Family vacations build relationships, memories while enjoying experiences together
Road trips have been a favorite part of many of our summers. Driving the highways of the United States with our travel trailer in tow, we have enjoyed great adventures, including viewing the carvings at Mount Rushmore from the trail below, walking Boston’s Freedom Trail and riding to the top of St. Louis’ Gateway Arch.
Since my mom often joins us for vacation, we are multigenerational travelers, a growing group in the tourist industry. At least one-third of Americans take a multigenerational vacation each year, according to AAA. The majority of these trips include three generations, while a smaller percentage are grandparents taking their grandchildren on vacation.
“Today’s grandparents are active and enjoy exploring the world,” said William Sutherland, AAA senior vice president of travel and publishing. “They value spending time with their children and grandchildren. In today’s fast-paced world, travel affords families an opportunity to spend quality time reconnecting and sharing experiences.”
Sandra Hudson, owner of Best Day Ever Vacations travel agency in Northport, said parents also benefit from having other adults along.
“It means we have another set of hands to help with our kids,” she said.
That doesn’t mean everyone has to stay together all the time. Plans should include opportunities for grandparents to spend one-on-one time with grandchildren as well as time alone doing what they enjoy. That might mean older adults and younger kids take an afternoon break while parents go out for an early dinner. Or it might mean grandparents enjoy time at the hotel while younger family members hit the amusement park. The keys to a successful intergenerational trip are planning and flexibility, Hudson said.
Working with a travel agent
“Every family is different,” she said. “You might ask your friends for advice, but your friends probably have kids that are different ages and personality types than your own. Also, not everybody travels the same so what makes for a great trip for your neighbor is not necessarily the right trip for your family.”
Working with a travel agent can help families review options when traveling with family members of different ages and ability levels, Hudson said.
“My main goal when helping clients is to make it as worry-free and stress-free as possible. I want them to have the best vacation possible and to concentrate on making happy memories instead of worrying about all the details,” she said.
Recognizing the increasing desire for multigenerational trips, Road Scholar, a nonprofit educational travel company that promotes lifelong learning, began offering trips for grandparents and grandchildren several years ago. The itinerary for each trip is planned with both generations in mind, and staff members try to engage kids and grandparents in a way that is fun and motivating, said a Road Scholar spokesperson. The result is a unique opportunity for relationship building.
“A lot of travelers say that it is an amazing experience to be able to spend one-on-one time with their grandkids without their parents there. Many grandparents don’t live near their grandchildren, so traveling together is an opportunity to spend some special time together.”
Grandparents also delight in watching their grandchildren enjoy experiences, which is probably why one of the most popular destinations for Alabama families is Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. Though the park caters to young children, the rides, dining options and shows appeal to visitors of all ages. Convenient transportation also allows large groups to work out activity and rest schedules that meet individual needs, which makes everyone’s experience more enjoyable. Cruises and beach trips also are popular with multigenerational groups because both activity and rest can easily be accomplished.
When there’s so much to see and do travelers may find it hard to slow down. But when a group includes members of all ages from newborns to octogenarians, a slower pace can be beneficial.
Valerie M. Grubb, author of “Planes, Canes and Automobiles: Connecting with Your Aging Parents through Travel,” said, “On my own I can power through three Italian cities in a week — but that pace becomes more challenging to maintain if I’m pushing mom in a wheelchair. After years of traveling with her I’ve realized that I see more when I slow down. Remember though that slowing down can benefit you as well. How many times have you come home even more exhausted after going full-tilt throughout a jam-packed vacation? Being more relaxed about time will help you enjoy your travels more — and experience less stress.”
Family missions trips offer opportunities for relational, spiritual growth
Shooting hoops, painting faces and listening to music are common missions outreach activities. They also are activities kids and their parents can do together. So why don’t more families go on missions trips together?
Perhaps the No. 1 reason is that missions trips that engage the unique gifts of multiple generations are hard to plan, said David Armstrong, co-founder and executive director of ShortTermMissions.com, an organization that helps people connect with short-term missions trips that fit their gifts and calling.
“There are lots of trips where kids can come along, but they won’t have much to do,” Armstrong said. “Coming up with a trip with a strong family focus is harder to do.”
ShortTermMissions.com averages 30,000 visitors per month, and data shows there is a big interest in missions trips that involve parents or grandparents and their kids. Armstrong has observed that summer trips planned with families in mind often fill up by early spring because there are less of them.
National Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) meets the need for family-focused missions trips with Familyfest, an annual multigenerational summer missions trip that allows parents and their children and grandparents and their grandchildren, as well as aunts, uncles, cousins and friends to serve alongside each other. Lena Plunk, ministry consultant for mobilization at WMU and Familyfest coordinator, calls the week “an opportunity for generations to impact generations.”
“It is a great opportunity for families to live out God’s call of sharing His love together,” Plunk said. “Our hope is that Familyfest provides opportunity for families to do missions together and then will encourage them to do this regularly as a family.”
During Familyfest 2016 in Aurora, Colorado, a 6-year-old boy who was serving with his grandfather witnessed him share the gospel with the homeowner whose yard they were cleaning. A grandmother and her grandson helped with Vacation Bible School (VBS). One Familyfest participant has brought her nephews to Familyfest for the past eight years.
“The joy that comes from being at Familyfest and seeing an 80-year-old, 50-year-old, 30-year-old, 15-year-old and 6-year-old serving together at the same ministry site gives a beautiful picture of what it means to serve Christ together as believers and make His name known,” Plunk said.
Intergenerational missions trips also are “very dynamic,” Armstrong said. They bring together the energy of youth and the wisdom and knowledge of adults. Serving together strengthens the bonds within the family as well.
“You have an experience together that stretches you out of your comfort zone. Together you’ve done it and you will share that experience forever,” Armstrong said.
Even if the benefits of taking a family missions trip are clear, choosing the right trip can be a daunting decision, writes Jill Richardson, author of “Don’t Forget to Pack the Kids: Short Term Missions for Families.”
She advises families considering a family missions trip to consider three questions as they make plans:
- Does the mission accept families? Search for a group that specifically encourages families. Reluctance on the part of trip organizers to accept children may signal a poor fit.
- Can all family members participate in ministry? Trips that involve children ministering to children around their age are ideal. Planned events also should match the abilities and temperaments of children. Possibilities include orphanage work, VBS, drama, going to schools and working with missionary kids.
- Is it safe? Risk is part of travel but it’s also part of everyday life, says Jess Jennings, a Southern Baptist representative in Southeast Asia. Issues like terrorism and political unrest pose particular concerns, but Jennings encourages parents to turn their “fears and worries into prayers” in obedience to the Great Commission.
Richardson also suggests reading any international travel-related warnings posted at www.state.gov before settling on a location and accepting that a missions trip is “a leap of faith.” Perfection is not required, she says. God uses families who are willing to grow and learn. She also believes that providing opportunities for children to be involved at younger ages is increasingly important to their long-term spiritual development.
Making church relevant
Richardson cites research suggesting that more than half of youth in church today will leave after high school because they believe church is “irrelevant to their daily lives and out of touch with the culture.”
“What would happen if, instead, our churches taught kids from the time they could walk that they were ministers? That the ends of the earth weren’t as far away or impossible to impact as they thought? I truly believe we could turn those statistics upside down.”
Tips for preparing kids for short-term missions projects
- Research the city. Use online tools to find maps and check out local shops and restaurants. Get a feel for housing options available to residents. Talk to your kids about how life in the city you will serve may be similar or different from their own.
- Find local recipes. Prepare popular dishes together and talk about why the ingredients would be commonly used in the region.
- Get to know a missionary family serving in the area. Read the family’s blog, pray for them and talk about how God is working among the people you will soon meet.
Alabama’s location great for road trips
Alabama’s location in the heart of the Southeast means endless possibilities for road trips. Check out these five destinations that are great for the whole family and located within a five-hour drive (give or take an hour) from most of Alabama.
Whether your interests are sports, history, museums or entertainment, Atlanta has more than enough to fill a weekend or a weeklong stay. Sports fans can visit the recently opened Braves SunTrust Park, as well as events at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Philips Arena. Football fans are in for a treat because later in 2017 the new Falcon’s stadium will open. History buffs can explore the city’s role in American history from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement at museums like the Atlanta History Center and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. At the High Museum of Art, view paintings by American and European masters among the collection of paintings, sculptures, photographs and other works. Round out your trip with a visit to one of the many downtown attractions, perfectly suited for kids of all ages including the Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coca-Cola, Fernbank Museum of Natural History and the Atlanta Zoo.
Memphis is another spot often connected to adult interests like food and music but the city has a kid-friendly side as well. Mud Island River Park is one of those spots. Museum exhibits show the impact of the Mississippi River on the region throughout history but kids will enjoy the Riverwalk, an exact scale model of the Lower Mississippi River where it’s OK to wade in and get wet. At the end of the journey along the river visitors can take a pedal boat ride around the one-acre enclosure representing the Gulf of Mexico. The Children’s Museum of Memphis and the Memphis Zoo also will be a hit. If your plans are flexible, then check out the family theatre series at The Orpheum and enjoy a play in the historic theatre. Finally don’t forget to stop by the Peabody Hotel to watch the ducks in the lobby. Their ceremonial walk along the red carpet happens daily at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Filled with music, shopping and dining experiences, Nashville is another southern city with something for everyone. Climb aboard the Music City Trolley and hop off at 15 different stops throughout the city including The Ryman, the Country Music Hall of Fame and other music-related spots. The Adventure Science Center offers hands-on exhibits and a full-dome planetarium to enthrall young visitors. Nashville Children’s Theatre features a full schedule of shows each year to entertain kids and their families. For animal lovers, the extensive petting zoo at Lucky Ladd Farms, the wildlife on display at the Nashville Zoo and the underwater dining at the Aquarium Restaurant at Opry Mills are all fun places to visit.
Though most people first think of Mardi Gras when they think of New Orleans, the city has a lot of family-friendly attractions that family members of all ages will enjoy. To get a behind-the-scenes look at Mardi Gras without the raucous atmosphere of the celebration, Mardi Gras World is open year round. See parade floats, try on costumes and enjoy a free slice of King Cake on-site. Continue your visit at Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, Audubon Insectarium, Audubon Zoo or the Entergy Giant Screen Theater and see wildlife from around the world and close to home, from freshwater to ocean habitats and everything in between. Experience an older way of life with a float aboard the Steamboat Natchez where you can enjoy New Orleans jazz music and a New Orleans favorite — beignets.
Once known primarily as a military town, Columbus has become a destination for families who enjoy the outdoors. The RiverWalk is a 15-mile park along the banks of the Chattahoochee River where visitors can take in views of the river as they stroll or bike. The real excitement on the river is at Whitewater Express, the longest urban whitewater-rafting run in the world. Depending on the season and time of day, rafters can experience the thrills of class 4 rapids or a calmer ride through smaller rapids. Cyclists will enjoy biking along the RiverWalk or along the Columbus Fall Line Trace, a Rails-to-Trails project that meanders through the city. The Coca Cola Space Science Center, the National Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus and the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center offer educational opportunities. Add a cultural experience by taking in a show at the Springer Opera House or the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts.
Having collectibles will bring back memories
Travel souvenirs come in all shapes and sizes but the memories they bring back are what matter most.
Ideally souvenirs should be closely linked to a place or experience, writes Carolina Ayerbe, editor of the travel website CulturalTravelGuide.com.
“Maybe something in that place moved you or made you wonder,” she said. “Or maybe something related to the history of this particular place.”
The Alabama Baptist asked Facebook followers to share stories and photos of their favorite travel-related collectibles and all who responded talked about the special recollections the items bring to mind.
“I collect little bottles of sand or gravel or pebbles,” Renee Raney said. “We have them from all of our journeys and we bring them off the shelf occasionally to remember where we have been and pray blessings on the people that live in those places.”
Magnets were another common collectible. Beverly McElroy said she has magnets from restaurants and shows that she keeps on her refrigerator.
“It’s always a good, happy memory every day,” she wrote.
Ayerbe advises travelers to avoid purchasing tokens that are too generic or that won’t be easy to display or store back home. Items like coasters, mugs and baseball caps can be bought anywhere, she writes. Instead look for pieces that are unique and unavailable anywhere else, she suggests.
Everette Studdard has traveled many places since her retirement and not only does she look for unique items, sometimes she repurposes souvenirs to display them.
“I always buy handmade jewelry from local craftsmen on every trip,” she wrote. “I also collect nativity scenes and I make ornaments for my Christmas travel tree out of key chains and small pendants.”
Christmas ornaments are popular among travelers for many reasons, according to blogger Amy Alberts at TravelingMoms.com.
“A Christmas ornament is a souvenir with purpose. There is no discussion of ‘where are we going to put this?’ because it is guaranteed a home with all our other ornaments,” Alberts writes. “It’s fun when we pull those ornaments out of the box. My kids start blurting out ‘remember when’ and we relive the memories of that trip as a family.”
Patsy Swafford has collected Christmas ornaments from her travels for many years.
“They are boxed for 11 months of the year but in December they adorn my Christmas tree,” she wrote. “As I place each one on my tree I remember my travel adventures and I enjoy them again.”
Small souvenirs are most popular since they can be transported home more easily than larger items. They also are less expensive which makes them more attractive too.
Cindy Beam wrote, “I used to collect cookbooks but that got expensive. Magnets are usually reasonably priced and what else can you do with the side of a refrigerator?”
Traditional souvenirs like magnets, spoons and thimbles may seem cliché but if you have a collection, keep it going, Ayerbe said.
“Does it make your heart smile? Indulge your passions,” she said. “Maybe you have hundreds of them but in the end if another ancient coin or one more postcard makes you happy and your experience memorable, go for it.”
Budget, destination, itinerary vital aspects to consider when planning family trip
Planning a trip for a multigenerational group brings its own challenges but the benefits are worth the extra effort. Here’s our best advice for making your trip memorable in a good way.
Choose a destination that offers something for everyone.
Kids are always going to love amusement parks and playgrounds but adults have many different interests from fine dining to shopping. As we get older our interests also change. Don’t assume that just because you, your parents or your kids have enjoyed something in the past they are interested in doing it again. Ask family members (including children and grandparents) to write down what they want to do on vacation. Then research budget-friendly locations that offer at least one activity that appeals to each family member. Large cities are often a good choice because they have a variety of museums, parks, restaurants and shopping as well as excursions out of town for additional adventures.
Pick a place to stay.
Hotels, condos, cabins or campsites? Your destination and budget will largely determine your options when it comes to accommodations. Narrow your focus to places that are convenient to the attractions you plan to visit but also offer space, privacy and security.
Plan an itinerary everyone can enjoy.
Thoughtful scheduling can make or break a trip. Use the lists you made earlier and plan no more than two major activities each day. Keep in mind that you must travel to and from your accommodations and between attractions. Tell yourself from the beginning that there’s no way you can do everything. Pace yourself and take time to really enjoy the activities you choose.
Money talks are hard anyway so don’t ruin your vacation by arguing about who is paying for what. Before the trip figure out any shared expenses and clearly communicate those to the adults in the group. One of the reasons cruises and all-inclusive resorts are good for family groups is that they take away the surprise element of spur-of-the-moment side trips and expensive dining experiences.
Take advantage of discounts, deals and free stuff.
Most cities have coupon books or multiattraction deals that offer deep discounts. Check out the website of the local tourism bureau to see options and weigh the cost with your schedule and interests. A deal is only a deal if you can take full advantage of it. If you are a member of your local museum, zoo or aquarium, you can probably go to a similar facility in another city for free or reduced rates through the Association of Science-Technology Centers Passport Program or the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Reciprocal Admissions Program. If you are visiting state or national parks with children, ask for a Junior Ranger program book. Complete the activities, which usually include attendance at a free ranger talk, and receive a badge as a souvenir of your visit.
Take a break (or two or three).
Everyone, regardless of age, gets tired. The first day or two of a fast-paced trip may go fine but by day three, watch out — tired people are not usually fun people. Toddlers may be expected to take naps — take advantage of that time to allow everyone to rest. Go back to the hotel and read a book, color, play quietly or just watch TV. Short on time? Find a park with a playground and benches in the shade. A physical activity break after a visit to a museum, for example, can be a nice change of pace for kids and the rest will help the adults recharge too.
Take another break — from each other.
One way to make more people in your group happy is to let them pursue what they most enjoy. This may mean splitting up but that’s OK. Give grandparents time with grandkids. Let the guys do guy things and the girls do girl things. Take all the under-10 kids to one place and the older kids to another. Going your separate ways will give you all something to talk about when you get back together.
Don’t put off meals.
Sure you can save some money if you eat free breakfast at the hotel and wait until mid-afternoon to eat again, but most people in your group are probably used to three meals a day plus snacks. Hungry people can quickly turn into “hangry” people, or people who are so hungry that they become angry. If your budget is tight, then bring along a water bottle and some emergency granola bars so you are prepared when the munchies strike.
Record your memories.
Encourage everyone to take lots of photos. Share your photos on a family share site such as Shutterfly or to a Facebook album (check your privacy settings if you prefer not to share your experiences with everyone on your friends list). Also remind everyone to write down funny stories and memories to go along with the photos. If a notebook or journal is too much to carry around, have everyone text one member of the group who is willing to compile all the texts after the trip.
Make a memory book.
Long after the trip is over your memories will stay with you. Even things that seem terrible at the time will be stories you tell over and over again. At the very least compile all your photos and memories in an online share site. Better yet use your snapshots and memories to design a photo book that everyone can purchase and enjoy for years to come.
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