A RECHARGED MOM, WORN-OUT KIDS, AND INCREDIBLE EXPERIENCES YOU’LL RELIVE AT THE DINNER TABLE FOR YEARS TO COME. OUR EXPERT GUIDE WILL HELP YOU MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR TIME OFF, WHETHER YOU SPEND IT AT HOME OR AWAY, SO YOU’LL END UP WITH THE BEST KIND OF SOUVENIR: HAPPY MEMORIES.
(1) HAVE A GOAL
“Every kid should get one crazed quest,” says KJ Dell’Antonia, mom of four and author of the upcoming How to Be a Happier Parent. She has been to candy stores in several states and tracked down the Dr. Who police box in London–now great memories for even the kids who didn’t choose the quest.
(2) SHARE THE PLANNING
Giving them more control can work too, says Kimberly Tate, mom of two and founder of the blog Stuffed Suitcase. In her family, everyone gets a full day (or at least an afternoon) to pick what to do and where to go. “This way, they aren’t like, ‘She always gets to do what she wants,'” she says. “And no one feels like they’re just being hauled around.”
(3) BREAK A RULE
Maybe you’re a stickler about screen time, like Lauren Brennan, mom of three and author of the blog Lauren’s Latest. She says to let it go: “On one cranky plane trip, my mind just clicked–We’re on vacation.” She let her daughter use the iPad, and life went on. Throwing rules out the window in general isn’t great, but ignoring one or two is a win for everybody.
(4) DO NOTHING
“I’ve never read a retreat evaluation that said There were too many coffee breaks,” says Leigh Marz, founder of Marz Consulting. “When I overschedule retreats, people move quickly from getting their money’s worth to irritability to absolute mutiny.” Don’t let that happen in your family: Schedule no-travel days and open afternoons throughout your larger itinerary.
Take pictures with people in them.
Lush scenic shots are lovely, but don’t leave that beautiful spot until you stick a child, your husband, or yourself in the frame. When your great-grandchildren are looking at old photos, are they going to want to see a sunset or you?
ASK A TIME-MANAGEMENT EXPERT
How much of our trip should be planned versus spontaneous?
“Schedule at least one activity each day, ideally in the morning, when the kids’ energy levels are high, and do the necessary prep work, like buying tickets online. This ensures that you have special experiences but leaves room for impromptu adventures and naps. If you’re going to wing mealtime or a popular attraction, explore an area with plenty of alternative options: Two-hour-long waits equal total meltdowns! Also, be sure to ask yourself, Are we having fun? from time to time. If the answer is yes (even if your achy feet disagree), then you’re striking the right balance.” –Laura Vanderkam, mom of four and author of Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done
SECRETS FROM AN AMUSEMENT PARK INSIDER
Start the toy with an adrenaline rush.
“Instead of building up to the big ride, go on it first,” says Angie Orth, travel expert and blogger for Universal Orlando Resort. “When your family accomplishes something challenging and scary together, it creates a bonding moment that sets the tone for the rest of your time there.”
PUT YOUR PHONE PHOTOS TO GOOD USE
Your gorge vacation pics deserve to be on display, not buried in your photo gallery. Turn them into wallet-size snapshots using the HP Sprocket Photo Printer ($130, store .hp.com), which connects to your cell via a Bluetooth-enabled app. The sticky-backed paper is ideal for scrapbooking, but here’s an even simpler way to enjoy your pics: Apply peel-and-stick magnetic squares (available on amazon.com) to the backs, then stick them on your fridge or hand them out as gifts to show off your adventures. Easiest DIY ever!
MAKE IT A GREAT STAYCATION
You’ve got dozens of glorious sunny days stretched out in front of you–and your plans for the beach, the pool, and that road trip to Grandma’s will take up about 10 of them. Don’t worry a bit: These delightful ideas will entertain you without costing a fortune.
Seek out personal experiences
“Adults tend to skip out on chatting with real-life or animatronic characters, but one-on-one interactions can leave a more lasting impression than the popular rides,” says Orth. “At Universal, I get a kick out of the huge robots from Transformers that actually talk back to you.” See page 87 for a chance to enter to win a trip to chat with them yourself!
Ask “What do you want to do?” differently.
People get more invested in an experience when they can share their opinions in an out-of-the-box way, says Leigh Marz, who uses this team-building technique at corporate retreats. Try “What would make this getaway the one your friends would all want to go on?” and “What activity would inspire you to take 100 Instagram pictures?” to encourage your family to think more deeply–and have more fun.
Some days, a visit to Home Depot will just remind you of your to-do list–but Saturdays can be a different story. Nationwide, the store offers free workshops for kids of all ages on the first Saturday of every month. Participants learn, build, and decorate for three hours, then take home their crafts, an iconic Home Depot apron, and a pin. See homedepot .com/workshops for options near you.
TAKE IT TO THE LANES
Summer isn’t just about swimming and bike riding–it’s also about blissful airconditioning! Thanks to kidsbowlfree.com, your kids can get two free games of bowling every single day during the summer months at local bowling alleys. All you have to do is register your family and go have fun.
ESCAPE THE HOUSE
… or don’t, depending on how well you play the game! Instead of heading to an escape-room experience and paying admission for a group of kids, invite friends over to bust out of your house with a customizable, printable version at lockpaper scissors.co ($20). You get all the brain-busting clues and excitement without any hassle.
CREATE A DELICIOUS COMPETITION
Pick up some frozen-treat molds–or plastic cups and craft sticks–as well as Greek yogurt, OJ, rose (for the adults!), seltzer, and other bases for ice pops. Then add a bunch of cut-up fruit, gummy bears, or sprinkles. Let them freeze, then hold a contest, ranking them for taste, quality, and creativity.
ASK A MEMORY EXPERT
Aren’t my kids just going to forget this vacation?
“Not necessarily! Very basic memory abilities are something we have from day one of our lives–we can recognize our mothers’ voices as soon as we’re born! It’s the capacity to talk about our memories with other people that develops later. So help kids flesh out the picture of the full memory of a vacation by reminiscing with them about it. The more emotional and unusual an experience is, the more easily it sticks, but the most important thing is that you’re there to help them understand what they’ve experienced. I’m analyzing adult memories now, and people often refer to family trips as positive moments from their lives. It’s worth it.”–Natalie Merrill, Ph.D., of the Bauer Memory Lab at Emory University
Don’t place too much importance on any one trip! You’re going to take plenty– maybe one or two a year until I your children go to college. So they don’t have to be perfect, and if your kids remember only a few things each time, that’s still a lot!”
–KJ Dell’Antonia, author of How to Be a Happier Parent
SOLVE ANY TRAVEL MISHAP
They’re as inevitable as your kids’ ill-timed bathroom breaks. But with the help of these experts (both moms of three), you can make lemonade, or at the very least keep crummy situations from souring your good times.
MAKE IT FUN!
“Fill time with an airport scavenger hunt,” says Eileen Ogintz, founder of takingthekids.com and author of the Kid’s Guide series. “You can create a list of common sights (a red suitcase, a kid eating ice cream) on the spot or assign a theme like ‘animals’ and look for pets or logos. Always bring two decks of cards– they’re compact and can be used for games or building towers.”
“Do a little research beforehand and compile a list of nearby indoor activities like museums, factory tours, and aquariums,” says Ogintz. “You could also designate it a souvenir-shopping day.” When your kids see that you’re prepared, rainy days will feel like part of the plan instead of bad luck.
SQUASH THE PROBLEM!
“All the rules about good behavior at home apply on the road,” says Lauren Brennan, food and family blogger at laurenslatest.com. “I don’t care If we’re at a theme park–my husband and I will find a corner for my kids to stand in for a time-out. I tell them, ‘Once you’re ready to have fun, we can do that.’ If you respond immediately, you’re more likely to nip the problem In the bud.”
“Encourage them to try one new thing every day–it can be just a bite of what you’re having–and reward their bravery with praise or a little treat,” suggests Ogintz. “Before you go away, show them photos or YouTube videos of the destination’s best dishes, or try taking them to a farmers’ market where you can sample things. These strategies help drum up excitement and make new foods seem less intimidating.”
TAKE THE STRESS OUT OF SOUVENIR!
Bringing home a smile-inducing memento is a perfect way to hold on to a happy time. But it can also be a source of “Mom, can I pretty-please have this? ” pressure and, in a few months, clutter. Follow these tips on choosing the right one.
* ASK QUESTIONS FIRST
Blogger Kimberly Tate lets her daughters get a small memento costing less than $20, like a bubble machine, and a more meaningful one for up to $50, such as a T-shirt. Kimberly steers the purchases a bit by asking, “Where would this go in your room?”, “Do you think this will last you a while?”, or “How will you use this?” to make them think twice about any over-the-top buys.
* CREATE A MEMORY WALL
In lieu of collecting stuff, collect photos. Monet Hambrick of the blog The Traveling Child has a wall of about 35 frames in her home that’s dedicated to her family’s travels. “After every vacation, we pick a moment where we all had a great time, and that picture becomes our souvenir,” she says. “Houseguests always ask about it!”
* SET SOME GUIDELINES
Amber Mamian, mom of five and CEO of the blog Global Munchkins, has four rules: 1. Wait until the last day to build anticipation and prevent buyer’s remorse; 2. The kids are allowed a souvenir only from a new place; 3. It must fit in the child’s backpack, not Mommy’s or Daddy’s suitcase; and 4. It can’t be easy to find at home.
Send yourself a postcard or two.
Some are breathtaking and some are cheesy, but all will make you say, “Ahhh, wasn’t it fun to be off the grid?” whenever you open the fridge. (And it’s
OK to toss them after a few months! It’s not as if you’re tossing a picture of your darling child.)
WHAT DO KIDS REALLY REMEMBER?
We asked dozens, and their answers boiled down to these four categories. Check off one or two of these, and you’re basically guaranteed a getaway your kids will talk about forever.
Whether it’s good (pizza) or bad (apparently, coconut water) doesn’t matter. Feed them, and they’ll remember it. So easy!
New modes of transportation
So what if they gush over the plane ride or the trolley more than the amazing museum?
Children + water = happy memories. Next time you’re deciding between hotels, pick the one with a pool.
Who knew? Perhaps any large creature will do, but according to many of the kids we talked to, you can’t go wrong with an elephant.