Family vacations can open a whole new world of possibilities — not only in choosing which destinations to explore but also for giving multiple generations shared experiences and new ways to relate with each other.
“In today’s reality, traditional, blended and multigenerational families can really benefit from family vacations,” says Christine Tibbetts, travel journalist and member of the TravelingMom.com network. “By involving everyone in the planning and ensuring that each family member is invested in at least one activity on vacation, the travel truly becomes a family vacation, not just a trip that people who are related are taking together.”
Tibbetts suggests to begin planning for a major vacation six to nine months ahead of time. Ask each family member to suggest destinations and explain why they like them, then meet to decide. “Make the process fun, an adventure in itself. With today’s technology, families spread out across the country can Skype, FaceTime or email to whittle down choices,” she says. “Once the destination is settled, each person can suggest activities within the vacation that hold a particular appeal to them.”
When a family shares the planning process and members know they all have input, a family vacation can turn from ho-hum routine to fun. “Listen to each other and respect what each person brings to the table,” Tibbetts says. “If everyone’s going on a trip to the mountains because dad wants to fish, the kids may be disgruntled. Make sure the trip includes at least one activity that each person wants to do.”
If you’re traveling with multiple generations, consider activities in time blocks so each family member can have time to choose his or her own experiences that may not appeal to others. For instance, some family members may be interested in a visit to a history or art museum, and others may want to hike, bike or kayak. Some may enjoy a food tour while others visit a family fun center or relax by the pool.
The internet is filled with suggestions for family-friendly destinations, no matter the ages of the family members. Be savvy about honest evaluations versus advertising promotions.
TravelingMom.com is written by moms who travel with and without their kids, providing insight, tips and recommendations for all kinds of family adventures. TripAdvisor and familytravel.org are places to start, too. Googling family vacations turns up a myriad of resources for families seeking adventure trips to those interested in history, natural wonders or a week by the water.
To drill down further after you’ve chosen a destination, search for the state’s tourism office online. There you’ll find activity suggestions and links to lodging, dining and attractions. Some state tourism offices provide information about specific activities for people of all ages and even travel options for those with disabilities.
You can also search for your destination’s convention and visitors bureaus, which actively work to promote tourism and travel in their areas. Many list promotional offers, discounts and seasonal events.
Staffs at the bureaus and welcome centers are trained on the particulars of the travel and tourism options in their areas. They can be your eyes on the ground to work with you one-on-one to maximize your vacation. Their services are free.
In addition to destination information, search the internet for family travel tips — from checklists about packing to how to handle a medical emergency while on vacation. While you may be a seasoned traveler, it never hurts to brush up or learn a new tool for reducing the stress of the trip.
“Family vacations are about much more than spending time together away from home. They can set the tone for your children as they journey through life,” Tibbetts says. “Our family has always traveled from the time our sons were young. They grew up being comfortable meeting new people and understanding the world in new ways. It has been so satisfying to see them as adults taking their own children on vacations and encouraging them to be curious and confident. Sometimes our vacations become multigenerational, and we all have fun making memories and sharing experiences. I treasure those travels.”
It’s important to remember that a family vacation is truly that: a vacation for all members of the family.
“You don’t have to do everything together the whole trip,” Tibbetts says. “If different people do their own activities for an afternoon, make time to share those experiences later that day or the next. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to learn that Uncle Joe becomes animated when he talks about birdwatching on a nearby trail or that your teenaged son learned a bit about sports cars by visiting a race car museum. Your family vacation can help you get to know each other outside of everyday life. It’s worth investing the time up front to make your time away together a positive and enjoyable change from day-to-day life.”
Travel resources, apps and blogs
People who travel frequently seem to have an inside track to resources, good deals, the newest apps and the most up-to-date blogs. While most people have heard of TripAdvisor, Yelp and travel-discount sites such as Booking.com, Expedia and Hotels.com, here are some websites, apps and blogs that can bring additional resources:
Travel and Tourism Information by State, usa.gov/state-travel-and-tourism, gives you access to state offices of tourism, which provides overview information about individual states.
With U.S. Travel Association, ustravel.org, you can click on membership/membershipdirectory to have access to individual convention and visitors bureaus across the nation. Click the link for a city or town’s CVB for travel promotions, news about attractions, dining, hotels, festivals and more.
Mobile Passport, mobilepassport.us, provides expedited passage through U.S. Customs and Border Protection at more than 30 airports and cruise ports.
CLEAR, clearme.com, uses biometrics, such as fingerprints and the irises of your eyes to help you get through security checkpoints at more than 60 airports, stadiums and other venues in the country.
App in the Air, appintheair.mobi, provides crowd-sourced information about airports, plus keeps track of your flight profile and itineraries, boarding passes, gate changes, and flight status updates.
LoungeBuddy, loungebuddy.com, shows you how to access and book more than 3,000 airport lounges, with pricing, amenities and ratings.
Hitlist, hitlistapp.com, is one of the newest apps for tracking down cheap airfares with push notifications to your chosen destinations.
CheckMyTrip, checkmytrip.com, keeps track of all your travel information in one place, from airline reservations and seat assignments, gate changes, plus hotels and car rentals.
Girl on the Go travel tales and tips, janschroder.com, provides domestic and international travel information, destination reviews, travel tips and even recipes.
GoNomad.com covers the world of travel with an extensive section about travel in the U.S., showcasing new attractions and museums, travel tips and articles about specialty travel such as animal tours and travel for women.
JohnnyJet.com travel website is filled with tips, recommendations and information about travel, whether you’re staying in state or taking a trip around the world.
McCoolTravel.com includes tips such as creating your own airplane travel kit to ways to earn frequent flyer points without flying.
ScottsCheapFlights.com sends out travel alerts when airfare deals pop up. The basic service is offered at no charge; the premium platform comes with a fee and offers members earlier access to deals.
TravelingMom.com offers family vacation suggestions, hacks and tips from family travel experts, and plenty of free things to do in all 50 states.
Please note that this list is not an endorsement of any website, app or blog.
Making great vacation photos
Whether you’re using a “fancy” camera or a cellphone, you can make memorable photos while on vacation. By following some simple tips, your photos can be transformed from snapshots to interesting and even amazing photos that you’re proud to share with family and friends.
“The pictures you make can go from mediocre to unforgettable if you’re willing to put effort into them,” says Dave LaBelle, renowned photojournalist and author of several books about photography, including “The Great Picture Hunt.” “Photography is like a golf game. You can just go out and swing at the ball, or you can put thought into the various elements and consciously improve your game.”
The most important consideration in making extraordinary photographs is paying attention to the light. Where is it coming from? How is it falling on your subject? What happens to the light and its relationship to your subject when you shift your position?
“Be thoughtful about your subject and what you want to convey,” he says. “A change in the lighting can be the difference between a snapshot and a compelling photograph. If you’re not sure, make the photograph from several angles. Later you can compare them and select the one you like the best.”
If you have time, explore your subject at various times of day. Light in early morning, midday, and late afternoon or early evening will result in dramatically different renderings of the same subject whether you’re photographing landscapes, monuments or people.
“Get up early in the morning or visit in late afternoon to make a photo that’s superior to those taken by other vacationers,” LaBelle says. “Think about postcard images; they’re the standard for travel memories. You can learn from figuring out what makes them better than your usual vacation photos. Then go out and make your photography meaningful. You have the world at your fingertips when you travel. Take advantage of every opportunity to make amazing photographs.”
LaBelle offers these basic tips to improve your photography:
- Check your background before making the photograph. Avoid poles or trees growing out of your subject’s head or distracting elements that take away from the subject.
- Recognize the light and how it will affect your photograph. Where is it coming from? Where are your subjects in relation to the light? Change your position to maximize the light or shadow and its effects on your subject.
- Create scale when photographing landmarks or monuments by including people in the foreground.
- Get closer to your subject, especially when photographing people. Make your photographs personal by creating connections with your subjects.
“If you want your photos to do more than simply trigger your memories of a vacation, be willing to take a little more time to make the best pictures you can,” LaBelle says. “Challenge yourself, look for the details and the light and you may be surprised at how much better your photos will be.”