Thirteen years ago my parents sold the family farm and bought a condo in Florida. They don't live thereâ ”it's an investment and a convenient vacation spot for them as well as their three daughters and our families.
Almost annually, our family makes the trek to Florida for a week of rest, relaxation, and fun in the sun. A couple of years ago, a summer family wedding in Colorado kept us from our Florida fun. When I suggested that we take a side trip to Yellowstone Park, the kids revolted with, "Mom, that's not a vacation. That's a field trip!" Oh the joys of trying to please seven people.
In a way, though, my kids were right. Our vacations at the beach are very relaxing. But when I was growing up we took field trips for vacations. We explored the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Mackinac Island, and Washington DC. We stayed in campgrounds setting up our six-person tent each night. And my kids really haven't had that same experience. Oh we've stopped at museums and civil war sights on our way to Florida, and we have explored other parts of the country at times, but there are still some "field trips" I'd love to take my family on.
What I've learned, though, is that the timing of these experiences is vital because exploring Washington DC with a three-year-old is not anyone's idea of fun. What Mark and I decided to do many years ago was to set out a plan--a schedule for vacations (a.k.a. "field trips") when our family members were at optimal ages to enjoy the destinations. This not only helped us set some goals for travel and experiences we wanted to have with our family, but it also helped us consider the financial needs for these endeavors and inspired us to intentionally save toward our goals.
The first step we took in creating our schedule was a brainstorming session. Mark and I used one of our date nights to talk about places we'd been as a child or places we'd never been but wish we had. We discussed experiences we wanted our kids to have while they were still at home. We dreamed about places we'd love to visit ourselves.
Step two proved to be a bit emotional. In this step we created a table that listed each year and the ages of our kids that particular summer. I found myself tearing up as I realized the small number of years we really had with our children at home.
After a couple of Kleenex minutes, we move into step three: matching our dreams with reality. Living on a limited income, we could only take a major trip every two to three years so we whittled our list down to what we could realistically afford. We then plugged the trip into our table according to when our children would be at the appropriate ages to enjoy it to the fullest. And then we began to work our plan, saving money and researching the experience so we could really enjoy it to the fullest.
While the plan hasn't been fool proof, it has given us a definite advantage in accomplishing our goals. Our well-planned once-in-a-lifetime trip to Disney World when our kids were 16, 14, 12, and 6 was so much fun. But the following year we added a 9-year-old to our family through adoption. He's still not been to Disney World and every once in a while he politely reminds us of that. While it's certainly not something we owe him, it is something we'd love for him to experience so now we have added a second trip to Disney into our vacation plan for the future.
This strategy works with any type of experience you'd like to do with your family. It doesn't have to cost a lot of money or be a trip to Disney. There are many great opportunities in our own back yard. But those experiences will be enjoyed best when our kids are at just the right ages and stages of life.
Do you dream about experiences you'd like to have with your family? Would you like to maximize the time you have with your kids and strategize the experiences you want to offer them? Then grab a piece of paper and start dreaming and planning today. Because like my friend Charlene says, "Don't miss your kids, they'll be gone before you know it!"
Jill Savage (www.jillsavage.org) is the author of seven books including Professionalizing Motherhood, Real Moms…Real Jesus, and Living With Less So Your Family Has More. Jill is also the Founder and CEO of Hearts at Home (www.heartsathome.org) an organization that encourages and educates moms.