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Planning Vacations That Fit Our Family

Planning a vacation doesn’t have to be full of busy days and big activities. Reconsider what works best for your family so that your vacation feels relaxing and enjoyable (and you don’t need a vacation from your vacation when you return home). Don’t let the fear of missing out on all the big name activities get in the way of enjoying the things your family will love most about quality time together. 

Thanks to Legoland California for sponsoring this post. All opinions are my own, and you know we are already big fans of Lego.

How do you do family vacations? Are they big productions with lots of planned activities? Low-key days spent by a pool sipping and snacking? Do you venture out into nature and disconnect from the connected world?

Depending on the type of trip we take, sometimes I feel like I need a vacation to recover from the vacation. There are always so many opportunities to do fun activities and check out new places. With young kids in tow, however, too many activities in a day is a recipe for disaster and exhausted meltdowns.

No matter what we do on our vacations, M and I often plan to return on a Saturday so we have Sunday to recoup and reset. At times, we’ve even taken an extra day off after returning while the kids are in school to actually relax. A vacation day together on a weekday while the kids are in school is about as good as it gets!

For this trip to California, we really wanted to avoid trying to fit in too many activities and wearing everyone down. We didn’t want to spend 10 days and a good amount of money on a vacation that felt anything but enjoyable. We set out across country with three goals: 1) teach T to swim, 2) visit Legoland California, and 3) keep the rest of our trip low-key and simple to enjoy spending time with family. All in all, it was a great success.

After flying into San Francisco, we spent three days in the Bay Area with my sister. We swam at the hotel pool, visited the library, and hung out with my sister. We even visited In ‘n’ Out Burger twice, because M just can’t get enough of it. One day, we drove into downtown San Francisco to indulge in some Ghirardelli chocolate and wander around the city.

Next, we rented a car and drove down to Santa Barbara, a six hour drive south of the Bay Area, through the California farmland. We saw the home of, probably, most of the produce that ends up in our East Coast supermarkets. As we drove, I couldn’t help but think about all the complexities and nuances related to our food production system: mono-agriculture, water usage and droughts, honey bees being shipped all over the country to pollinate the crop de jour. But that’s for another conversation.

Our stint in Santa Barbara could have gone better. We didn’t know the area, and it wasn’t particularly kid-friendly. We enjoyed a couple of hours at the beach but… we’ll call that a character building couple of days.

We continued down to Los Angeles for two days and then onto San Diego to see two more of my sisters. The highlight of our trip was definitely getting to see my sisters and their families and, of course, the boys loved hanging out with their cousins. Most of our trip we enjoyed low-key days like hanging out in the yard, swimming at the pool, or walking around the neighborhood. Hitting up Legoland California, our one big adventure, definitely proved to the most exciting part of our trip.

If you spend any time around the blog, you know that our family is a big fan of Legos. We must have 10,000 Legos between all of the sets and miscellaneous pieces the boys have received as gifts over the years. You can imagine their excitement when we drove up to an entire outdoor amusement park all about Legos.

Unlike most amusement parks, Legoland seems geared toward slightly younger children. There were very few rides that our boys were not tall enough to enjoy, and even the roller coaster was suitable for all four of the kids, ages three to six.

While waiting in line, we played a game on my sister’s phone similar to charades. As expected, she did a killer job of entertaining all the littles no matter how long we waited under the hot sun. Props to her because that is definitely no my area of expertise.

We ended the day riding a roller coaster, the first for all of the kids. While a few of them were a bit nervous before we started, they all fell in love quickly with the ups and downs and twists and turns of the ride. I’m pretty sure when T got off the ride, he had one of the biggest smiles on his face I’ve ever seen. He said, “Mom! That was awesome!” He continued to talk about it for days, and definitely said it was the very best part of our time at Legoland. He can’t wait to go ride on more roller coasters on our next trip to an amusement park.

Even though there were loads of opportunities to do fun activities in all the cities we visited, we knew that our vacation would be much more enjoyable if we stuck to low-key, simple days and highlighted our trip with just one big outing. Like most young kids I suspect, a day filled with big activities for our family often leads to meltdown evenings and long nights, exhausted kids and exhausted parents. We set overly ambitious expectations for extravagant outings, and all too often, our expectations fall short, leaving us disappointed.

The status-quo might be to go all-out on vacation. If we’re going to spend the money, we may as well squeeze in as much adventure as possible. I think it’s really important, however, to step back and reflect if this is really the best way to vacation for each family. Does everyone have the energy and endurance for highly-stimulating outings day after day? If not, rethink the status quo.

Plan the vacation that works for your family. Maybe that involves lots of over-the-top excursion? Maybe it involves primarily quiet days spent with family or close friends doing regular old things with special people? There’s a good chance the perfect vacation falls somewhere in the middle of that spectrum for most families. Don’t be afraid to respect what works best for your family, and don’t let “the fear of missing out” encourage you to over plan your trip. There’s a good chance you’ll regret it, and arrive home needing a vacation from your vacation.

What’s are some of your favorite vacation activities? I’d love to hear in the comments!

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