As I write this, the final days of summer are winding down in the Northern Hemisphere. Autumn is upon us and most of us are looking forward to cooler weather, football and Halloween. It will be December before we know it and Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Eve will occupy our thoughts and our time. October through December can be the busiest time of the year, can’t it?
For some reason, many people feel the need to follow their December holidays with a planned vacation. I have never understood that. At least in the USA, people in the Northeast feel compelled to visit sunny Florida. People in the American South feel the need to go to Colorado or some other place where they can ski.
If you are single or have no children, I can understand the desire to go on a vacation, at least to a certain extent. For those of us with children, however, especially young children, it takes a special child to make a vacation a relaxing experience.
Although I really do want to all of you to come to Florida and spend your hard earned dollars, I suggest that if unless you are independently wealthy you rethink your vacation plans while you still have young children at home. Every year, I watch families visit Disney, Universal, Daytona and many of the other places that people like to visit here in the Sunshine State and every year I am amazed by the high level of stress that I encounter in vacationers traveling with kids.
Just the other day, for example, I visited SeaWorld so that I could see their excellent dolphin show. Seated in front of me was a family of five from Tennessee (or so I assumed, based on all of the Tennessee Volunteers attire). The parents both looked exhausted. Throughout the show, one daughter was complaining that she could not see the show because she was too small. Another was complaining because she wanted to sit somewhere else. The third child, a son, was complaining because he wanted to buy a t-shirt and his parents had said “no.” At no point during the show did any of the five actually watch the show and I suspect that the rest of their day played out in much the same way.
Having observed vacationers both in Florida and elsewhere for many a year, and having taken a few vacations myself, here are a few suggestions for planning your vacations and avoiding spending a bundle when you don’t need to do so.
Taking Care of Kids is not Relaxation: If your kids are still at an age that requires you to care for them, your vacation is going to be a chore unless you travel to a parent-friendly vacation spot that offers child care that you can trust. If you are not comfortable with on-site child care, consider leaving your kids with a family member and taking the vacation on your own. If you just want to relax and rejuvenate, you do not have to travel far as long as your kids are safe and secure at a relative’s house. A local resort for a weekend without the kids may be just the therapy you need and it will cost much less than a trip that requires airfare and accommodations for four or five.
Make Sure Everyone Likes the Destination: I really want to visit New Orleans so that I can visit the National World War II Museum. None of my family members want to go there. My wife does not like to be out in the sun. One son will not do anything on boats. Another hates cultural visits. I know we all have different tastes and that we have never found a place that we all want to visit, so I do not try to plan family trips. When my eldest son is away attending summer high school programs, my wife, younger son and I will go on trips that the three of us can enjoy. My older son would rather go on vacation with his friends so he tends to stay at the vacation homes of his friends when he has the chance. If everyone in your family is not going to have a good time, nobody will have a good time. Always keep that in mind.
You Do Not Need to Travel to Have Fun: If you live on the coast or in a major in-land city, there is much to do in your own backyard that I suspect you have not experienced. In places like Boston, Chicago and San Francisco, there are innumerable cultural and athletic experiences that can occupy you for days and weeks on end. If you have not fully explored the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, do you really need to go to New York to see the Metropolitan Museum of Art?
Be Prepared to Say No to the Extras: Vacation destinations usually are full of shopping opportunities. If you go on almost any ride at a theme park, it will end in a gift shop. If you stay in a hotel, it is likely to have shops associated with it. Prepare your kids, if you are vacationing with children, for the onslaught of shopping temptations and tell them how you expect the shops to be perceived. If there will be no purchases allowed, make that clear. If there will be purchases allowed, establish guidelines and do not deviate from them.
Look for Dining Deals: Some hotels and vacation attractions offer dining deals that will allow you to cap the cost of food. For example, at SeaWorld (Orlando), adult visitors can pay approximately $30 for a full day of meals and snacks. Children pay a little less than half that much. If you have the stamina to spend a full day at a theme park, it is not a horrible deal to cap food costs at about $85 for the full day for a family of four. Yes, that is much more than you would spend at home, but it is much less than you would spend a la carte.
Look for All-Inclusive Deals: Cruises are especially good options for travelers who want to avoid incidental costs. Many cruises offer pricing that includes meals and other incidentals. Before making reservations, explore all-inclusive options with your booking agent.
Make the Trip Worth Your Money. Do not feel that you have to take a vacation every year. A vacation is supposed to be relaxing. A colleague of mine did not go on any vacations for the first ten years that I worked with him. Rather, he saved his money and then took a very special month long vacation to Ireland. He has not been on another vacation since. He loved his time in Ireland and he may go back again in a few years, but he is not going to force himself to take vacations every year.
How do you make vacations worthwhile? Do you bring your kids? Are you annoyed when other people bring their children to your vacation destinations? Do you feel the need to go on vacation every year?