One Dad’s Travel Tip: Plan Activities, Not Destinations

By Eileen Gunn

I had a conversation about family travel a week or so ago with the Dad of two teenagers. He told me that rather than starting his family vacation planning by picking a destination (as most of us do), he comes up with an activity that he and the kids can enjoy doing together and then looks for a place—often not far from home—where they can do it comfortably and affordably. Among other things, they’ve traveled from New York City to New England to learn snow boarding and took surfing lessons in California.

He said it beats sitting together around a hotel pool while his kids do their best to pretend he’s not there. And, he said, sharing these experiences helps them to relate to each other and gets the conversation flowing about all sorts of things they might not get to talk about otherwise.

This is an effective way to travel with tweens and teens, but it’s a clever way to think about travel with younger kids, too. I began to think about what would make this kind of trip work well. Here are a few tips:

• This dad tends to look for activities that are new to both him and the kids. I think this is ideal because you’re on equal footing, which makes for more of a shared experience and breaks down some the usual parent-kid barriers.

• If you have an activity that you’re passionate about and want to share with the kids, ask them if they’re interested in it before you whisk them away to spend a week doing it.

• If the activity is new to the kids and you’re already fairly adept, consider giving them the opportunity to learn the basics on their own from someone other than you. This gives them the chance to discover and appreciate it on their own terms and timetable.

• Be a good sport (unless you know for a certain that you have a family of type As who thrives on competition.) Don’t constantly try to outshine your kids and don’t pout if they turn out to be better than you.

• Think beyond ambitious sporty pursuits. You can also tie a vacation around a special museum exhibition or a show. You can look into art, cooking or sand-castle building classes if that’s what your family is into. Or build a road trip around a favorite food, European castles or a favorite book (I have hopes of going to Paris next summer and bringing Madeline along with us).

• Let the kids suggest an activity. I know several parents who have had amazing, memorable road trips mapped around baseball stadiums because their kids were fans.

Over the winter, Kristen Haiijer wrote for FamiliesGo! about the rewards of a family ski vacation. Her kids are young enough that she’s been able to introduce them to an activity she’s passionate about and turn them into enthusiasts.  Skiing will probably be a bonding activity for them far into the future.

I’m already coming up with a list of activities that Rich or I (or both of us) want to do with Tiny Traveler that could be the starting point for trips to a variety of interesting places. A few we can do now though several will have to wait a few more years. They include camping, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, snorkeling, kayaking, paddle boarding, bike riding, sailing, trekking, yoga (me) and rock climbing (definitely not me).  And I’m pretty sure TT will have other ideas as she gets older and develops new interests.

Tell us what vacation activities you’ve most enjoyed sharing with your kids and what activities you look forward to trying out with them.

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  1. Erin Patrick
    June 8, 2012 at 10:24 am — Reply

    This is a great unique approach to planning travel! It would ensure that everyone was having fun and you weren’t spending gobs of money doing things no one was enjoying! As my kids are grown and scattered to the wind, I plan my vacations around visiting them. But maybe…I should pick something I want to do and have them meet me there! Woo hooo!
    Thanks for sharing,

  2. June 8, 2012 at 9:36 am — Reply

    Love this approach! It got me thinking about all the things I don’t necessarily do, but should venture out and try with the kids. This summer our family is going to try mountain biking and hiking on a trip….something we’ve never REALLY taken on as a family. Should be interesting! But I’m with this Dad….I like activity (or at least some!)

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