Vacation: It’s a Family Affair

Say “summer” and most people think “vacation.” The reality is that most adults work year-round, and some seasonal workers may even be busier in the summer than during other seasons. Children of working parents may continue to have schedules just as structured as school—even if it’s called “camp”—to accommodate their parents’ long hours away from home. Teenagers may have jobs of their own. Still, the traditional myths persists: summertime is vacation-time. 

Many families plan at least a week or two for some memorable trip or time as a family. For the past few years, with fuel prices escalating and driving up the price of travel, the “staycation” has become popular as well. A staycation involves creating the feel of a vacation without leaving the house, by suspending regular routines and concentrating instead on fun activities. It may even mean taking day trips, but always with home as a base.

Vacations can provide some of the happiest memories of a lifetime. Perhaps we remember fondly a cabin by the lake rented each year, visiting grandparents in Florida, or driving cross country in the station wagon with Mom and Dad taking turns at the wheel. We naturally want to provide equally fond memories for our own children. Or, if we missed out on precious vacation memories, we may be all the more determined that our families do not.

It can be a source of stress, however, when money is tight or emergencies crop up. Job loss, unexpected medical bills and the like can mean that luxuries like vacations get put on hold. We may worry that our children still will want to do what their friends are doing or what we’ve previously promised them—after all, they’re just children and don’t understand financial realities.

Or do they? You might be pleasantly surprised how willing your children are to adapt to budget constraints as long as they feel they have choices. A family is a team, and even the smallest members should have some say in family decisions. Most children embrace a challenge, so whatever your budget, why not make vacation planning a family project this year?

Here are some guidelines for planning a vacation with the help of your kids:

  • Parents determine the total budget for the project as well as the workable dates. Of course, you might give kids a choice between a set vacation period and a series of shorter trips, depending on your own flexibility.
  • Parents may veto anything that’s not safe or feasible.
  • The entire family contributes ideas for destinations.

Make a list of all the potential expenses. For example:

  • Transportation
  • Lodging
  • Meals
  • Admissions
  • Souvenirs
  • Equipment (bicycles, inflatable rafts, beach balls, tents, hiking shoes, maps, coolers).

Even children in the elementary grades seem to be adept at online research. Let them look for airfares, car rental packages, hotel prices. If they’re old enough, they can figure mileages and multiply distances by federal mileage rates to calculate the cost of driving a car. They can compare pricey hotels with cheaper bed-and-breakfasts, smaller motels, or campsites or check out menus for restaurants, and opening hours and prices for attractions. They can discover cool, out-of-the-way places they’d like to visit too. As soon as they have a budget to stick to, you may see them become very frugal! They may be willing to cut back on one item to make room for something else more important to them. 

Don’t forget that some organizations you may belong to, such as automobile associations, give discounted prices to members for certain rental cars, admissions, meals and the like. Also, some libraries purchase admission tickets to area attractions that may be checked out like library books.

If children are old enough, have them keep a journal of expenses during the vacation, to make sure you are keeping within the budget. If certain items go over, try cutting back on something else. If you’re under budget, allow yourself a splurge! When the vacation’s over, discuss how it went and write down what you’ve learned to help you plan your next vacation!

Planning for Vacation and Your Family’s Future

While your family thinks about ways to prepare for a vacation, consider applying those same planning skills on your household’s finances. 

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