Is “family vacation” an oxymoron? Can you truly enjoy a vacation with your kids?

One of the most important aspects of a vacation, I think we can agree, is to get out of the daily grind and experience things that give us a new perspective on life.  They’re a time to forget about the 9 to 5, the endless social activities, the piles of laundry that never seem to diminish…and just take time to have some fun.

But is this possible on a family vacation, with kids in tow?

Yes…and it can be so much more.  Take heart, parents- the family vacation is so worth it!

Our lives at home are routine, and we begin to form an opinion of who the people in our lives are.  Travel changes that.  You can see your children in different circumstances- see what they’re like in new settings, how they react to different types of people and how they handle new experiences.  I never in a million years would have guessed my bookworm son would have a special fondness for the adrenalin surge of a rollercoaster, or that my shy daughter would strike up a conversation with an elderly couple who had stopped for an ice cream at the zoo.  But it seems there’s something about travel that brings a willingness to try new things.

In truth, travel is also one thing (of many) that can help our children grow into well-rounded, socially responsible, and educated adults.

As a homeschooling family, vacations have a particular significance for us. All the things we talk about and study at home come to life when we travel- there’s just no escaping its educational value.

State and national parks can teach about earth science and the importance of environmentalism.  But don’t stay in the lodge; camping teaches them about the value of self-reliance and the bounty of nature.  Staying in the great outdoors underscores the value of an active life and instills an appreciation for nature; this time is perfect for activities like hiking, hunting, fishing, star-gazing, and horseback riding.  (Find out more about our national parks and their value for kids here.)

Trips through museums and to historical sites help kids appreciate the past.  They demonstrate the work and sacrifice that has taken place; the things that allow children the life and freedoms they experience as a matter of course.  These type of excursions also kindle an interest in a particular area of study, time period, or concept… and provide a strong foundation for the informal education experience that is central to a lifelong learning process.  (Plus, the price is right… for example, most Smithsonian Museums are open every day except December 25 and are free of charge.)

Last, and maybe most importantly, travel also teaches a respect for others- their cultures, religions and ways of life.  Being raised in a small town provides a limited perspective on the world for my children; travel opens up new vistas for them.  It’s fascinating to watch their reactions to these new experiences, and to be right there to discuss the implications and influences on our own lives.  And regardless of  what type of vacation you take, there’s always an opportunity to jump in and help those in need, so if you’d like to teach your children about giving back, there are many ways to accomplish that goal.

Things may go wrong on your family vacation- it’s par for the course.  They’re usually not life-changing issues, however, so try to keep in mind that it’s not the “perfect” vacation that’s important.  It’s one that brings you closer to your family and allows you to share experiences that enrich your lives and minds.  Enjoy your travels!

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