(Making Time for What Really Matters)

– By Dr. Dana Harris


Family vacations should be about creating a lifetime of memories. Whether it’s getting organized, staying fit, or spending quality time with loved ones, summer allows time for everyone to follow their passions.  When you take vacations together, you become a team by embracing new adventures, sharing memorable experiences while generating a sense of joy and togetherness. You come to know that there is a world apart from yours, which is beautiful and exciting. Reflecting on those happiest moments of joyful times spent together as a family can be extremely powerful in bringing relief and relaxation when faced with the darker times that life can bring. Let’s face it, all of us have our own home-grown version of daily stress.  For us, it may be the burden of not meeting those tight deadlines, schedules and agendas at work or simply managing the complexities of household demands. Most would agree, we all have lives that are filled with some form of stress, even if we don’t truly acknowledge this fact. On the other hand, our younger folks may be dealing with a whole set of stressors all on their own, such issues as complicated peer pressure, difficult relationships, bullying, not making the cut with the high school football team or cheerleading squad or perhaps a school related matter in which your child may be freaking out about that class project that will count as 70% of his/her grade. The triggers for adults and our youth may be quite different but the resulting physical, mental and emotional responses are the same. 

Taking a family vacation can do wonders for you and your family. Even folks who claim to love the high-pressured lifestyle will admit, in their quieter moments, that there are times when they would like to take their family on a quick get-away from it all, if only for a short time!  Vacations have the potential to break into the stress cycle. Medically speaking, taking regular vacation is perhaps one the most rewarding prescriptions favored for staying healthy!  Contrary to what it may seem, studies show that more vacation for workers increases productivity and reduces the number of sick days taken off.  Workers also report feeling more creative after taking off, and more than 70% of them reported feeling more satisfied with their jobs when they returned. They further admit that they returned much happier, more refreshed and ready to take on the world again.

Studies have further shown that people who take vacations and travel regularly reported an almost 20% improvement in their sleep.  While on vacation, they averaged an hour more of quality sleep, which even carried over to when they return home.  A recent study conducted by the U.S. Travel Association uncovered a close correlation between a child’s academic achievement and summer family vacations.  The report revealed that students who traveled were more likely to be successful, both academically and financially.  Adults who had taken an educational trip when they were between the ages of 12-18 years old were more likely to complete a college degree and earn an average of 12% more compared to others who didn’t travel.  Bottom line, family vacations do not have to be expensive or extravagant.  It may mean a bit of a sacrifice, but it will yield the dividends, rewards and a priceless legacy for your children. Family vacations contributes positively to family bonding, communication, and solidarity.  Studies have found that people place a higher value on the shared experiences they have on vacations than the material goods they have acquired during their lifetime.  So, whether you’re headed on a cruise, to the beach, a theme park, a new city or to grandma’s house, here are some practical ways to benefit from every penny spent so that you can maximize on the enjoyment with your family.

• Planning and Thinking Ahead. When it comes to planning, your family’s health and safety is no doubt number one. The secret to planning affordable family vacation is having a game plan that’s simple and surefire. If you’ve never traveled to your desired destination before, there’s no better way to prepare than by asking an expert.  This might mean contacting a local blogger, finding a local family group or better yet, getting a reputable travel agency to plan your trip. There are many advantages to opting for a customized family trip designed by an agent, rather than planning and researching everything yourself.  Leaving it all to an agency doesn’t mean you are surrendering your freedom of choice, on the contrary, it simply means you have more flexibility to do the things that interests you. You get plenty of options without the headache of making a dozen different bookings in every destination. Let’s face it, children are so unpredictable, so free time during your trip lets you be more spontaneous—or just relaxed.  Always keep a watchful eye on the kids. Especially for families with small children and/or many children, this can be a hard thing to do. Children are prone to wander off or engage in conversations with strangers.  Before leaving on your trip, sit down with your kids and go over what to do in bad situations – – if you haven’t had the “Stranger Danger” conversation yet, now is the perfect time. Travel planning with kids simply comes from knowing how to balance cultural experiences with kid-friendly fun, while making the logistics as seamless as possible. So, if you’re the brave one and would like to handle the logistical planning, you may want to consider using social media to gather local recommendations from friends and acquaintances. Facebook moms’ groups can also be a great source of intel on family-friendly accommodations and fun. Don’t feel like you need to plan every minute of every day. Your plan can be as detailed as you need it to be – think of everywhere you’ll need to go on your trip and what you might need to keep the kids safe – passports, car seats, medications, plug covers, life jackets, etc. Create an itinerary of where you are going to be and where and share it with a family member or trusted friend. If you or your kids are prone to scrapes or motion sickness, bring a first aid kit with you.  In it, have all the essentials like band-aids, Neosporin, prescriptions, etc.  You can never be too prepared; and if you are going to places you’ve never been, having these items readily accessible will help you to avoid panic at all cost. Going on vacation doesn’t have to be stressful.  By having a detailed plan and keeping open communication about where everyone will be, you can ensure that your whole family will have fun and stay safe. 

• Road Safety Tips. Buckle up and do it right. Do your homework.  Know your car’s condition and its safety features.  Avoid placing objects over the airbag cover. Be responsible and know the speed limits. No mobile phone while driving.  Every activity using your mobile phone while driving can distract your attention that could lead to an accident. Children may be reckless at times and act impulsively. Take extra care when driving in school zones and playgrounds. Child and baby car seats should be fitted properly and checked prior to every trip.  Anticipate, do not think you are the only one who uses the road.  Use your side and rear mirrors regularly and take a break.  Tiredness is considered one of the major factors of road accidents. When driving long hours, have a break and rest for at least 15 minutes every 3 hours.  For long trips, share the driving responsibilities with someone else.  This will allow you to keep an eye on each other while driving and enable you to nap without losing time.

• Travel Safety. While traveling, don’t make yourself a target for thieves and pickpockets.  Always lock your vehicle especially at gas stations, rest areas, or other public facilities. Leave your jewelry and other expensive belongings locked up at home. If you are in crowded, unfamiliar areas, keep your money in a money-belt rather than in your purse.  When traveling with kids, bring along an updated photo of each child – in case you become separated from them.  Also have them carry a nametag of an ID containing information of the guardian.  Talk with your family about who to call and what to do in case they get lost or another emergency arises while you are on vacation. Pack the least possible amount and be sure your luggage always stays under your control (or that of authorized personnel). Carry only the credit cards and ATM cards you absolutely need. Zip up your bags and xerox your passport if you’re going out of the country. And, check the drawer in your hotel room before you leave. Don’t go in sketchy areas alone without prior advice-you don’t want the adventure to turn sour.  Leave enough room in your case for souvenirs and buy them. You may never realize it until later how much you regretted not spending a few extra dollars for that trinket that at the time seemed silly but in retrospect would have looked ‘oh so’ cute on your kitchen or dining room table.

• While You’re Gone. While you’re on vacation, thieves could be taking what you leave behind at home . . . During summer travel, stop mail and newspapers or ask a neighbor to pick them up each day.  Put several household lights on timers so they turn off at appropriate times. Arrange to have grass mowed while you’re away.  Ask a neighbor to park in your driveway overnight – anything that might suggest someone is home.  Leave an itinerary of your trip with someone at home in case you need to be contacted.  Don’t use your home address on your luggage tags.  You don’t need to let anyone know where your empty house is located.  Consider using your business card instead. Keep quiet!!! You don’t need to broadcast to everyone (especially on sites like Facebook) that you are going to be away.  You never know who is going to be reading or listening.  Instead, tell a few selected people in your neighborhood so that they can keep an eye on your house.  If you are going to be gone an extended period, consider shutting off your utilities to avoid potential flooding, fire, or gas leaks. Remove ladders outside that could be used to access the windows or balconies on upper floors.  Don’t leave the GPS in the car when you use long-term parking at the airport. It will alert thieves and provide a convenient map to your home. You also want to consider scheduling a vacation home check with your local Sheriff’s Department. If you request it, they will check on your home everyday while you are away at no charge!

Time is more priceless than money. Family vacations should be all about fun. It doesn’t need to be pricey in order to make a huge impact on our kids. Family vacations are the ultimate happiness anchors aimed at creating precious memories with your kids.  So instead of giving toys to the little ones, why not plan a special family getaway this year, one that will keep your children happy, smarter, enriched and actively engaged.  Be it a one-day trip or a relatively long one, family vacations are an amazing opportunity for everyone to get together and reflect on what really matters – FAMILY.

This article appears in the May 2019 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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