Ever need a vacation after your vacation?!? It often feels that way due to the major rocket launch needed to plan, manage logistics, and get your kids (& husband) organized for it.
What about getting home, totaling vacation costs and thinking the value wasn’t quite in line with the experience?
I’ve found both (or a combo of) these instances to be the case more often than not so I decided to re-think family travel. And, I have to say there is a better way! Travel, like much else in life, definitely improves when you pause, think strategically, and execute intentionally. OK you say, what pray tell is strategic vacation planning all about? And why is it worth the time/energy? And how do I lower my stress and increase the fun and value of a trip?
Check out the No Qualms Mom strategy for awesome vacations:
- Brainstorm. Hold a family meeting to make a list of all the places each person in the family wants to visit and add in activities they’d like to do while traveling. This is a brainstorming session so no editing, discussion or limitations due to time/money or lack of full group interest. Jot down location with any attached activities and after it, list the initials of whomever in the family proposed it. If others feel strongly about the destination too, put their initials in parenthesis. Like all brainstorming sessions, this should be quick and without judgement. And if your family has wanderlust like mine, this will probably be a ginormous list. It may also be unrealistic (my 5 year old’s request to go to the moon is not so easy to do!). That’s OK! In fact, that’s awesome. This is about dreaming and wishes, and you may be surprised to hear what people want.
- Record. Take the data and plug it into a simple spreadsheet with columns for destination and family member(s) interested.
- Gather more data. Sit down with your husband and devote at least 30 minutes for talking through the timing & budget of the various destinations. This shouldn’t be in depth—just quickly checking the blocks on things like optimal length, probably cost range, best time of year to go, etc. and add these items as columns in your spreadsheet.
- Layer age into the plan. One key lenses to view destinations by is the age/stage/interests of your kids. Stop and think through best case experience and your kids’ memories. Is that trip to Disney when they’re two really worth it for the photo op? Wouldn’t going between their ages of 5-10 have much higher value? Also, which trips are best to do when you are younger and more fit? Hot, physically demanding spots like Egypt in summer isn’t ideal for young kids or older empty nesters.
- Consider best trip lengths. Does your usual length result in great experiences? Most Americans opt for 1 or 2 longer trips a year which if it works for you great, yet it’s worth pausing to consider if changing your rhythm could result in better experiences. For instance, it may be the case that 1-2 medium length trips with a smattering of 2-3 day weekend trips might lower the planning stress. Would heading home sooner than you have in the past bump up overall enjoyment? Or is it the kind of trip that should be as long as possible? Usually we’ve found that giving a buffer post trip that allows everyone to get in the routine of normal life before heading back to school and work is best for us because it affords us having real down days or time for projects. As a mom, I’ve found 3–5-day trips are often much more enjoyable overall than long ones—less planning, less packing yet very satisfying and rejuvenating.
- Return on investment. ROI is an important consideration regardless of your financial situation because we all want to feel like something is worth the money and time (as discussed above). More shorter trips can potentially lower your travel budget, or keep it the same, while providing more variation and fun. Or the flip side can be true depending on destination, more mid-length or shorter trips could suck up your whole annual budget. We had both experiences so it’s key to really stop and think this through. While it can be hard to know exacts ahead of time, at least do some simple math on transportation, meals, lodging and activities. For instance, we have an upcoming winter break trip that could be a ski trip of driving a few hours from home for 3-5 days or for the same cost, it could be a trip to Austin, TX where we’d stay with my uncle. We’re still debating frankly trying to weigh out things like wanting Reina to learn to ski young, yet yearning to do something different from our oft done ski trips, and considering how wise it is to travel right before Isabelle takes the SAT (and right after I launch a business!).
- Revisit at family meeting. Once you’ve thought things through and gathered full data, sit back down with your husband (and kids) to rack and stack the possibilities together. Making decisions together show your kids how to make important life decisions by weighing out costs of time and money. You may find that everyone thinks going to New Zealand for 6 days is worth foregoing a ski trip, 5-day Hawaiian (or Caribbean if you’re East Coast) and seeing Grandma. Or Grandma’s health may be declining so it’s the top priority and you’ll plan a side trip to a nearby city during the week you spend in your hometown.
Strategic plans are always up for revision yet having a roadmap (pardon the pun) will help you and your family optimize your travel time and budget. Being deliberate and mindful about how to spend the incredibly scarce commodity of time is important and you’ll find it will increase your satisfaction. It’s so easy to end the year thinking that you spent a bunch of money and time on meh travel experiences! Instead, know that you’ve looked into the future, assessed possibilities carefully and made great decisions.
Photo by Jennifer Tilly