Ask any 100 people what makes a great family vacation, and you'll no doubt get the response, "Where do you get the time to talk to 100 people about their vacations?!" But if you do manage to get some answers, you'll find that all great family vacations have three things in common: they should be fun, they should be relatively carefree, and there should be plenty of things for the kids to do -- that is, if the kids absolutely insist on coming along.
The wonderful thing about family vacations is that you have all that company. Imagine the agony of a vacation if you had to take it alone. The burden of choosing where to go and what to do would be completely on your shoulders. There'd be absolutely no need for a schedule -- you'd do whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted. You'd no doubt sleep 'til noon, eat high-calorie foods just because they tasted good, and watch football games on ESPN12. Who cares if they're repeats? Not everything in life has to be a surprise.
But alas, you're not alone. You have a family, they want a vacation, and they fully expect to come along. Hey, come on, now -- tears aren't going to accomplish anything. Help is at hand. Here are the seven keys to a wonderful family vacation:
Plan your vacation with the individual needs of each member of your family in mind. In other words, your vacation destination should never be more than five miles from a Toys 'R Us or a Port-O-Potty. Begin with your youngest child and work your way up. By the time you're finished, you should have something resembling a U.S. map with push-pins stuck in 7 different, widely-spaced-apart states, and a migraine the size of Kentucky.
2. Go Green.
What with the high price of gas, it may be prudent to vacation much closer to home, perhaps even in your home. Explore parts of your home you haven't visited before. For you teenagers, this could mean the laundry room and the garbage cans. Take a walk around your block, pretending it's a foreign country. If a neighbor asks you to help carry a new sofa inside the house, pretend you're a foreigner and don't understand English. Eat in your neighborhood's ethnic restaurants (a kosher ethnic restaurant of course!) and pretend you're in a foreign country. Ask the chef, "Do you have any idea how much the same meal would cost back in the states?"
Explore parts of your home you haven't visited before. For you teenagers, this could mean the laundry room and the garbage cans
3. Alternating Time Together/Time Apart.
Your family can't spend every minute of every day together on vacation. The Manson family tried it, and we all know how that turned out. Parents need time to be with each other without the kids so they can talk about "adult stuff" (i.e. the kids),. Kids need time on their own so they can do "kid stuff (i.e. talk about their parents).. Some resort hotels even have supervised programs that occupy the children for a good portion of the day. Parents generally refer to such programs as, "A godsend."
4. Go Where You're Wanted.
You don't want to spend any time at a place where you're merely tolerated. Lord knows, you get enough of that at home. Some hotels simply don't encourage families. These places are fairly easy to spot, by the huge neon sign out front reading, "We'd Rather Experience A Nuclear Meltdown Than Put Up With Your Deranged Family." Make certain that the place at which you're going to stay can handle your children's special needs--in other words, that the place has a working Nintendo Wii and a copy of Super Mario Party 8.
5. Plan Days That Everyone Is Going To Enjoy.
Don't feel you have to spend day after day at a theme park. You could have the patience of Job, but after hearing "It's A Small World, After All" for three days straight, even Bill Cosby would be ready to smack someone. Kids can enjoy the same things you do, such as a museum, as long as you make it fun for them. Set up a game in which one kid distracts the guard, while the other steals his wallet and draws a mustache on one of the paintings. These are memories your children will cherish forever.
Don't forget the annual pilgrimage to the statue of Jewish icon Nathan Howowitz -- the first man to purchase wholesale.
6. Visit Sacred Jewish Locations.
Just because you're on vacation, doesn't mean you need to forget about your cultural or religious heritage. Oh, sure, for we Jews, it takes a bit extra planning and effort to scope out the exact locations of shopping malls, delis, Chinese restaurants and saunas. But can you really put a price on connecting to one's past? And please do not forget the annual pilgrimage to the statue of Jewish icon Nathan Howowitz, credited as the first man to purchase wholesale.
Be realistic about what you can and can't expect on family vacations. Remember that it's not how much you do, but how good it feels doing it. Slow down. You rush around enough during your regular life. Adopt a vacation pace. Things are going to go wrong, but even if it goes against your nature, force yourself to be flexible. If all this still doesn't work, next summer, ship the kids off to camp, and go on a stress-free vacation without them.