Making Lasting Memories
When I look back on my childhood, some of my absolute best memories came from our family vacations. One of seven children, my mother always worked hard to protect and cultivate family time. When extracurriculars and the hectic nature of life threatened to overwhelm us, she always came up with some new way to draw us all back together. Often times, this involved some kind of family adventure, from camping, road trips, to a bigger vacation to places like Disney World.
For example, when I was fourteen my parents bought a camper which the nine of us (ranging from ages 14 to 5 months old) lived in for twenty-one days. Starting from our home in southern Louisiana, we traveled up to Prince Edward Island, Canada. And on the way, we stopped at various campgrounds and state parks in Florida, South Carolina, Virgina, Boston, and Maine.
Now I’ll be honest, at the time my teenage-self was less than thrilled to be separated from all my friends for what seemed the majority of the summer. And I was even less excited about being trapped in a twelve passenger van for hours upon hours with my younger siblings. To cope, I brought along huge bins of books (which we stored under the seats) and read a grand total of 50 books throughout our trip. But to my surprise, that vacation ended up being one of the best experiences I ever had with my family. To this day my siblings and I continue to reminisce and laugh about various stories that occurred during the “Canada trip,” as we’ve dubbed it.
I believe that family vacations are important for several reasons. First, they’re an opportunity for the family to recharge and refocus. Pulled away from individual interests and hobbies, everyone is united by a common experience. There are no soccer games to rush off to, no business calls to make, and no friends to invite over. This allows the family to focus on what truly matters, their relationship with God and each other.
Built in Quality Time
This, in turn, leads to quality time together. Instead of focusing on themselves or their friends, kids are pushed to play with their siblings, cementing those relationships. Family members are able to get to know one another in a new and perhaps deeper way. Laughter is inevitable involved and perhaps conflict too, but this pushes everyone to communicate more and to learn how to be together.
Family traveling can also be very educational, broadening children to new experiences and ways of living. As a homeschool family, my mother was always looking for some way to make our vacations educational. From museums to war memorials, to historic landmarks, there are tons of ways to pull in some history to your adventures. Beyond that, traveling itself can be extremely educational as inquisitive minds take in the different landscape, mannerisms, and customs of various parts of the country and world.
Focused on What Matters
The time our children are small is so fleeting. Money may be tight and work may be stressful, but if you don’t take these opportunities to travel and spend time with your kids you will definitely regret it. I don’t want to be like that parent in Harry Chapin’s song “The Cat’s in the Cradle” who always says, “But we’ll get together then / You know we’ll have a good time then.” I want to soak up this time now, in the present moment, before it’s gone.
How to Vacation when You’re Poor
Of course, a concern that many of us share is money. Over the year’s vacationing has gotten more and more extravagant, making them seem unattainable for us struggling middle-class families. Although we’d like to take our kids to Disney World one day, it may just not be in the cards right now. Rest assured, however, there are plenty of ways to enjoy precious family times without breaking the bank. Here are just a few suggestions.
- Camping – We just took our kids on their first camping trip and had a total blast. Because we reserved through a State Park, it only cost us $30 for the night plus about $40 for food. The park we chose had a beach, splash pad park, horseback riding, and tons of trails. What I loved the most, though, was watching my children explore the great outdoors and the complete enthrallment in their eyes as we roasted marshmallows and sat around the campfire.
- Rent a Cabin – State Parks also frequently have nice, affordable cabins. These tend to book quickly though so make sure that you plan ahead and book as early as possible.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great way to find a room, apartment, or house that meets your family’s budget. For example, my cousin and I recently went on a Mom vacation and stayed at a place that only cost us $45 per night. Our hosts were fabulous, offering us breakfast each morning and sending us home with goodies when we left.
- Take Quick Trips – Often times because of money or work responsibilities families can’t get away for weeks at a time. But even so, that doesn’t mean you can’t explore the area around you. Look into places to visit within a three-hour radius of where you live. Plan those “quick” weekend trips. Often times this is more affordable anyway because you aren’t traveling at the height of tourist seasons and you spend less money on traveling/food.
- Group Booking – Many purses make for light expenses. When you want to stay at a more expensive destination, consider going with a larger group that can help break up the cost. For example, this summer my family along with my parents and siblings are all traveling to the beach. We’ve booked two condos which we are all contributing to. The result is that four nights at the beach is only costing $500 per couple and $250 per person. Then we all chip in for food which makes for a very affordable and memorable trip.
- Plan Ahead & Save – This one may seem obvious, but starting a family vacation fund is another important way to help keep your adventures affordable. Even if it’s only $30 a month, it helps give you the freedom to “up and go” when the opportunity presents itself. One of the things my parents did was have the kids contribute to the vacation fund. Later, when we planned a trip to Disney World each teenage kid saved for and paid for their own entrance fee into the parks while my parents covered the cost of traveling, lodging, and the fees of the younger ones. Through that, we learned to better appreciate our vacations because we understood the sacrifice involved in making them possible.
- Save up Miles – Save up miles on your credit card to use toward flights.
- Watch for deals – Keep track of special air travel, Groupon, and hotel booking deals. Not necessarily ideal for the trip planned far in advance, these often provide affordable ways for more impromptu trips.
- Visit Family – Visiting long distance family can also be a great way to save on vacations. You’re still able to get away and experience different sights but don’t have the added expense of accommodation. And in the process, you’re connecting with extended family members.
- Cut Back on Dining Out – I know cooking may seem less than ideal for the mom who wants a break, but dining out adds up quickly. Instead, cook simple meals and pack sandwiches and snacks for your day excursions.