Vacations are a great way to bond as a family. Being away from daily obligations, including work, school and household chores, allows us to relax, connect, and create memories.
Deciding what type of vacation to go on can be challenging, though. Some families prefer going to the same place every year, such as a week at the beach or an annual trip to Disney World. Other families prefer to go on new adventures and see different places. According to the experts, there are benefits to both types of vacations.
The Pros of Traditions
Robin Flint, a clinical mental health counselor, grew up going to the same beach town yearly with both sides of her extended family. “Those traditions instilled a value in me of spending time with family at a place I love,” Flint says.
Flint, now an adult with a family of her own, still looks back fondly on her childhood vacations, and her experience is not uncommon. Amber Trueblood, author and parenting expert, says, “When you go to the same place and do the same thing, you create longstanding memories. It’s like if your family always had spaghetti for dinner on Thursday nights. You’ll probably remember this tradition more than you do the one fancy meal you had out for a special occasion.”
Another benefit of going to the same place every year is that it creates stability and structure for kids. “Kids experience so many changes every year. They change grades, teachers, classmates, etc., so there’s something comforting about doing the same thing for vacation and knowing what to expect,” Trueblood says.
Returning to a place they’ve already been helps kids gain confidence, too. Christina Page-Finely and her family go to Kona, Hawaii, every other summer. “Each time we go, the kids can do different things from the last visit because they’ve grown. And it’s neat to see pictures of our kids taken in the same spot as they grow,” Finely says.
Going to the same place year after year means there’s no learning curve for the adults, either. They already have an idea of the vacation cost, the restaurants they like, and where the grocery store is. Carrie Berrong, a Missouri mother of three boys, says, “I think that it’s much more relaxing to go to the same place every year. That way, you can immediately relax because there’s less extra planning and unexpected hiccups.”
And if it’s someplace a family has been before, there are always new things to discover and enjoy. As Finely says, “I like making new memories (each time we go) in the same beautiful place.”
New Destinations Are Great, Too
For some people, going to the same place year after year may seem unexciting. Danielle DiCristino, a mother of one from Philadelphia says, “I prefer new places. It’s fun to explore. There’s a whole big world out there. I would like myself and my child to see as much of it as we can.”
As Dr. Robin Goodman, a New York city-based clinical psychologist, explains, “Going to new places helps kids build flexibility and takes them out of their comfort zone. They meet new people, and experience different cultures and local cuisine. It’s an opportunity to learn about the world around them.”
Austin Tuwiner began traveling with his family at a young age to some very exotic and lesser-known destinations. He believes these vacations changed his view of the world and explain why he’s still an avid traveler as an adult. “I feel that it makes for very adventurous and open-minded kids who are comfortable meeting new people and exploring unknown territories,” he says. “These are skills that can become very helpful as kids mature into adults. Creating confident, enterprising skill sets at an early age has helped me in my personal and professional endeavors as an adult.”
Experiencing new places and doing new things together as a family can be a lot of fun. James Kell says, “As a child, my parents used to take my sisters and me on some very cool family adventure vacations involving sailing, hiking and cycling. I saw the benefits first-hand of the effects of an adventure on a family, and attribute the great relationship we all still have with each other, to those adventures back when we were kids.”
Identify Your Family’s Travel Style
Parents want their kids to be excited about going on a family vacation, not stressed, anxious, or bored. That’s why it’s essential to take trips that work with your family’s travel style, budget and individual personalities. Although Flint has fond memories of her trips to the beach as a kid, when she tried to re-create these traditions with her own family, they didn’t care as much for the area as she did. She had to admit that the beach wasn’t the right vacation for her kids, even though she had loved it.
Goodman says, “Parents need to know their kids. How do they handle new things? Do they need a lot of advance preparation, or are they more go with the flow? Do they like sightseeing or prefer sitting on the beach?”
Parents also need to be honest with themselves about what they enjoy in a vacation. Just because friends raved about rafting in Costa Rica or going on an African Safari doesn’t mean it’s the right vacation for your family. “Social media has made vacation a competition for families. Don’t be swayed by someone else’s seemingly ‘perfect’ trip. No one posts photos of their kids throwing up from travel sickness, crying because they’re overtired, or fighting with their siblings because it rained for three days straight.”
Ultimately, the key to a successful family vacation is choosing something that’s right for your family. Tradition or a new adventure, the best part of any vacation should be spending time together.
Randi Mazzella is a journalist and personal essayist who writes extensively about parenting, teen issues, family life, wellness and mid-life issues. A married New Jersey based mother of three, Randi likes to travel as much as her schedule will allow and especially loves beach vacations. She has trouble “packing lightly” and frequently goes over the airline weight limit. Follow her at @RandiMazzella.