The most rewarding thing we have ever done regarding family travel is given it as a gift to our children. When they finish 5th and 8th grades (elementary and middle school), each child gets to go on a trip with one of us. The guidelines are that they get to choose the trip and the activities while on the trip, and they chose which parent goes on each of their trips. The parent on each trip alternates; so whomever they pick for their first trip, the other parent goes with them on their second. We started this because we all crave one on one time with each other, but in a family our size, it is a rarity to get it. We have had the pleasure of taking three of these trips and we have two more coming up this year!
Our first experience with a ticket lottery ended with us winning seats to Newsies
Our daughter decided that her 5th grade trip would be a trip to NYC with Mom, with the goal of seeing as many Broadway shows as possible and shopping, because she never feels like she gets enough of that when we travel. We used our October school break and headed to the Big Apple for 4 days and had the most spectacular time together. Because Matilda was the show she wanted to see most we bought tickets for that ahead of time. For the other shows, we got up in the morning, grabbed breakfast in the hotel and left with our coffee and hot chocolate to wait in rush lines to try to get tickets for a good price. We ended up winning an in-person lottery for Newsies and were in line early enough to get Once and Pippin tickets. Once we had tickets, we had the rest of the day for walking around a different area of the city and shopping. She loved that she was allowed to go into any store she wanted because there were no younger children that would break things and was amazed at how expensive some stores were. Getting around NYC with two people was so much easier than with six so we saw tons of stuff and were able to go into restaurants that we normally don’t fit in. Our food highlight was Sunday Brunch at a local hangout on the Upper West Side. Best of all we had uninterrupted time together.
It's pretty cool to walk around New York with coffee when you are 11
When our son ended 5th grade all of his friends got iPhones for their graduation present and he wasn’t sure that a trip would make up for not getting one. That is, until he went on his trip and declared that the trip was way better! His choice was Universal Studios to see the Harry Potter stuff with Mom because she was the HP fan in the house. When picking a hotel, he chose the cheapest one because we were not going to be in it very much and he would rather we use the money for activities. He is a “get things done” kid and hates nothing more than wasting time wandering around places. He mapped out each of our days and had the time planned to the minute. He had my shoes lined up at the door each morning and regulated that it was mandatory to sprint from the entrance to the back of the park so we could be on the first ride each morning. We had one hour in that park and then we took the first Hogwarts Express to the other park so we could be on the first Gringotts ride! At that point we did a few more things in either of the parks and then we were usually back at the hotel after a few hours. During our "down" time at the hotel, we went to the pool to jog against the lazy river current or to try to dump each other off the tubes, or went in the gym and worked out. In the evenings we went bowling, played mini golf, and saw the Blue Man Group, where he was given the painting they made on stage! This trip fit his personality so much and he was in heaven to be able to plan the days. It was so much fun to see him in his element and get to enjoy a few days with his perfect schedule. We laughed a ton and enjoyed being together, (except for the hour he was sulking after I beat him at bowling). What he liked the most was that he didn’t have to wait for anyone and he got to do activities and get treats that we often say are too expensive when there are six of us.
The first train to Hogwarts was part of our morning routine
Nick's prize painting, made with paint spit from the Blue Man Group
Daughter #1 got her second trip next and she maximized this one to the fullest. In fact, there may have been some secret planning going on so both she and Dad could get more out of their trip. She originally wanted to go to Disneyland or on a cruise, but we told her the cruise was too expensive. She ended up finding one on some random days in January that was actually cheaper than going to Disneyland! Then, when they realized how much cheaper their airfare would be if they stayed a couple more days, the trip ended up turning into a week! They used hotel points for the extra hotel nights to bring down cost and happened to each have two days at Disney World left on their non-expiring passes from a couple trips ago. So they started with two days at Disney World, drove to the cruise port and took a 5 day trip on the Disney Dream (which was the ship she wanted to experience the most), and then following the cruise flew home. During the entire trip they laughed, did every activity they could think of from early in the morning until late at night on the cruise ship (including cooking classes to make Apple Strudel, game shows, nightly entertainment, many trips to the ice cream stand, and lounging days at sea and on the port beaches). They even got to see the world premier of Zootopia at midnight on their last night at sea. They had an amazing time and made a lifelong memories together. And that’s what it is all about.
Sneaking in two extra days at Disney World (above), before our cruise on the Disney Dream (below),
made it a magical and unforgettable week!
Our son will finish middle school this year and is going to try to pull off the same type of deal that his sister did. (I think Dad is the winner in this one.) Child #3 will be finishing elementary and has a few ideas that change pretty frequently for her first 1:1 trip. As of now, it may be London to go to the Harry Potter experience and see the Cursed Child. She is working on finding a good deal for airfare as we write.
Most important from these trips are the time together, the close bond it creates between us and our kids, and the budget and planning required by the child to make the trip a reality. While Mom and Dad bankroll the trip, all the real pre-work is done by the child, which we think is a great preparation for them to become their own “Escape Artists” in the future!