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Top 5 Family Vacation Mistakes

Common screw-ups that spell disaster.

Whether you prefer a picnic blanket, a beach towel, a baseball hat or hiking boots, summer vacations with children are fraught with thorny questions:

Is there a vacation plan we can all agree on?

Do we let our kids bring their friends?

What if my brother’s bratty daughter asks to join us?

Fear not, summer event planner! I’ve gathered the top five summer vacation mistakes parents most often make. Mistakes that engender chaos and disappointment in everyone. So before you dig out your flip-flops and favorite summer hat, make sure you avoid these summer time blunders:

1. Resorts That Aren’t Kid Friendly

Most resorts look like a dream on the internet but are a nightmare in reality. Those big, colorful photos can be decades old or just plain lies. A friend of mine booked a “special deal” resort for his family. When they arrived for their two week stay, they found a seedy “love hotel” filled with hot-to-trott couples giving their kids the stink eye. Get a referral from a friend. If possible, plan a quick visit in advance or take a virtual tour. Don’t roll the dice! Booking a bad summer resort for your family will haunt you for the rest of your life. Trust me, I know.

2. Poorly Researched Summer Camps

Summer camp can provide your kid with a lifetime of happy memories -- or lifetime of costly therapy-fueled regrets. Bad food and accommodations, combined with over-the-top social stress, can ruin the most resilient kid’s summer. The American Camp Association estimates there are over 12,000 summer camps in the US -- so there’s plenty of camps to choose from. Be sure to talk to families who endorse the camp that interests you, take time to meet the camp director, do a background check, and ask about the staff’s qualifications and training. Remember, if your kids hates it, gets kicked out, or leaves early, you’ll never hear the end of it. Worse, you’ll be stuck together for the rest of the listless summer.

3. Car Rides from Hell

A quick drive to the beach can translate into three or four hours in sweltering traffic. Before you or your car overheats, take the road less traveled. Check the traffic patterns during the week, and plot the best time for your escape. You can’t go wrong leaving at sunrise or an early Sunday morning. But even then, construction or road work can shut down your travel plans and have you fantasizing about that flying car from the Jetsons.

4. Summer Jobs & Internships that Fail

Summer jobs fuel kids’ innate drive for maturity and independence. But make sure you find the right job or internship for your kid’s personality. Most states have summer youth programs, so be careful which category you choose. Being stuck in a parking lot toll booth without AC for the summer, or forced to work in an understaffed day program stocked with screaming children will destroy your kids ambition and self-esteem. When it comes to first jobs or internships, the right fit is everything. For instance, a colleague recently secured his computer obsession son a summer internship in a technology company. A year later, they hired him part-time. He loved the work, his pride soared and his vision for the future brimmed with hope.

5. No Summer Plans

This is the worse plan of all. Kids crave structure. Summers filled with sleeping late, eating junk food or binge watching shows are will eventually breed depression and produce an atmosphere of gloom and snarkiness. Whether it’s a summer camp, an internship or job, keep your kid engaged and challenging him or herself. Foster this healthy habit and summer plans may even form organically.

3 Golden Rules for a Successful Summer Break

1. Engage the Entire Family in Planning

The more a family plans vacations together, the more united and enthusiastic they will all be. Engage your kids in researching vacation spots, give them a voice in the planning. They’ll feel respected and eager to travel. Have them research the history of the place you visit. Let them be your tour guide and they’ll reward you with good cheer.

2. Less Technology, More Creativity

Nearly twenty five years working with families in therapy, and not a single parent ever said, “I wish we spent more time on technology.” Take a tech-break on vacation. Read a book with your kid, enroll in a dance or art class, explore new ways to be creative together. Here’s a tip: lock up your family cell phones during vacations, or allowing just 30 minutes at the end of the day. This is a great way to structure technology and create psychic space for self-reflection and mindfulness.

3. Balance Activities with Down Time

Running around all summer without a moment to spare leads to burnout. Make sure to leave space for down time. Quiet, creative activities, such as reading or playing an instrument, have a natural rejuvenating effect. Find the right balance and avoid those frantic feelings that cause meltdowns and fatigue.

Family Vacations are For Spending Time Together

For over ten years, my family retreated to a cabin in Maine for the summer. There was no television, no computer or cell phones...just a lake and the beautiful Maine mountains. I don’t have a single memory of my kids being bored.

A family vacation doesn’t need to be complicated. Remember, when planning your get-away, it’s not the place, but the heart that matters most.

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