Imagine this conversation over a bowl of breakfast cereal...
Mom: So what are we going to do today?
Dad: I thought you had something in mind?
Teen: (eye roll while texting) Do we HAVE to do anything today?
9 year old: You promised we were going to do something fun today!!!
Mom: I dunno, Dad, what do you think?
Perhaps this conversation is OK for a typical Saturday morning discussion in your house.
This is NOT the conversation you want to be having waking up on the first day of vacation.
Imagine this same conversation happening in a hotel room after flying across an ocean. You've invested all of this time, energy and money and now you're wasting time (and money) figuring out your next move.
You've seen these parents after they've dropped some serious coin on a theme park vacation. They are the ones with blank stares and stressed out expressions wandering aimlessly with bickering kids. This is when it hits them..."We should have planned better".
This is just one of three "classic" examples of vacation plans failing when parents fail to plan a daily itinerary.
Before we dive into this subject, let's do a quick travel planning 101 review so we're all on the same page. Planning a successful family vacation starts with setting the important framework for your trip.
From there, a vacation is created by an organized series of sequential decisions...
- Activities - daily itinerary
...and yes, there are a LOT of important decisions to be made when properly planning a family vacation.
Last piece to this puzzle and certainly one of the most important is creating a daily itinerary of activities. What does your family want to see, do, enjoy and experience everyday while they are away.
When a travel agent coaches clients with destination, transportation and accommodation decisions is similar to artist making a sketching for a family portrait. It's just an outline. Once an outline has been created then it's time to fill in all the beautiful colors. That's the REALLY fun part. Adding sightseeing, dining, local encounters, tours, concerts, sports and events is how we travel agents "paint" a vacation experience. it highlights the personalities of each person represented in that portrait. It's a "one of a kind" expression of that family.
When I work with clients, there are three major problems I often encounter when trying to create daily vacation itineraries...
"We're done here" - The first challenge is many time crunched parents think they're done with vacation planning once they've booked transportation and accommodations. The reality is, what happens next...is everything! "We can't decide right now" or "We'll figure it out when we get there" are the lines we travel agents often hear. These parents fail to appreciate that having at least a general plan of activities will certainly help avoid the endless hamster-wheel conversation mentioned earlier. Sure, they can look forward to the same exact Saturday morning conversation in a different location or they can choose to create a memorable and life changing experience with their children.
SOLUTION: Often simply recognizing the potential problem here is enough incentive for parents to devote a bit more time and attention to a daily itinerary plan. If parents don't take the time to properly do their "homework" then they will not be properly prepared for the "test" (aka vacation)...and nobody wants an epic fail on a family vacation! If you're simply starved for time then trust the professional advice of your travel agent and take their suggestions to heart. They are not on a mission to separate you from your money. They want to insure that the money you've already invested has been money well spent. Last but not least, involving the kids in some of the daily itinerary decisions is a great way to empower them and keep them engaged. Do we want our kids to remember fun vacations or endless, boring discussions of woulda, shoulda, coulda"
Out of Order: The second problem happens when parents try to make important vacation decisions out of the proper sequence. It's the classic "putting the cart before the horse" syndrome. We see this frequently with DIY and inexperienced travelers. They reach out to a travel agent when they become overwhelmed by failed vacation planning attempts. Family travel has some unusual "quirks" that make it very different from other types of travel planning. One of those quirks has to do with availability. That fact is, the majority of family vacations in this world are determined by a school calendars. Sorry but your family vacation is not just about your family. Often, your family vacation decisions are significantly influenced by the millions of other families who are all looking to vacation at the exact same time. Supply and demand impact pricing and availability. It's a simple law of economics. So while you're off being indecisive about which kayaking excursion your kids would like best, millions of other families have made their reservations. They understood the necessity of making timely, organize decisions. So now that kayak trip you've agnsting over is for weeks is now completely off the table unless you plan for everyone to sleep in the backseat of your car. While you were "thinking it over" all the area hotels sold out.
SOLUTION: Let's keep our eye on the prize! Of course we're all tempted to focus our attention on the fun bits first. This excitement and anticipate is a huge part of the joy found in travel planning. Sadly when we lose focus, it often leads to disappointment. Simply put, we need to eat our greens so we can enjoy desert. Successful vacation planning requires the understanding that timely decisions need to be made in an orderly fashion. This is not your travel agent trying to be a buzz kill. This is your travel agent trying to make you look like a hero and saving you from disappointing your kids.
FOMO Daily Itineraries - At the opposite side of the spectrum we find the FOMO families. "FOMO" stands for "fear of missing out". If they are going to spend the time and money to take their kids to Europe, then dammit, they are going to see all of it a week. These are the perfectionists and no matter how much "vacationing" they try to jam pack into one day it will not be enough. Their fear is that return from vacation disappointed...an even worse nightmare, their offspring will return from vacation feeling disappointed! There is this driven sense pressure created by years of perfected Pinterest fantasies. Daily vacation itineraries resemble military maneuvers with every second strategically calculated down to timed bathroom breaks. The overwhelming number of decisions leads to confusion and indecisiveness. One small hiccup in the plan leads to chaos. (Anyone else hear the Rolling Stones "Satisfaction"?)
Solution: The answer here is mindset. It is the acceptance of quality over quantity. Sure, if you insist I can put your family on a drive by tour of Europe. You can brag to your friends on social media that you've checked the Eiffel tower off your "been there, done that" bucket list. I can also guarantee you that you will return from vacation feeling exhausted and full of FOMO....because you HAVE missed out. You didn't see the forest for the trees. Surrender to the idea that you cannot possibly do and see everything in a week. Of course I want you to return from vacation wanting more. That is the sign of a great vacation. Your sense of "satisfaction" is governed by your set of expectations. If this isn't properly aligned before you leave home then you are guaranteed to return disappointed. Time for a quick reality check. Prioritize your most important visits and experiences. Allow yourself the opportunity to live in the moment. Focus on what makes YOU truly happy, not the opinions and reviews of everybody else online. Remember, your actions are setting an example for your children. Do you want them to remember their trip to Paris as fun, exciting and curious or as a blur of stressed disappointments?
Creating a daily family vacation itinerary saves a great deal of stress and dysfunction. Time, focus, collaboration and prioritizing skills are required for a successful outcome. You also should expect a couple of reality checks thrown in for good measure. Just like playing the piano, the more you practice the more accomplished you become. That's why a duet with an experienced travel agent can save your family a whole lot of discord.