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Travel Buddy and the Crazy SombreroA Parent's Guide to Planning the Perfect Family Vacation
By Jennifer Burgess Jeffrey Burgess
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2009 Jennifer and Jeffrey Burgess
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTravel Buddy Tip #1-Deciding on a Vacation Destination and Telling the Kids
Dear Travel Diary,
It's just a few more days 'till our big trip. Mom has started packing and dad just left for the bank to get traveler's checks. He even said he'd get me some foreign cash I could carry around myself!
When they told me we were going on a big trip I was so excited that I did some bragging to all my friends. One of my friends was so jealous, that he begged me to let him come with us. Maybe I'll bring him something back ...
Just think diary ... I, the Travel Buddy, am going out of the country, and I might even learn a new language, and I, the Travel Buddy, may just get to ... well you get the picture. It's going to be GREAT! But no matter what adventures come my way, I will never forget who I really am; a little tourist in the big world.
Adios! (That's Spanish for goodbye)
The Travel Buddy
Just Imagine: You have it all planned and are as giddy as you anticipate the kids will be. You have been scheming for months with the travel agent, with friends and perhaps even grandparents. When the kids come down for breakfast this morning you just know that they'll be thrilled to find the tickets you've purchased to the all-inclusive resort in Jamaica.
What's even better ... you leave tomorrow!
This greeting card moment represents a dream that many parents have. They honestly believe a trip like this will be the ultimate gift to their children. What they don't realize is that for most kids the initial excitement will wear off within a few minutes and, depending on your child and their travel experience, you might find yourself faced with a flood of other emotions.
Before you plan this kind of covert operation you should consider two important things:
1. The age and travel experience of your children and,
2. The type of vacation you want to take and possible destinations.
Age of Your Children
Your child's age and travel experience are important because it will significantly impact which vacation options are the most suitable for your family. Understanding a bit about child psychology and taking this into account while planning your vacation will potentially save you a great deal of frustration later. Let me help to explain how they may react by talking about the characteristics of each age group:
Infants (up to 18 months) will not be able to vocalize their concerns in a way that makes it easy to understand exactly what is bothering them and this can be frustrating to parents. Generally speaking, taking infants on big vacations is much more difficult and adds additional stress to your vacation but it is not insurmountable. Thorough preparation is very important because improper planning on your part will most certainly have a big impact not only on your baby, but likely on the rest of your traveling party. One of the best ways to prepare infants for vacations is to begin exposing them to some of the things that they will encounter. Many of the tips you will find throughout the book can be modified to meet the needs of infants so watch for specific references to infants in later tips.
Very young children (4 and under) are unlikely to understand either the magnitude of what the tickets on the breakfast table represent or exactly what they are in store for. Children of this age are steadied by the consistency of their surroundings and their belongings. Pulling a very young child out of his/her environment without thorough preparation might cause a meltdown that could potentially ruin your vacation. The beauty of traveling with very young children is that even when you are stuck in an airport or traveling in a taxi they are often very easily entertained with simple things such as stories or parents making funny faces.
Young children (5 - 8) will be able to understand the idea of going on vacation but if they have not been on a plane or traveled a great distance before, they also might be apprehensive about what exactly is involved in this adventure. Children of this age will have all kinds of questions that, in and of themselves, might take a week to answer to their satisfaction. Plan a trip to the library to look at books or find a DVD about the place you are going. This will help youngsters relate to some of the sights and sounds they may see when you are on vacation and this will give them a sense of comfort.
Elementary and Middle School children (9 - 12) At this age, kids are settling into school and friendships, and these are the primary things that are beginning to define who they see themselves as, and where they fit in the world. They will want time to explore questions they have but may need a bit of time to determine what those questions are. Kids this age will also want the opportunity to talk to their friends (bragging rights) about their upcoming vacation and some of the older kids will immediately hop online to find out more about where they are going and what they can do when they get there. A fun thing to do with this group is to plan a couple family meals that incorporate some of the local recipes or ingredients of your destination. If you live in a large city you may be able to find markets that either specialize in or at least carry many of the ingredients you will need to make an authentic meal. This is also a great way to introduce your family (especially those picky members) to some new food and avoid having them eat chicken fingers and fries the entire time you are away.
Pre-Teens and Teenagers (12+) As I'm sure you're aware by now, friends rule in the world of the tweens and teens and parents are often an afterthought-even if they are springing for a cool vacation. Pre-teens and teenagers are all about their relationships and their social life. If you do not consult with them on an upcoming family vacation, your announcement may be met with a great deal of resistance, due to the fact that this vacation might interfere with something they have planned. Although this may sound unreasonable and even ungrateful to parents, it is the reality of the egocentric nature of this age group. Preteens and teens may also want to participate in the planning of additional excursions or want to find their own activities to register for if you're visiting an all-inclusive location. In fact, you can capitalize on their love of the internet by asking them to research at least one or two cool activities for each family member and/or things that the whole family can do together. Be sure to let them know that (depending on your destination) they might be able to find things to do that do not involve their parents or siblings. If this doesn't motivate them to jump on board I'm not sure what will! Also, don't be surprised if kids at this age ask to bring a friend along. Again, it's a crazy idea to some parents but one honestly worth considering.
Type of Vacation and Possible Destinations
Deciding on a vacation destination is an important decision regardless of who you are traveling with but when planning to travel with children or teens it is critical that you give this very careful consideration. The following several pages will guide you through the process of picking the best vacation options and destination for your family.
Researching Appropriate Destinations
The planning for our first big family trip started out at least three years before we ever purchased a ticket. We were sitting around one evening watching television when a commercial for some vacation destination, innocently made its way into our living room (to be honest I can't even remember the destination anymore). I looked over at both my husband and son and realized they had the same dreamy look on their faces as I did as we all seemed to get lost in the scene of the family playing on the white sand beach together. Within thirty seconds or so, the commercial was over and I thought we'd all go back to our program without skipping a beat. But this time was different. The mood seemed to have changed, we were no longer content to just watch the commercial and dream. If you've ever experienced a feeling of coincidence, then what we experienced over the next few months will likely sounds familiar to you. It seemed as though every time we were watching TV together we'd see that same (or similar) commercial, we started receiving all kinds of flyers and brochures from travel agencies, Air Miles launched a new campaign and everyone we spoke to (or so it seemed) was telling tales of their latest vacation.
For a long time after that we half heartedly talked about planning a vacation, but practicality seemed to take over with excuses linked to paying bills or planning for the future. Then one day we realized that the bills were being paid and the future was now. By that I mean, that the future we talked about last year was the present and so it would always be. What we had not factored in was that our son was quickly getting older and before we realized it would be thinking of many things other than taking vacations with his parents. We seemed to miss the obvious fact that the memories created today become the family stories we'd sit around the dinner table talking about in the future. We made the decision then and there that within the next twelve months we would plan a family vacation of some kind. It was that decision that was really the birth of the Travel Buddy though at that time we had no idea.
Travel agencies can be a great source of information when trying to pick a destination that is appropriate for your family, but in the end, getting a thorough understanding of what your family wants to do on vacation is the best place to start. Older kids will be a great source of information during this stage of the planning process and including them allows them to feel like they have say in building the dream vacation they will always remember.
At the end of this section you will find a questionnaire that will address many of the key things you will need to consider when planning your vacation. It will help narrow down the type of vacation you want to take and if you use it in consultation with your travel agent, they will be much better equipped to help you find the vacation that is perfect for you.
If you are a more experienced traveler, you may want to consider planning your own vacation. Many resorts and cruise lines offer on-line planning, quote and reservations capabilities, and toll free numbers to speak to reservation agents. Often, you can even take a virtual tour of the resorts or ship you are considering. One of the best parts about researching online is that you can get multiple quotes all at once from the comfort of your own home, at a time that's convenient for you. The downside to online vacation shopping is that you may miss important options such as travel insurance requests, advanced flight options, promotional deals etc.
The travel questionnaire you find below was developed during the beginning of that twelve month period that we committed to for planning our vacation. Although we obviously knew each other very well we had not been on a big vacation and really needed to figure out what the perfect vacation for our family would be (at the time we honestly thought this would be one of those "once-in-a-lifetime" vacations). At first we didn't really have any process for our decision making and quickly realized that if we didn't figure out what kind of vacation we wanted we'd never get to the all important step of actually booking anything.
Once you have answered the questions in the questionnaire you should have a good understanding of the type of vacation your family is looking for, I know we sure did.
Destination Planning Questionnaire
1. What time of year do you want to travel? This is one of the biggest decisions to finalize before you even begin planning. Weather, prices, local celebrations etc., will all influence the experience you have. If you have a specific destination in mind you may need to adjust your travel dates to local weather and climate conditions. On the other hand, if you must travel during specific times of the year, you may need to consider alternate destinations that are best suited to the kind of vacation you're looking for, or to fit the budget you've set out for yourself.
2. How much time do you have between today and your ideal travel date? This is an important thing to consider since some destinations will require you to get specific vaccinations in advance of your trip. Some of these vaccinations must be taken several weeks beforehand, or may need to be done in a series. Also keep in mind the paperwork that you might need for each person in your travel party, such as passports, visas or vaccination records. One last thing to think about is if there are any special events that you plan to attend while you're away; often you will need to purchase tickets or make reservations well in advance.
3. How long will your vacation be? If you have a specific number of days you can take away from work (or the kids from school), you may want to think twice about a trip that requires multiple travel days. If you have a longer vacation planned, you have many more options available to you. If your destination does require a lot of travel time, make sure you factor in the effects jet lag could have on adults and kids alike. Everyone reacts differently to the stress of extended travel and new surroundings, so watch for any out-of-the-ordinary behavior.
4. How much traveling experience do your family members have? Your family's travel experience plays a big role in deciding where to go. More experienced or adventurous travelers may be comfortable with venturing out on the unbeaten paths, but those who are planning their first big vacation would be advised to play it a little safer and plan a more structured itinerary. Children often do not adapt well to change so this is a very important point to explore before making any final decisions.
5. Does everyone traveling with you have a valid passport and/or is able to get a passport? Passports are required for all members of your traveling party, including babies, for all travel outside your home country. Some countries have restrictions on who can enter so if there is anything in your past that could potentially create an issue, it is best to discuss that well in advance.
6. Are you planning to travel with another family or bring others along? This topic is also discussed later in the book with respect to various types of paperwork that may be required. If you are planning to travel with people that are not members of your immediate family, keep in mind that you'll definitely want to discuss the details of your plans with your traveling companions so that you're all on the same page. Remember that just because you get along well with someone, it doesn't necessarily make them an ideal travel companion.
7. Do you want to travel to a hot/tropical location or someplace with a moderate temperature? Make sure that everyone you're traveling with can agree on your definition of "hot". For me, I don't consider it too hot until it reaches 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius), but for others that I've traveled with, they'd prefer it at least 10 degrees cooler to be comfortable. If you look closely at the information about the ideal time of year to travel to various places (located after this questionnaire), it can give you a better idea of the best time and place to set your sights on.
8. Vacation or Stay-cation? Some of the best trips can be in your own backyard, but it is definitely nice to see someplace new. This is something worth discussing with your group as it will certainly play a huge part in your budgeting and timeline considerations.
9. Does your family enjoy water activities, land activities or both? Some people enjoy the beach, swimming, snorkeling, etc., and some prefer shopping and sightseeing. Knowing what makes your family tick will make planning much easier. Many vacation destinations offer something for everyone but sometimes you will find yourself out of luck for some activities if you don't do your research.
10. Are there specialty or novelty activities you would like to participate in? Things to consider here would be scuba diving, mountain hiking, skiing, visiting local festivals, etc. You may not be able to satisfy everyone's wish list, but brainstorming as many ideas as possible will allow you to make as many dreams come true as humanly possible.
Excerpted from Travel Buddy and the Crazy Sombrero by Jennifer Burgess Jeffrey Burgess Copyright © 2009 by Jennifer and Jeffrey Burgess. Excerpted by permission.
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