“We’re going on vacation, we are going on vacation,” Dinah, (name changed) used to say gritting her teeth as she drove to the beach. She was the single mother of two very active young boys. She and the boys made an annual trek to a beach cottage in the next state and generally ended up having a wonderful time exploring the water, sand and attractions. But getting there was another matter.

“When they were really young, I often wondered if it was really worth it. I was determined to have a vacation even if it killed me.”

I admire Dinah’s determination. While single parents have huge challenges in taking a summer vacation, Dinah isn’t the only one who has sometimes gritted her teeth going into a vacation. Many times we slug through all the extra work, laundry, packing, changing oil in the car, arranging pet care, and all the other last minute details thinking: “Is it really worth it?”

I‘m just about always up for a trip. I think traveling is always educational, even if you end up with some not-so-fun moments. It is a family bonding time and you always create memories. Many times the memories get sweeter as the years go by, and you tend to forget the flat tires or short tempers.

So if you don’t have your summer plans in place yet, here are some thoughts and tips on planning the big getaway. Whether your plans involve just visiting family or include a major cruise or “see the West” blowout vacation, it’s helpful to do your planning as early as possible to avoid problems in the process.

If money, worry about safety, and other concerns keep you closer to home this year, most states/provinces have plenty to do and see right nearby. The Internet has made planning such trips almost too easy. When I was a kid, it was my job to write to the Chambers of Commerce in any place we planned to visit as a family for brochures, lists of accommodations and attractions. I liked doing it because it was fun to get mail in my own name. Your kids can either collect and print information off the Internet, or they can address a letter to “Chamber of Commerce” in whatever city, state, or province you are hoping to visit, and receive buckets of brochures.

If you live in the Eastern to Midwestern area of the U.S., I recently learned of a series of money-saving guide books written especially to help families enjoy sights nearby, authored by George and Michele Zavatksy. The guides are called Kids Love the Virginias; Kids Love Indiana, etc., and include volumes on Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania at this point. The authors and their children personally visited the major sites or “most unique” places in their books and they give lots of insider comments. Ask at your bookstore or check www.kidslovepublications.com

Some principles from their books you can apply to your own vacation planning, no matter where you live:

  • Look for lesser-known state, provincial or regional parks. Of course, some with rental cabins are quite popular and must be booked a year in advance.
  • Get directions ahead of time. Call the facility, or look for maps on the Internet (www.mapquest.com).
  • Visit children’s museums. Most larger cities have one or more. They’re great for rainy days.
  • Take in special festivals; eat local food rather than just going to fast food chains.
  • Be sure to take time to recognize God’s hand in the things you see and do. Vacations are a wonderful time to reflect creatively on the goodness of God and all of creation, and to take time to answer those spontaneous questions that often come up from the back seat of the car.

Melodie Davis is staff writer for Mennonite Media, is married and the mother of three children. This column was reprinted with permission from Third Way Cafe.

Buy Davis’ book, Why Didn’t I Just Raise Radishes? from Amazon!

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