"I just got back from vacation and now I really need one!" Like many parents of young children, Callie, mother of three-year-old Ethan and seven-year-old Theresa, took a summer vacation, and well, it just didn't turn out as she expected. Were her expectations too high? Did she plan the trip keeping the ages of her children in mind? Believe it or not, your summer vacation can be relaxing, fun and memorable. Here are some important things to think about as you plan your time away with some tips for making it successful.

Before you go

The success of your vacation hinges on how much you prepare for it before you even leave. The proactive parent clarifys expectations and anticipates trouble spots. Does Mom want a break from cooking? If so, don't plan on a cottage get-away where meal planning and preparation are expected. Does Dad want a pause from his weekly responsibilities? If so, then don't plan a staycation, where the temptation to answer phone calls and emails will be hard to do. Here are some tips for thinking about your vacation before you go.

  • Assess what every member of the family is looking for from the vacation. Perhaps you may go away for a shorter period to a place where everyone gets his or her needs met. This will also help you set expectations once you get there.
  • Choose a vacation spot that is not only in the financial budget but in the energy budget as well. After talking things out, if you choose a spot that is a lot of work, at least you will be aware of any sacrifices you will have to make.
  • Keep your expectations low. Tell everyone what you will do at minimum each day. "We'll swim for at least one half hour. Or we'll go on at least two rides at the carnival." Setting minimum expectations will make anything else you do go along way with your child. Remember to under promise and over deliver.
  • Prepare for travel. Whether you are taking a car, train, or plane trip, bring along food, books, toys and music to keep both you and your child occupied. Go around your home now and put away some toys that your child will be excited to see again in a few weeks.
  • Scope out your destination. If your vacation spot is nearby, drive there to see what activities and necessities you have access to. If it is not nearby, buy a guidebook or use online Chamber of Commerce web sites.
  • Plan at tentative itinerary. You don't need to plan every minute of your vacation, but a simple plan will help you and your child know what to expect.

During your trip

How much you try to do will have a direct relationship to how much fun you have. You might think I mean, do more have more fun, but I mean quite the opposite. Simpler is always better, especially with young children. Here are my suggestions for increasing your vacation fun.

  • Get your child to sleep. Your young child needs the same, if not more, sleep when on vacation. When my children were small, my husband and I used to put them in their car seats at naptime and we drove around our vacation spot. While we were having a delicious iced coffee, they slept. We got to see our destination at the same time we held our children's naptime sacred.
  • Keep meal foods and times the same. After eating three meals a day of different foods at different times, you may find that your child is beginning to feel sluggish, especially if the only things on the menu come with fries and a milkshake. Whether you bring some of his favorite foods or you keep to your mealtimes, you'll be helping your child feel better. And he'll behave better too.
  • Show your child the lay of the land. When you arrive at your hotel or cottage, take your child on a tour. Let him know what the can do's and can't do's are related to where you are staying.
  • Share your itinerary with your child each day. When your child asks, "What are we doing today?" it's because she wants to know what to predict. Again, better behavior is a given when your child knows what to expect.

After the fun

The best thing about a family vacation is that memories last a lifetime. Preserve that vacation feeling by taking an active role in remembering how much fun you had. Here are some tips for creating a happy ending to your summer vacation.

  • Have a photo night. Create a slideshow and plan a night when everyone can look at the pictures together for the first time.
  • Help your child start a vacation scrapbook. Take that restaurant napkin, or map, or mountain flower, and let your child create a keepsake scrapbook. This is a nice activity to do on a rainy, post-vacation summer day.
  • Have a family meeting. Be sure to talk to your children about what went well, what didn't, and where you might travel to next. This is a wonderful topic for a family meeting, especially if you don't hold them very often.

Good fun on a family vacation can be a reality for you this summer. With proactive planning, lots of structure and conversation, you can make family memories everyone will treasure.

Safe and happy travels to all.

Lynne Griffin teaches family studies at the graduate level in Boston and internationally. She's the author of the parenting guide Negotiation Generation, and the family novels Sea Escape and Life Without Summer. You can find her online at www.LynneGriffin.com, at www.twitter.com/Lynne_Griffin and at www.facebook.com/LynneGriffin.

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