It’s vacation season in the Northern Hemisphere and it’s got me reminiscing: I’ve been a part of some amazing family vacations and I’ve witnessed some horrific ones. I decided to have some fun and prepare a family vacation guide to help you create family vacations that are special for everyone in the family —including you, mom and dad.

In the U.S., most families can only plan five days off from work, necessitating the typical vacation of six to nine days in duration. That can be a whole lot of family for people who aren’t used to it. It can also be frustrating when ideas about where to go and what to do conflict. Next time you plan a family vacation, try following this process to have a more harmonious experience:

  1. In preparation for a family vacation meeting, know your budget and honor it.
  1. Gather all family members to discuss your next vacation.
  1. During the meeting, communicate your intention to create a family vacation with something for everyone—a feat that requires everyone’s input.
  1. Ask each person where they would like to go and make a list. If everyone agrees, great. If not, you have more work to do.
  1. Start with some guidelines.
    • One person speaks at a time.
    • There is no judgement or criticism about what anyone likes to do.
    • Express that your job as a family is to create a vacation experience that will have something for everyone.
    • Let everyone know the budget constraints so they realize there may be some curtailing of more expensive activities.
    • Tell them you expect that once you all figure it out, everyone will have positive attitudes while engaging in someone else’s activity with the understanding that, at some point, you will get your turn and will want everyone’s positive participation then.
  1. Ask each person to determine their favorite, most important activity in their chosen vacation destination. Make a list.
  1. Ask, “If together we can figure out a place to go that’s within our budget and offers most of everyone’s favorite activities, would we be willing to work toward that?”
  1. Go back to each vacation destination listed in #4 and ascertain how many of the desired activities from #6 can be done in each location. If one destination has all activities, you know where you are going. If not, you may have to get creative.
    • Start by challenging everyone to see if they can think of a location where all desired activities are possible.
    • If someone wanted to go scuba diving in the ocean but the destination with the most activities isn’t at the ocean, can you plan a side trip to the ocean, either during your vacation or over a different long weekend? Could you go scuba diving in a local lake or river? Could the person wanting to scuba choose a different activity that is available in the desired location, understanding that their favorite activity would take priority next time a family vacation is planned?
    • If an activity is beyond your vacation budget for the entire family, perhaps two activities could be scheduled simultaneously: the expensive activity for the people who really want to participate and a second, less expensive but just-as-fun alternative for the rest of the family. Another option would be to provide the expensive activity for just the one family member and asking him or her to pay part of the cost. A final option might be to say no to the activity because it’s beyond your budget but determine that person’s second favorite activity and build that in.

This may not all be accomplished in one session. I would make assignments and listen with a “can-do” attitude. If something doesn’t seem possible, give the person the task of figuring it out. Instead of immediately saying “no,” adopt the “yes, when…” approach. If money is the issue, ask them how the family could make the money to be able to engage in the activity, find a reduced-price website or create a fun alternative that those not interested in the expensive one could participate in.

Unleash everyone’s creativity by being open to possibilities. Reconvene the family meeting anytime someone has made progress. Don’t stop negotiations until everyone is happy and satisfied with the planned family vacation experience you all have created.

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