October 29, 2010

The great escape...

Family vacations are lots of fun for the whole family… except when they’re disappointing and miserable!  It all depends on how well you’ve planned ahead, doesn’t it?  I’m not talking about a militarized schedule of activities, or bringing everything with you but the kitchen sink.  I’m talking about planning a vacation that fits your family.  For us, that means a few basic things: avoiding crowds; lots of kid-friendly activities available that appeal to a teen and younger kids; having a place to stay that provides space for relaxing at the end of each day; and lots of built-in flexibility in our plans, because as we all know, life is unpredictable.
We took one such well-planned vacation last month, and the whole family loved it.  We traveled to Gatlinburg, Tennessee… two weeks after schools began!  Since we homeschool our kids, we are free to do this sort of thing, and always take full advantage of the opportunity to take vacations at times that no one else does.  Crowds equal one thing all kids (and most grown-ups) dread: waiting.  By not going at a busy time, our kids were able to go on any ride they wanted to at Dollywood almost immediately.   Crowds have a more serious consequence too; they make it harder to watch over four kids, and in public places you can’t be too careful.  So with the timing right, we all enjoyed our visits to places like Dollywood, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, and WonderWorks.  No waiting, no worries!

Those places are wonderful examples of kid-friendly activities – all the fun, none of the boredom!  We highly recommend all three.  We also took a couple days to spend time at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a huge hit with our kids.  We played in the creek, collected rocks, ran, climbed, and smiled throughout each visit there.  It was free, and was a perfect way for the kids to expend energy, and for their parents to work off the vacation-sized meals we were eating!

And as for space to relax, we opted for a “cabin” that did not match the image you might have of that word.  This cabin had a downstairs recreation room with a pool table, an arcade machine, air hockey, Playstation 2, and a flat screen TV.  It also had bunk beds and a pull-out sofa, so all four kids stayed down there while my husband Joe and I had the only bedroom in the cabin on the main floor.  With a kitchen and living room as well as two bathrooms, we had the comforts of home without the housework.  (Those who’ve been reading this blog are learning how I feel about that!)  So we paid for a one-bedroom place, but comfortably fit six Wilburs.  We spent a lot of time there, and had great fun while unwinding each day.
Our built-in flexibility paid off on a daily basis.  Nothing was set in stone, so we were free to go where we wanted to when we wanted to.  If we all needed a rest, we did that, or if we wanted to stop in someplace unexpectedly, there was no one stopping us from doing so.  On the last day in Gatlinburg we found a fantastic store that ended up counting as an exciting event in our younger kids minds, and we ended up spending an hour or so there without buying a thing.  Zach and Audra even made a new friend there!

Only you know what your family enjoys.  Maybe for you it’s a trip with non-stop activity, or maybe you’re at the other end of the spectrum and just want some relaxation time at the beach.  But with the right attitude and thoughtful preparation that keeps your kids’ needs in mind as well as your own, vacations can be the great escape they’re meant to be!
Not every place fits every family, but if you have any great places to share that your family has visited, do tell!  (Or any nightmare ones to avoid!)  I'd love to hear your family travel tips too.  Please feel free to comment below!

1 comment:

  1. Here's to vacationing when others are in school! Our honeymoon to Florida and Disney were in early September - Yay to no lines at the rides!!!