Vacation Planning – A Game to Get the Whole Family Involved

This is part 1 of a 3 part series about planning a trip while keeping everyone in the family involved and happy.  We started our planning process with a family game – see how that went.  Then use our tips here for help in starting to plan your itinerary.   When you have chosen your destination, we have some pointers on how to get everyone excited here.

I consider myself fortunate that my love for travel is shared by the rest of my family.  However, as my children enter their teens, I also share a home with three other strongly opinionated travelers.  That leaves me challenged with finding new ways to make decisions about travel destinations.  We thought turning this summers travel plans into a fun, educational and participatory game might produce a good result.  Well… here’s what we learned!

One of the best things about our marriage is that my husband and I have always agreed that we want to expose our kids to as much diversity and culture as possible as they grow up.  It’s a big reason why we raise them in New York City, and a big reason why we try to travel every chance we get.  When the kids were small, Tom and I planned the vacations, and the kids tagged along with very little say (or complaint) about the result.  These early family trips were generally domestic, kept fairly simple, and were typically beach focused. When the little one reached 5 yrs old – they are now 12 & 14 – we experimented with more exotic places, with more travel challenges.  We learned, to our pleasant surprise, that they were pretty great travelers!  Over time we began to solicit their opinions just a little bit more with each passing year.    In fact, our upcoming trip planning discussions typically began even before we finished the vacation we were participating in, and continued through many dinner table conversations throughout the winter.  It’s a constant discussion of what we like, what we don’t like and what we would do different the next time  we are on the road.  Differences in opinion abound during these discussions for sure, and it’s always challenging to try to create an itinerary that pleases everyone.

The littlest one has the most wanderlust in the family and wants to see and do everything there is to see and do in the world plus, she wants to learn “all the languages” along the way.  She loves nothing more than tackling a new city and responds best in cultural environments.  A big fan of all things water, she also loves vacations that include a lot of swimming.

Day at the Beach

The older one, prefers either English or Spanish-speaking countries and although she appreciates a good art museum, she really likes the great outdoors.  A rigorous mountain hike is right up her alley!  Photo from our hike in Kaaterskill Falls, NY.

Kaaterskill Falls NY

The husband loves the idea of travel more than the logistics of travel so a solid plan is important with him.  He loves exploring the personality of a new city and believes some beach time is an absolute necessity.  Like the older one, he is happiest on a good rigorous hike.

I am the grown up version of the littlest one and although I do want to see all of the places in all of the world, I understand the realities of travel (cost, time, safety, etc) and can now narrow the potential destination list down a bit better than she can.  I also prefer cities and culture (and nice restaurants!) over countryside but can enjoy a good backwoods exploration on occasion.

Mom hiking

With 4 strong opinions about travel, this year we decided to play a game with our girls to get them more involved in our family travel plans.  Our game went like this.  Each family member would get a vote on where to travel and all votes would be taken into consideration.  Because they are kids, we felt we needed to set up some guidelines and parameters, lest  we end up in Oymyakon, Russia! Photo credit –

Oymyakon Russia
Frost-encrusted house in the city centre.

So I created 5 different high level itineraries of potential places Tom and I had talked about visiting and that were pre-approved as acceptable family adventures.  The itineraries included high level information only, for example, cities, towns, or general regions we would visit and the approximate number of days there, but little else.  The kids were then charged with doing the research (via Internet or local bookstore) on each of the destinations, to see what about the culture or landmarks would be most interesting to them.  For younger kids, a trip to the bookstore looking through travel guides makes for a pretty fun family winter afternoon.

The girls were given one month to complete their research projects and results were to be due by the end of winter break.   Then they were required to rank their top choices using a points system:   10 points to their #1 ranked spot, 8 points to #2, 6 points to #3 and so on.   In addition, they needed to include some notes as to what attracted them to that spot. My husband and I also ranked our own choices during this process.  After break was over, results would be tallied, and the itinerary with the most points would be the winner.

Here is what we learned from this exercise:

Why we liked it:

  • It’s a super fun bonding experience!  Everyone working together enthusiastically toward one goal is a rarity in a family and this felt good.
  • They learned a little bit about research.  Some of the cities were just places on a map to them when they started.
  • It taught them to really think about what they like and don’t like.
  • Having everyone involved in the decision making process, dramatically reduced the opportunity for complaint on the road.
  • What better way to amp up the excitement about a family trip!

Things we learned:

  • We should have weighted the average points giving the grown ups a slightly higher weight than the kids.  Here’s an example, total up each kids points and each adults points.  We have 4 people in our family, so instead of giving each person a 25% weight, grown ups get 30% weight and kids get 20% weight.
  • We began our planning in December for a trip in July and there have been some world developments since then that have caused us to think twice about certain destinations.  We realized we needed to build in a clause for that.  The bigger child really wanted to explore parts of South America, but with the combination of the Zika virus and the Olympics in Brazil, we felt these would create some complicated issues that could be avoided.

Our result:

After much discussion, and a few missteps along the way, we have finally settled on a destination that everyone seems happy about.  We are all super excited to be heading to Iceland, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Norway & Sweden this summer.  See our post on Eleven Awe-Inspiring Things We Did Last Summer for the highlights.


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