It’s mid-August, which means if you have children, they are staring down the barrel of nine months of sitting at a desk for several hours a day while you’re about to get your daily carpool and nightly homework patrol on. Summer’s lazy days will soon fade into the memory banks.
The start of another school year can be exciting. Indeed, many kids (and no doubt an even higher percentage of parents) look forward to getting back to school. Children love reconnecting with friends they haven’t seen in three months and the fun that comes with exploration and learning, even if they don’t articulate it. And the daily routine of the school year provides a structure that helps the entire family.
At the same time, it’s natural to feel an urge to squeeze in one last summer trip this time of year. And if you normally plan vacations months in advance and a hastily planned family getaway sounds more stressful than it’s worth, it does not have to be.
Step 1: Spurn the skies and embrace the road
This is the time for a road trip. In addition to avoiding the potential your trip gets derailed by cancelled or delayed flights and the other hassles inherent with air travel, driving saves money and narrows your list of possible destinations, which makes planning easier and faster. Just make sure you’ll have more time at your destination than the total round-trip driving time. “We love one-tank trips,” said Allison Taylor, a Tennessee-based family travel expert. “One tank of gas to get there, and one to get home. Or, even better, one tank total.”
Step 2: Decide as a family what kind of trip you want
An almost certain way to ensure your spontaneous getaway ends up being more frustrating than fun is for the parents to pick a destination, overschedule activities, and then spring it on the kids with no input from them.
“I have found when I force the fun and force them to do the ‘big thing’ wherever we go, often my kids don’t like it anyway,” Taylor said. “I like to back into what it is they want to do before the summer is over, then find the location.”
Start by getting the family together and finding common ground on the type of trip first. A beach trip? National or state park for some hiking and/or camping? Is there a new amusement park your kids are dying to visit? Or maybe a big city experience?
Step 3: Now pick the destination and your accommodations
Once you settle on the type of fun the family wants, at least one drivable destination will hopefully reveal itself. If you can’t decide, err on the side of the shorter trip. In terms of where to stay, again, the type of trip will dictate this, at least to some degree.
“For me, it depends on if I will be in my hotel very much,” Taylor said. “Can we go lower budget on the hotel because we are going to do more there, or do we want to go to the Ritz-Carlton and stay on the resort? Pick the type of trip first, then where you’re going and some activities, and your leftover budget should determine where to stay.”
Step 4 (if needed): Look around the corner for a backup plan
Finally, getting away to say goodbye to summer doesn’t have to mean leaving town.
“In our town, a new Omni hotel just opened downtown,” Taylor said. “It is a fantastic hotel with a rooftop pool and you can see the whole city from there. So, maybe you decide to stay in town. Save some money, hang out by the pool, and eat out a couple of times at places you wouldn’t normally go.
“The main thing is to decide the ultimate goal: do we want to relax or do something we’ve never done before as a family? Once you figure that out, you’re on your way to a great vacation.”
For more great insight on family travel, check out Allison Taylor’s website: