You’ve done all of the planning, saving and dreaming for an amazing family trip. Now you just have to get everyone’s head in the game. Does your family share your blissful, unplugged vacation mindset or are you plagued by visions of oblivious kids glued to devices? Vacation is a great time to shake the mental Etch-a-Sketch and start fresh. Here are five ways to keep everyone focused on the here and now.
Choosing to totally cut screen time on a long flight, car ride or train is probably not the way to go. It’s incredibly challenging to be confined to a small space for hours no matter what your age. Don’t try to over-engineer the time; instead, set the expectation that screen time is fine for the journey but that it won’t be the norm for the entire trip. By cutting everyone some slack and acknowledging electronics as a means to an end, you will all arrive happier.
Another potential vacation hot button: endless picture taking on the part of well-meaning parents. We’re not saying to put the camera (OK, more likely the iPhone) away entirely — capture those key shots for sure, but don’t take so many photos that you miss the joy of where you are. A good gauge is to stop when your kids start to groan. Step back and take a breath. You are on vacation too, so talk to your kids about the how the light is different in a given place, or ask your partner how a particular vantage point makes them feel. The “photos” will start to carve themselves into your memory in the process. If you are still itching to snap some images, flip the tables and (if they are old enough) let the kids do the picture taking for a while.
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Use meals as a touchpoint, as everyone is sitting down and a bit more relaxed than when you’re on the go. You don’t have to hammer your kids with questions; just ease into chatter about highs (or lows) of the day, or even play a word game. Something as surprisingly simple as moving through the alphabet with words that relate to what you’ve seen can open the door to conversation. Note, don’t try to do this with every meal — use sparingly.
One of the biggest travel tricks we can give you? Bring a deck of cards to meals. UNO or another game is a balm when the food is taking too long or the kids are cranky. This works for the whole family or for adults who might like a few minutes of conversation while the kids have a go. It’s hard not to be present when you are in the midst of an interactive game, and it’s also great for groups when not everyone knows each other well.
Lastly, consider letting each person choose a meal or mealtime experience – or even putting older kids and teens in charge of certain meal prep. We are all at our most open when we are invested in a choice.
Your’re going to a new place, but you’re not bringing a new family — you know your kids best. Choose activities and outings that will interest your group. Try to think differently about creating the moments you’re hoping for. Perhaps you are excited to show your kids a particular painting in a museum and they won’t bite. Challenge them to take out a pen and pencil and draw it themselves. If you’re at a world-famous landmark and they seem bored, ask them to write a poem or a list of words that come to mind, or even do a sketch. To enjoy memorable storytelling and appreciate a particular place on a deeper level, consider hiring a guide. Let’s face it: Stories coming from passionate experts always trump what your mom is telling you.
When your kids see you putting down your devices, it is easier to accept that they should do the same. Shedding the confines of your regular routine makes vacation a perfect time to give it a try. Though it may be difficult for you to completely unplug, it’s good to show your kids that you are trying.
Subtly highlight the effort you are making. If you usually have a headset growing out of your ear, ask the kids at dinner if they realized that you weren’t on the phone all afternoon. You are making it clear that they are your priority.
Another tactic is to define specific times as device-free. Maybe you agree as a family that late afternoon is designated family-only time, or maybe it’s during dinner. The best case is that some of this vacation mentality lingers after you return home.
At its greatest, technology can help deepen connections to a time or place. Think about a song that has the uncanny ability to rocket you back to a past moment — those links are powerful and anchor our memories. Challenge younger kids to take a picture of something they love and embellish it with doodles and graphics. Doing this on occasion during your trip will create a visual journal, if you will. Older kids may enjoy curating an actual photo journal or finding songs to express how they feel at a given moment or place. At the end of the trip, they’ll have a visual record or playlist to cement their memories.
And now you’re ready to get out there. The fabulous part is that you don’t have to do a lot to be more present; simply thinking about how to be in the moment while you travel starts the process. A few shifts here and there and you’ll be amazed at the space you’ve created for your family to forge lasting memories. What are you waiting for?
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