PBS Kids GO! It's My Life
Family Vacations: Big Plans, Great Expectations

Christina, 12, told us: "Next summer my family and I are planning on taking a road trip through the western U.S. states. I have a lot of ideas, and it sounds like so much fun."

In a way, Christina's vacation has already begun with plans and expectations. Did you know that these two things can actually make or break an upcoming trip? Read on!

The planning process
If your family is like most, your next vacation has probably been in the works for weeks or even months. As you watch the adults in your clan make the big decisions about where, when, and how, don't forget that it all affects you, too. The more you take part in the planning stages of your family's adventure, the more likely you'll enjoy it. Here's how you can get involved:

  • Call a meeting. Before the grownups make any final decisions, ask if you can sit down for a family meeting to talk about all the options.

  • Talk about your last vacation. Discuss what worked well and what didn't, what you enjoyed and what you didn't like so much. Be sure to listen to what everyone else has to say!

  • Talk about the places that interest you. Would you rather go to a big city with lots of culture and activities, or the country, where you can chill out and enjoy being in nature? Do you like the idea of holing up at a mountain cabin or campsite, or do you dream about staying near a way-cool theme park?

  • Talk about the things you'd like to do. Are you into museums or science centers? Do you want to go hiking or fishing? Are you the family fish who will just go crazy without a body of water nearby?

Try to understand if plans don't go the way you hoped. Maybe you've had your heart set on going to the beach, but adults have decided that everyone's going to your grandparents' house this year. If this is the case, talk to your family about kid-friendly activities that may be going on in your grandparents' area, and ask if you can have some say in what the family does while you're there.

What do you expect?
We all work hard in our day-to-day lives -- at jobs and in school -- and the thought of an upcoming vacation can really make the future look brighter. It's one thing to get psyched, but are you getting TOO psyched? Are you thinking thoughts like:

  • "This is going to be the best, most perfect trip ever!"
  • "This vacation is going to make up for all the difficult times we've had this year."
  • "This vacation is going to solve all our family's problems."
  • "I'm going to meet great friends and even a new crush on this trip."

That's when your expectations might be getting too high-and you may be dooming your vacation before it begins. Be excited, most definitely, but also be realistic. This kind of attitude may be the most important thing you pack! In the days and weeks leading up to your family trip, try to keep these things in mind:

  • Don't expect everything to be perfect. This will only lead to a big disappointment when some little thing goes wrong. The car could get a flat tire, the airline could lose your luggage, or a baseball game you've been looking forward to could be rained out. By expecting little snags here and there, your vacation can still be awesome, flaws and all.

  • Pump up the positive. The way to have fun on vacation is to concentrate on all the things that go right, and try to get past the things that don't.

  • Roll with the changes. If that baseball game is rained out, don't just mope-find something else to do! Rearrange your schedule so you can do something indoors, or choose something that you hadn't planned to do. Sometimes, the best memories from a vacation are the ones that happen by accident.

  • People are people. If you're hoping that the vacation will magically make your parents stop fighting, your brother stop being mean to you, or your grandpa feel healthy again, you may need a reality check. Tensions and problems from home will probably come along on vacation, too. That's completely normal. Expect that your family members will be-well, themselves, but also concentrate on and enjoy all the GOOD stuff that happens along the way.

What if you don't want to go?
So what happens if you were set on spending your vacation time at home, with your friends? What if the vacation is causing you to miss an important soccer game or school event? What if your parents are taking the family to a place you're just not interested in?

Keep this in mind: The most important thing on a family vacation is the family part. What you do or where you go are just details; the point is, you'll all be spending time together. Focus on that, and on the great memories you'll create. You might surprise yourself and have a blast!

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