I've always loved planning and dreaming about travels with my family. I didn't have too many elaborate vacations when I was a little girl. Mainly we just drove down to Galveston for a long weekend, but I loved the time away from the regular day-to-day happenings with my family. As we've shifted to a self-employed family, we've found more flexibility and freedom to travel more. Over the past couple of years of planning trips, enjoying adventures, and remembering experiences, I've learned that these trips have been more than escapes from reality and more like curating adventures to cultivate our family culture.
These trips have brought us together to share in anticipation, soak in beauty, and remember good times. Sometimes you just need something to pursue together in a creative way to bring you together as a family, and travel has done that for us. I wanted to share some of the things I've learned that have made planning and executing these kinds of trips a joy and not a burden for our family...and how we've fit it in our budget!
Planning Culture Building Adventures
Step 1: Dream Together About Travel
There are a number of things that factor in to planning out what kinds of adventures your family will enjoy together. Our family loves to visit national parks and breathtaking expressions of God's creation like the Painted Desert or Niagara Falls. We also enjoy checking out historical museums along the way like Reagan's Presidential Library or Jackson's Hermitage. My kids are not as in to thrill rides, so we don't plan our trips to those destinations.
Our first trip that the kids were involved in was to Sea World in San Antonio. It was this trip that inspired making travel planning a group effort.
Step 2: Map It Out
I am totally addicted to using Furkot to help plan my trips. It's such a cool tool for helping you map out stops along the way. I'm a huge fan of making a loop (like going a different way home than we came). This makes the journey as much a part of the adventure as the destination.
Our summer trip includes visiting four Presidential libraries, two major cities, and experiencing the great lakes. It is a lot of driving, but my husband loves it so it will be great fun!
- You can search for hotels that accommodate more than 4 people.
- You can reserve a room without a deposit and cancel up to a couple of days in advance.
- When you've used their service to book 10 rooms, you earn a free night...I always like earning something!
- All of my travel info is in one easy location to access.
Step 3: Make a Budget
Every trip we've taken we've involved the kids in developing the budget for the trip. We used to use a jar to collect our money, but last year we made an adventure fund box that is now turning into a key part of building anticipation for our upcoming trip. When we're back from our trip, we turn the adventure fund into a memory box for keepsakes from our journey. Then we buy a new box to start saving for the next big adventure!
See how we made our adventure fund box here!
With the ability to reserve our hotel rooms, we can easily plug in exact numbers for our lodging expenses. Here are some of the other things we account for:
When the family is helping to save for those things, their expectations for how much we should spend changes. They're not as demanding as they might be if they didn't keep each of the individual elements as a part of the big picture.
We also keep the budget down by setting our destination to cheap or free locations. National Parks and free attractions can really keep the budget to a reasonable price. Additionally, we always look for friends or family to visit along the way, which helps cut down on costs. If we can stay at an Airbnb home, we can buy groceries instead of eating out, and that also keeps our budget manageable.
Step 4: Talk About It
I used to be a big believer of not talking about anything exciting with my kids until the minute before because they would drive me crazy with anticipation. However, as my kids have grown a little bit, they have calmed down a bit on the hyper craze, and become very fun to dream and plan with for our trips.
Here are some things we plan out:
- Which audio book series we're going to listen to along the way.
- What main things we'd like to see along the way.
- What kinds of things we'd like to do while we're there.
Including them in the process allows everyone to be involved in the process of curating the trip, which builds a culture of togetherness even before you take off on your adventure together.
Enjoying the Together Time
Once it's time to hit the road, it can be easy to let the stress of vacationing take over and ruin your best laid plans. My husband and I recently read Present over Perfect by Shauna Niequist. Even just hearing the title of the book should encourage you to let go of expectations for the perfect trip and just be present with your family. If things don't go quite as planned, it's okay. You're together and that is all that is important!
It's also important to know your limitations and your family's limitations. If you can handle an action packed agenda, but your husband can't, you might just have to give up one or two excursions for peace. It's well worth it!
Be Together on Your Family Vacation
You know it's possible to feel lonely in a crowd right? Well, the same is true in a family. Today we have so many distractions and devices that draw us away from being together. Find ways to put the devices down and connect. If you have to have a device, find something that everyone can interact with together while online.
When you're in the car, audio books are awesome for creating unity. You're all listening to the same story which gives you something to talk about when you stop for lunch, or something to be excited about starting up again when you get back on the road. Audio books are great for long trips because they're much longer than movies, and everyone in the car can enjoy them together. We've enjoyed some excellent book series along the road. Here are the first books of our favorites:
Stick to the Budget
One major stressor along the way is the budget. When surprises arise along the way, it can really derail the fun. We use Goodbudget to keep us on track. It's a simple little app that is based on the envelope system of budgeting.
My husband sets up envelopes based on the budgeted categories we've put together in our initial trip estimate. Then as food is purchased and activities are paid for, we all track how much money we have left for the trip. This way we can eat off of the dollar menu for a couple of days, and then maybe have money to go out to a nicer dinner one night.
In the end, whatever money is left over is split among the kids since they are the ones who have contributed the most to the fund. This also motivates them to stick to the plan!
Cherish the Memories
Adventure Fund to Keepsake Box
When we first arrive home, we transform our adventure fund box into a keepsake box. It's such a simple way to remind our family of our good times together. I look forward to creating more of these and displaying them around our house as our adventures grow!
We started the kids young tracking their travels with a US map. Each New Year's Eve, we'd color in the states that they had visited that year. It's taken a while, but we're getting closer to having visited all 48 contiguous states. It doesn't matter if we ever make it to all of them, but it's great to have exposed them to so much beyond their own little corner of the world.
We have a pushpin world map that we love, but I also wanted one of the United States so that we could have a visual representation of all of our adventures together. My husband got me one for mother's day this year, and we've had so much fun recounting all of our family's travels!
Check out their variety of beautiful pushpin travel maps!
Pictures are such a great tool for remembering. I love using Blurb Photo Books to chronicle our trips. I've created a Blurb "How to Video" for creating anthology books, but their photo books work the same way.
These books are treasures for years to come. My kids love to look back through and recall the stories behind the pictures.
When I was making my last trip book, I struggled with adding any captions to the book. It just seemed like a lot of work. My friends reminded me that I posted on Instagram along the way, and I could just use that commentary for my book. It was the perfect way to help us remember what we were thinking in those moments when we look back at these books twenty years from now.
I really never thought I would love traveling as much as I do, but I cherish the memories I've had with my family. It's such a wonderful way to build unity. You don't have to spend thousands of dollars to do it well either. Make a plan, make a budget, and work your plan and budget. I hope you get to enjoy the blessings as much as we have!
Betsy Strauss is an unexpected homeschooler, mother of three, who is in a relationship with a sweet man for life. She loves reading books, drinking coffee, and learning anything with her kids.