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6 Great Vacation Ideas for Families

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Before his 1st birthday

This is the time for air travel and quiet, relaxing trips. The infant stage, believe it or not, is a travel opportunity. Babies sleep a lot -- and just about anywhere -- so you can catch the next plane to Cabo. "I took my three-month-old to Israel for two weeks to meet her great-grandparents, and it was awesome," says Ayala Livny, a mom from Somerville, MA. "She had no schedule, so she just slept when she was tired, and hung out with folks when she was awake." Many moms say they've taken advantage of their infant's chilled-out nature by renting a vacation house where the main event is lounging on the back patio. The lack of structure and the privacy are a boon if you're breastfeeding. Sandy Fernández, articles editor at Parenting, raves about a trip she took with her son, Diego, at 6 months to a beach bungalow at Villa Los Mapaches in Isla Holbox, Mexico. "Anyplace that's lounge-lizardy works wonders at this age," she says, because you'll be staying put and taking it easy.

Ages 1 to 3

This is the time for children's museums and outdoor pursuits. "Around this age, kids start to like the experience. They like doing something, touching something," says Marion Lindblad-Goldberg, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. She recommends kids' museums that have plenty of tactile things to paw and a calm, manageable environment. Holly Hughes, editor of Frommer's 500 Places to Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up, used the scavenger-hunt approach when her kids were little. "We'd say, let's go to the museum and look for food! Or animals. Or we'd let them be the leader, deciding where we go in the museum and in what order." Seek out petting zoos or farms, with fuzzy lambs, chicks, and bunnies, and prickly hay to romp in. Picking fruit on a farm can be fun now, too, especially berries, which are low to the ground, easy to grab, sweet?and make for really cute pictures.

Ages 4 and 5

This is the time for brand-new places and amusement parks. "Now novelty starts to become very important," says Lindblad-Goldberg. When your preschooler first sees a plane take off or dips his toes in the ocean for the first time, it's exhilarating -- and you'll see it all over his face. Now children can start to appreciate new and different cultures, so taking them to see Native American dancing or to a southern bluegrass music festival will probably spark smiles. Amusement parks can be megahits around this age as well, when they'll have a rip-roaring time on the kiddie rides and are often tall enough to get onto a couple of the big-kid rides, too! They also have the perfect amount of freewheeling imagination, which the larger parks, like Disney, are so great at encouraging. Nicole Zambell of Scotch Plains, NJ, says her 5-year-old was swept away by the magic of Disney World. "I'm so glad my child had this experience at an age when he could truly enjoy it -- and remember it," she says.

Ages 5 to 6

Now's the time for new experiences and amusement parks. "At this age, novelty starts to become important," says Marion Lindblad-Goldberg, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. Kids start to appreciate new cultures, so taking them to see Native American dancing or to a southern bluegrass festival will spark smiles. Cities are often a thrill, too. Jen Pacheco of Wrentham, MA, took her 6-year-old to New York, and she beamed nonstop. Mary Poppins on Broadway, ice-skating, a carriage ride -- they took in the whole town. Amusement parks are megahits as well, when they'll have a rip-roaring time on the kiddie rides and are finally tall enough to get on some of the big-kid rides. They have the perfect amount of freewheeling imagination. Nicole Zambell of Scotch Plains, NJ, says her 5-year-old was swept away by the magic of Disney World. "I'm so glad my child had that experience when he could truly enjoy it -- and remember it," she says.

Ages 7 to 9

Go ahead and encourage special interests. Try planning your trip around their favorite activities and hobbies, or something learned in school that they took to. Kids who are into science will delight in a planetarium or hands-on science museum. If they are all about sports, take a behind-the-scenes tour of a stadium (go to Nflfootballstadiums.com) or hit spring training (Mlb.com/tickets for schedules). If he watched either National Treasure flick and started asking questions about Ben Franklin or DC landmarks, run with it. Read up a little beforehand and then visit the locations. "Adults tend to focus on dates and facts; we've just been conditioned that way" says Holly Hughes, editor of Frommer's 500 Places to Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up. "But with kids this age, it has to be storytelling." She recommends telling your kids the tales of the people who lived or worked in the places you visit.

Ages 10 to 12

This is the age for friend or multifamily trips and national parks. Lindblad-Goldberg says that bringing your tween's close friend along makes the experience more meaningful, especially with an only child. You'll want to keep such a trip short and fairly close to home, partnering with the parents on plenty of ground rules well in advance. If taking on the extra responsibility still seems a little overwhelming, think about taking the trip with the other family, or with in-laws who have kids the same age or a little older. (Remember how cool you thought your older cousins were?) This is also prime time for the national parks because kids are physically ready to do the hiking, jumping, and climbing -- even if you aren't! "Around ten or eleven, they will really be able to appreciate the giantness of the place," says Hughes, because they can get away from the high-traffic trails and parking areas that strollers and younger kids are limited to.

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