When my boys were still living at home, as soon as and often before our family vacations were over, they were planning our next vacation. We worked very hard as a family to make sure our times away strengthened and bonded us, and the following tips are the building blocks of how we structured our vacations for this purpose. These points also helped make vacations relaxing, which needed to happen for the bonding to happen.

  1. Know everyone’s priority. Depending on how long you vacation, have each person prioritize activities. Then, do your best to make sure at least one of the top items on each person’s list gets done. We often spent time prior to leaving on vacation researching options while we planned our vacation as well as most of the first day of vacation deciding activities for the week.
  2. Look at free/low-cost options. We loved visiting state parks, national monuments, and other free/low-cost activities when on vacation. This got us outside more and allowed us to learn about the area we visited. On one vacation, we spent a day hiking in a state park, visited a fish hatchery, and toured a DNR facility. These were all free activities and a lot of fun. Don’t forget to check out the local coupons for tourists too to help keep costs down.
  3. Immerse in local culture. We enjoyed reading about the culture of our destination and then visiting some of the places we read about. We learned a lot about history and had fun quizzing each other on it. Local culture activities not only are usually the least expensive but are also often free.
  4. Have a flexible budget. My husband set a budget for us and then monitored it as we planned activities. Utilizing the coupons that most destinations offer for tourists helped a lot in sticking to our budget. We also could enjoy activities without feeling guilty and wondering how we’d pay for the vacation after it was over.
  5. Schedule down time. My ideal vacation involves lots of reading and coffee time. Down time for reading and relaxing is my top priority on vacation, and my family knew this. They also came to enjoy these times for themselves as well. We scheduled plenty of time to rest, so the times spent out and about could be more enjoyable. We always took movies and games for during our down time, which usually made up a significant amount of our vacation time.
  6. Avoid time. While I haven’t worn a watch for years, my husband also ditched his on vacation. Our oldest son enjoyed being our timekeeper, so we always knew we could ask him if needed. Most of the time, though, we avoided worrying about the time. Having a week where time doesn’t matter is very refreshing.
  7. Consider a kitchen. We often stayed in a time-share condominium on our vacations. Having a kitchen is a huge money saver, and it helps avoid unwanted weight gain that often comes with vacation. Many hotels have rooms with kitchens or kitchenettes, and they are well worth the extra money.

I don’t have all the answers when it comes to vacations, and everyone’s situation is unique. However, these suggestions made family vacations into great bonding times as well as low stress times for my family. Being deliberate about the structure of your vacation really will help you to grow closer together as a family and to truly relax at the same time.