videos are a must-see to get them prepped for their flight.
Although it does take preparation, traveling with children can be a rewarding experience that inspires “Do you remember the trip where we…?” stories for decades to come. Be safe, wear sunscreen and bon voyage!
Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is a Professor of Pediatric Medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. If you have a question about your child’s health, go to the “Ask Dr. Bob” section of the Cardinal Glennon Web site at www.cardinalglennon.com.