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Making Family Trips Easier: Practical Tips for Summer Adventures

Family in a forest with a young child.

Anna Kroncke


Last modified 10 Jun 2024

Published 10 Jun 2024

Understanding the Difference: Trip vs. Vacation

It’s summertime. You pack the car, and you’re on your way. It’s you, your partner, and your two children, ages 4 and 7. Your dog is staying with Grandma, and you hit the road. 

Is this really a vacation? Many parents of young to school-aged children call these summer getaways “trips.” Vacation implies relaxation, taking a break, and downtime. 

Our Northern California Experience: Lessons Learned

Last summer, we went to a wedding in Northern California as a family. My six-year-old son had a babysitter set up to come to the hotel while we attended the ceremony. “Let’s make this trip more meaningful to him,” we thought. “Oh look, our hotel is half an hour from Muir Woods.” The famed and majestic redwood forest just outside of San Francisco was a place my husband and I had both visited during our childhoods. We had pictures to prove it of elementary-aged versions of ourselves standing inside the tree trunk of an enormous giant redwood. “Certainly, that will be fun. Something he will remember,” we said to ourselves.

8 am was the only entry time available, but our child gets up at 6 am without fail, so it was perfect. Everything was going great till we got there. Then, my son had a meltdown in the empty parking area because it was simply too cold despite his sweatshirt and jeans. It was chilly but nothing crazy for 8 am in the foggy dampness. You could hear owls hooting, for goodness sake, my son’s favorite animal. Luckily, only one other car was in the lot, and only two others witnessed this temper tantrum. This small number of people made waiting out as he calmed much easier. We could assume if we walked, he would come with us. 

We continued to have a nice hike in the solitude of the early morning. Yes, he warmed up and became interested in the owls, and we bought him a small stuffed animal in the park shop. It was all good until we returned to the trailhead and the entrance to Muir Woods at around 10 am. 

We were greeted with a constant refrain of “You are being ungrateful,” “Put that phone away,” and “Stop hitting your sister.” Tears were everywhere. “I want a snack.” “When are we going back to the hotel?” Exhausted-looking parents trudged behind strollers, threatening children and yelling at spouses and family members. It was a zoo. I was reminded of the “trip” versus “vacation” nuances. 

There’s a valuable lesson here. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t take your children to places like Muir Woods; after all, we did. What I’m advocating for is managing your expectations. Don’t expect them to be as enthralled as you are. Ultimately, my son’s favorite part of the trip was playing at the hotel with his babysitter while we attended the wedding. But we have those majestic pictures of him with the trees, so in a few years, that’s all we’ll remember.

Four Tips For Managing Expectations for Family Trips

When we go on trips with our kids in the summer, we can do a few things to help these pseudo-vacations go more smoothly.

Tip 1: Maintain a Routine for Stability

Keep a routine for eating, bedtime, and wake time the best you can.

By keeping a routine for eating, bedtime, and wake time the best you can, you will create a sense of stability and structure, which is really good for our kids. This familiarity can help them feel more secure and less anxious, leading to fewer meltdowns and a more enjoyable trip for everyone.

Tip 2: Include Kid-Friendly Activities

Do something fun and special from your kid’s perspective.

Even if it’s just pancakes for breakfast, when you have eggs and toast at home, a special treat goes a long way. It’s guaranteed that this will be what your child remembers fondly about the trip, NOT giant redwoods. Those are for the photo albums to reflect years later on the beauty of nature and the cultured experiences you gave your child.

Tip 3: Set Realistic Expectations

Have low expectations.

If you expect your child to whine and ask for snacks the whole way, you’ll be pleasantly surprised when they read some plaque and comment on the beauty of nature. If you expect your child to thank you for the great experience of that park, museum, or city tour, you will likely be disappointed.

Do what works for you. If you decide to drive the California coast and see the sights, do it for your enjoyment. Expect your children to have a tough time. Remember, every family is different, and what works for one may not work for another. So, do what feels right for your family and adjust your expectations accordingly. 

Tip 4: Simplify Your Vacation Plans

Keep vacations simple.

Instead of planning a jam-packed itinerary, consider a trip to the beach, camping, or an all-inclusive resort. These options provide a relaxed and familiar environment, which might be your family’s easiest, least stressful choice.

What works for you? Try not to take on too much. Remember, the goal is to create enjoyable and memorable experiences, not to exhaust yourself and your children with a hectic schedule.

You’re Not Alone, and Cadey is Here to Help

As the summer trip season approaches, keep these tips in mind. In August, when your child reflects on the summer, you’ll know you’re not alone when they say the best thing was definitely the pancakes. These simple strategies can make a world of difference in your family’s summer adventures. Cadey is here to help. You can get more tips like these and videos to support you in the Cadey platform.