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6 Tips for Great Family Vacations

I just returned from a trip to Turkey where my three daughters, my husband and I spent a few weeks exploring this mesmerizing country by bus, boat, car and plane. We all came back excited, relaxed, and full of wonderful memories that will feed our family spirit for many months to come. Needless to say, the trip was a hit! 

Earlier this summer, a journalist asked me how I thought vacations could be more playful for women. It is true that, as women, we have a tendency to cling to the routine of our daily chores even when we should be doing nothing... 

Being French, I may have a very different approach to vacations than many of you. But here are some of the reasons why our trip was a success. I hope they will help you to make your own vacations more fun.

 1. Involve everyone in the choice of vacations and destination! 

In our family, the preparation of our annual trip always falls on me. I love this job, although it definitely creates anxiety for me as expectations are high. I worry about the success of my choice of country, accommodations, and places to visit. So this year, I decided to eclipse this worry by making the decision phase playful and collective. I got everyone together around a world map, and we discussed the types of vacations we wanted and the countries each of us wanted to visit.

You'll see that this exercise becomes a great subject of conversation, and you'll be surprised by the suggestions. Ask each family member about their choice. Narrow your list down to three destinations. Cast a vote for the final one! Once you have decided on the destination, get the kids to look into the history of the country. Talk about it over dinner. Ask each one to come up with one thing to do during the trip. 

2. A vacation for everyone 

A family unit is a group of individuals who have different tastes and desires that need to be respected. What excites one member may be a turn off to another. One of my daughters thinks the perfect vacation involves a pool, while her sisters prefer being active and loves exploring. It's important to balance these personal tastes, as well as the periods of adventure and relaxation, or as the Italians say, "dolce far niente."

This year I came up with the idea for each family member to design their own ideal “Play Vacation Day” and then the entire family would commit to following the plan for that day, no matter what! On my Play Vacation Day, I took the family to the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art and then to the Grand Bazaar where we actually dared bargain for the price of Turkish towels and to eat walnut Baklava, my favorite dessert. My oldest daughter took us to Cagaloglu, the most famous Hamman in Sultanahmet (where "Indiana Jones" was filmed), and then to the Palace of Topkapi. Iliade opted for a go kart race on her birthday and Mila, my youngest, went for the hot air balloon trip in Cappadoccia.

The results were surprising. We each had to do something we did not want to do. My husband overcame his fear of heights by climbing into the nacelle of a balloon that rose 3,000 feet above ground. I dove into the water from a 20-foot rock. Mila got to eat aubergines! Etc...

3. Chose a destination that is in your budget

With a family of five, paid activities can become very expensive for us, and as a result, we can miss out on a lot of activities

So that you don’t feel deprived, be sure to choose a destination that's within your budget. In our case, it was a relief to visit a country where we found the activities affordable and within our budget. We were able to do something new everyday! We visited lots of museums, splurged on unusual activities like a Hammam, went on several magical day trips by boat, hired a tour guide and climbed one of the steepest "Fairy Chimneys" (which was scary!), etc... The food was also affordable. We ate out at least once a day in a small café, which certainly made my life much easier. 

4. Everyone participates in the chores! 

Moms, own your right to vacation! Talk to the family to let them know that mom needs time off from the usual chores. If you chose to cook and eat in your rental, supervise the family members to do their part in the kitchen or even put them in charge of meals. Let the kids plan some menus and help with the cooking and clean up. Also, ask how dad can help out. My husband was in charge of the laundry and the early morning shopping since he is an early riser. 

5. Let the kids have their own space!

I have 3 messy kids. I was careful to rent accommodations with at least two bedrooms in order to give them (and me) a break from my usual nagging comment to "clean your room" and my tendency to clean up after them when they don’t do it. The living room was communal and the respected shared space.  

6. Novelty and adventure bring a family together

Research suggests that experiencing novelty is an important factor for both health and happiness. And I agree. But I have also found that our curious collective minds encourage us to do things we normally would not do on our own. In my family’s case, we moved beyond our fears and usual resistance thanks to the support of the group. At a time when teenagers tend to prefer to separate from their parents, we returned from our trip each of us a bit bolder, but more importantly, closer to one another.


Aug 23, 2012

by Nadia


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