Traveling with children will be a memorable event ? the question is "What kind?" Your chances of a lifetime memory you will cherish increase significantly with some advance communication and preparation.
The book, Love It or Lose It: Living Clutter-Free Forever, outlines a five-step process you can apply to organizing any area of your life ? including traveling with children of any age. Make the children a part of the trip by letting them help you plan. Your children will enjoy the trip more if they feel they have some say about the agenda. Get books from the library, or do an Internet search, on the area you plan to visit. Give them some options of what to do and actually use some of their suggestions. Who knows? You may enjoy their suggestions more than you think.
Here is a guide to vacationing with children, using the 5 steps:
1. Design your vision.
The first step to happy memories is good communication. Start scheduling family meetings to plan ? the earlier the better. At the first meeting, ask each member of the family to describe what he or she would like to have in order to have a wildly successful vacation. It's a great idea to put some structure into this discussion. Use a flip chart and have family members take turns recording answers. Subsequent meetings can be used to work out each of the next steps.
2. Eliminate your obstacles.
Mark Twain is credited with saying "Progress starts with the truth." Certainly that applies in this situation. For example, some teens simply do not think it's "cool" to travel with mom and dad. If you want your teens to enjoy their travel experience, make sure you understand what they like and dislike. With young children, keep in mind "less is more." A swim in the hotel pool may be a much better choice than another two hours at the theme park.
3. Commit your time.
There could be several issues here. If your teens are working, they may resent having to miss work ? or they may be delighted. In either case, find out their preferences, and see what you can do to accommodate them without jeopardizing your own needs. One of the issues likely to come up is the daily travel schedule itself. Young children need naps, teens may want to sleep late, while parents relish the idea of "getting an early start." Compromise is probably the best solution here.
4. Select your tools
Growing up on a farm in Nebraska, one of the things my daddy taught me was "Half of any job is having the right tool." While you may think it's ridiculous to think about "tools" for a vacation, it is really essential. For example, if it is impossible to reach a compromise about the music on the car CD player, headphones for individual players could be a godsend!
Tools can also include systems for the way you handle situations. One of the major keys to success in organizing any activity is focusing on individual strengths ? if one child is particularly adept at photography, make them the official family photographer, while another might be a great navigator.
5. Maintain your success
At the end of each day, take a few minutes for a "Check-In" session. What was the best thing that happened that day? Why? How can we make sure we have more like it? What didn't work? Why? How can we eliminate the situation in the future? Make sure you use this process at the end of the vacation ? make some notes and put them in your GO System File (LINK HERE to http://productiveenvironment.com/index.asp?name= GO%5FSEMINARS&new=true&leftnav=true&lid=66) for next year's planning.
Here are some general tips you can use to ensure a great vacation:
? Choose age appropriate destinations. This doesn't mean every trip has to involve a theme park or sports event; it simply means keep the trip's educational value at a level they can comprehend and appreciate. If your children's ages span a wide range, have at least one activity geared to each child. Picking a hotel with a pool can make a big difference!
? Lay the ground rules early. Before you even leave the house, make sure your children know what is and isn't acceptable behavior on the road. As elementary as this may seem, if you don't tell your children what you expect, how can they oblige?
? Let the children pack their own suitcases as much as possible. Make sure each child has a small carry-on bag for which they are responsible. Include things they can do on the road or in the air--a walkman and tapes, comic books, handheld video games, etc.
? Decide ahead of time about seating arrangements and make contingency plans in case requested seats are not available.
? Establish a meeting place at each stop. Nothing could be worse that having a child get lost in an unfamiliar environment. Whenever you visit a location, identify a spot where the family can meet if you happen to get separated, or carry cell phones or pagers.
? Carry current photos of your children. That way others can help you locate your lost child. If your child can tell time, make sure they take a watch!
? Pack a first aid kit. Face it. Kids will be kids. That means scraped knees, bug bites, and cuts and bruises. When traveling with children, always keep a first aid kit handy.
? Check for children travel specials. Pre-planning can save you lots of money. Many airlines, restaurants, and hotels offer discounts for children, whether it's a "kids stay or eat free" deal or a "half-off children's rate." Let Internet-savvy children put their mouse to work for a happier vacation.
The most important thing to remember ? flexibility. Traveling with children of any age is always a challenge. Spend more time enjoying the precious memories you will be creating and less time fretting over what could go wrong. Keep your sense of humor in full swing and happy traveling.
? Barbara Hemphill is the author of Kiplinger's Taming the Paper Tiger at Work and Taming the Paper Tiger at Home and co-author of Love It or Lose It: Living Clutter-Free Forever. The mission of Hemphill Productivity Institute is to help individuals and organizations create and sustain a productive environment so they can accomplish their work and enjoy their lives. We do this by organizing space, information, and time. We can be reached at 800-427-0237 or at www.ProductiveEnvironment.com