By Crystal Tingle
Several years ago my oldest son had a sleepover at a friend’s house. As is usually the norm with my children, everything that goes doesn’t equal everything that comes back. This time it was his toothbrush. As I recall, they were going to drop it off the next morning on their way out for their family vacation. Either they forgot or ran out of time but regardless, the toothbrush went with them. And if I may say, that toothbrush became the highlight of their trip. Throughout their time away, they sent the funniest photo op pics next to monuments, state signs, fountains, you name it, and all had the toothbrush in the picture with them. Now, I am not sure who in that family came up with the idea or even why, but I thought it was brilliant and hysterical. Instead of fighting to get family pics as most moms do, the kids were engaged and they began looking for crazy ways and places to take photos with this toothbrush.
So I got to thinking about my family and other families in general. I don’t know about you, but for us, it is hard enough just to drive to church on a Sunday without our kiddos’ noses buried in a phone or iPad. Planning a vacation that all ages will enjoy and be engaged and present in…well, it’s almost impossible. We have all tried! We spend countless hours planning and researching. Gobs of money is spent and high hopes and high expectations of how fabulous this trip is going to be is pondered; not to mention the dream of how everyone will reconnect and bond as a family, returning changed and refreshed. Nope! Never happens that way for us! I mean they aren’t disastrous trips, just not how we thought they would be. In addition, does this sound familiar to anyone? “You have reached 100% of your allowed data limit. You will be charged for any additional overage.” Yep! That is because everyone is on their devices using data since no WiFi hot spots can be found.
Now I am not trying to reinvent the wheel of vacationing, but rather adopting the adage, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” We live in a high-tech world that is only going higher-tech from here, so as parents we need to work and plan smarter, not harder. Smart vacationing involves being creative and to me, “the toothbrush” was ridiculously simple and extremely creative.
Maybe you are planning an amazing long-awaited European vacation or a magical trip to Disneyworld. You may even just be doing a stay-cation On the Coast since we live on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Whatever you have planned, plan smarter and make this the “Summer to Remember” - and have the pictures and fun memories to prove it!
Here are a few ideas to engage your kids and “join ‘em” in the fun:
1. Find YOUR family’s “traveling toothbrush.” Decide on an inanimate object like a toothbrush or something else that is so completely random. Make a game of who can come up the most creative way to include the object in the trip and document it with pictures; for example, riding the roller coaster with it or giving the object its own seat at the restaurant. The object will begin to come alive for the family as the children use their imaginations. You might even want to name it.
2. Create your own Flat Stanley. Flat Stanley is an old children’s book about a boy that learned to live life in paper-thin form after being flattened by a fallen bookcase. Use poster paper or cardboard from an old box and craft your shape while involving the kids. Maybe your Flat Stanley is a pet that can’t go on the trip or a friend they are leaving behind. Maybe your cardboard creation is a favored superhero or an actor or singer they follow. Include it just as you would in #1.
3. Plan a scavenger hunt. Before leaving, have everyone make a list of random items or places to find and take a picture with as many items as possible over the course of the trip. This might ensue the children to Google special landmarks or activities native to your destination. Make it a learning experience that catches them by surprise. See who can identify the object first and keep score but more importantly, take a family pic alongside the object or place.
4. Play a selfie war. If you have tweeners or teens, they are most likely texting constantly or using social media to stay connected with friends back home. So again, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Have them take a selfie with something unique to that trip and challenge their friends to find the same (or as close to the same) background as possible and take a pic as well. This will engage them to be aware of the sights around them in attempt to outdo the next challenge.
5. Set up a family hash-tag. This is a hash-tag that you and your family can all tag your photos and videos with, like “#tinglesummer2015.” That way, as you’re posting on various social media sites and sharing with friends, you’re also creating a digital scrapbook of your family’s various experiences that all of you can go over and perhaps print. This can include the photos’ descriptions and comments, creating a real, physical scrapbook that can also preserve your memories for years to come in a tangible way.
By incorporating any of these ideas into your family vacation, gone will be the photos of scowling faces or missing family members… instead you’ll have so many memorable photos full of laughter and fun, it will be hard to choose your favorites!
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