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Secrets of Stress-Free Vacations with Kids

Family vacations can be either delightful or disastrous — it depends greatly on your attitude and the care you devote to research and planning.

But first, a few basic guidelines …

ADJUST YOUR ATTITUDE. Here is the first rule of family vacations: Parents on vacation really aren’t. If you can unload personal expectations that you will be relaxed and refreshed when it’s over, you won’t be disappointed when you’re not. And if you do get a little R&R along the way, consider it an unexpected bonus.

BE REALISTIC ABOUT THE COST. Decide ahead of time how much cash you have for this vacation. If you have, say, a family of five and $500 to spend, don’t even think about a couple of days at Walt Disney World. Always consider the money you have first, then design a vacation that will realistically fit within that financial boundary.

BE REALISTIC ABOUT TIME. Don’t try to stretch your available cash to cover the maximum time you have to be away from home. Divide what you can spend by a reasonable daily budget to determine how many days you can be gone. Carefully consider all the costs, not only the admission fees and overnight accommodations. Instead of full weeks, consider day trips or a weekend vacation. When it comes to family vacations, quality is considerably more important than quantity.

SINGLE PARENTS. It is really tough to go it alone. If you have more than one child, full vacation responsibility can be overwhelming. You need help, so consider staying with relatives or traveling with a group. Sharing the trip with another single-parent family with kids the same age can reduce costs significantly. It will relieve your anxiety and stress, too.

INVOLVE THE KIDS. If everyone is involved in making the plans and saving the money, you will prevent lots of problems. Let the kids have a say in where you will go. Talk about how much money you can spend. Show the kids what it costs to eat in a restaurant, spend the night in a hotel or buy tickets for the amusement park. In many locations, Groupon is your friend! Look at travel guides to find the best bargains for the amenities you agree on. Encourage everyone in the family to think of ways to cut back to allow more money for activities or what you have decided is top priority.

ENVELOPE METHOD. There’s nothing like a good visual to keep a vacation based in reality. Large colorful envelopes are ideal, one for each day to hold that day’s allotted cash. Design the outside for the spending record so you can keep track of where the money is going.

LIVING HISTORY MUSEUMS. There are hundreds of living history museums around the country where the past seems as real as the present and learning is a joyous adventure. Spring and summer are the best times to visit because of the many special children’s programs and family events. Many can be seen in an afternoon, while others might require the entire weekend. Start with a virtual tour of wonderful places like the Jamestown Settlement in Williamsburg, Virginia, The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, and Conner Prairie in Fishers, Indiana, to name just a few. You can find hours of operation, entrance fees and programs they offer currently.

Whether you will travel this summer or design a stay-at-home vacation, it’s not too early to start planning. Besides, half the fun is the anticipation!

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