How to Have the Restful Family Vacation You Really Want

Ever needed a vacation from your vacation? I sure have.

Family vacations can be wonderful times of exploration and discovery.

But restful? Ha. That seems almost like a pipe dream, doesn't it?

Exploring new places is fun, but the truth is, that what most families on vacation really need is one thing:

Rest. True, soul-filled replenishment.

And while that sounds like a tall order (ever traveled with four kids?), I promise it is possible!

Ever needed a vacation from your vacation? I sure have. Exploring new places is fun, but the truth is, that what most families on vacation really need is one thing: Rest. True, soul-filled replenishment. And while that sounds like a tall order, it’s totally possible! Here how this family of six is making it happen year after year… and how your family can have restful family vacations too (really!). 21 fantastic tips here!

For the past few years, my husband and I have learned the fine art of planning a trip that brings adventure but still much-needed down time.

Friend, I want to share what we've discovered so that your family can truly be replenished on your summer vacation!

These tips make all the difference!



1) Know (and accept) what you and your family consider restful.

This has been a big one for us. I grew up camping, and for the longest time, I had this crazy idea that camping was the way for our family to unwind. We tried tent camping (which we found dirty, labor intensive and just plain not relaxing). Then we thought RV camping was the way to go (which we discovered was OK but not cost-effective for us at this time).

My husband and I finally had to admit to ourselves: We are not campers, and that is OK! If our kids didn’t grow up camping, they wouldn’t be scarred for life, and yes, making family memories was still possible.

Trust me, it took us a long time to accept this!

2) Expect some things to follow you from home. 

Your kids will still fight. You will still have to bandage boo-boos and deal with meltdowns. In other words, you will still be wearing your “mom hat.”

I believe that recognizing this truth brings permission to accept it and move on. For way too many family vacations I found myself annoyed by the fact we still dealt with these everyday inconveniences.

Finally I realized how unrealistic my expectations had been, and I stopped being disappointed when they still happened on vacation. Friend, just expect it, deal with it, and don't let it upset your apple cart.

3) Locale and atmosphere is key.

A week spent at the Happiest Place on Earth probably isn't going to be as restful as one spent in a rented house by the beach.

I mean, maybe that’s kind of one of those “Captain Obvious” statements, but still, how many of us are shocked when we return home from a trip to a place like Disney World and we’re most tired than before we left?

Nothing against Disney (we actually had season passes for several years) but just something to keep in mind.

You don’t want just an escape. You want a restful experience. That's why our family summer vacations over the past few years have been completely different than what we used to plan.

Now instead of places with lots of stimulation (and potential exhaustion) we choose vacation destinations that are quiet, near nature and fairly secluded.

We try to find locales that offer a handful of activities should we want to do a few things together, but overall offer a slower, relaxed pace of life. The beach, the mountains… you get the picture.

4) Choose relaxing accommodations that fit your budget.

As a family of six, hotels aren’t always an option because often, we won’t fit in one room.

Which means multiple rooms. Which equals lots of money.

Hotels also mean lots of eating out (which also equals lots of money).

We’ve discovered a wonderful solution: renting vacation homes via a trusted site such as Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO.com). We were shocked at the type of accommodations that we could get (and the amazing locales!) for about the price of a hotel room for the night.

Not only are we able to buy our own food and make our own meals (a huge cost saver), there’s lots more room to spread out, and everyone has their own space.

Renting a house is also a great option if you’re vacationing with extended family too. You can get an enormous house and split the cost, keeping everyone comfortably together without spending an arm and a leg.

5) Make a budget and stick to it.

We have a line item in our monthly budget that’s for vacations.

This has totally helped us afford taking a vacation because, let’s face it, who ever has extra money to go on vacation?! We save a little at a time throughout the year so it’s not so painful.

Before we take the vacation, we also come up with a budget for that money (a certain amount for eating out, a certain amount for groceries, another amount for entertainment, etc).

We pay cash for it all (or use our debit card) so that we’re not hit with a huge credit card bill when we get home (not very restful).

But what about how to spend the days? You want a restful experience, right? These next tips are essential.



6) Plan for a few decompression days as your family adjusts to “vacation time.”

Those first few days of a restful family summer vacation area fierce battle for me as my soul desperately wants to keep working and to keep up the pace of never-ending busy-ness.

It usually takes me at least three days (and several internal reckonings recorded in a journal) before I can finally fully exhale and surrender to the rest.

I've learned to plan for this decompression time (for both my husband and I and the kids) as we settle into the slower-paced routine of vacation).

7) Discuss your individual “rest goals” before the vacation starts.

My husband and I have specific goals for each vacation in terms of finding rest.

Sometimes, if it’s been a difficult parenting season and I am especially exhausted, my rest goals will include a few times away by myself for a few hours, or to lose myself in a book and to catch up on sleep (yes, in the middle of a family vacation).

Or if we’ve all been going a hundred different directions, our family rest goals might be lots of time spent together as a family doing things like board games or making cookies.

Before each vacation, we also ask the kids what they feel their rest needs might be right now (we help them with this if they aren’t sure) and consider these as we map out the daily vacation plans.

8) No matter how tempting it is, don’t fill every moment of your days with activities.

Does this happen to your family too? We get to our destination and because we’re still in go-go-go mode, we instantly want to check out all the local happenings and plan out our schedule.

For the last few vacations we’ve been on, I’ve tried a different approach. Instead of determining what will happen each day, my husband and I create a rough list of potential activities for the area, and then we totally wing it each day. It is wonderful!

We come to the destination with some ideas, but we’re always surprised at what we discover on our own there.

It’s also amazing to be able to wake up and say, “Yes, let’s do this today!” or to say, “Can we have a quiet day at home?”

This also leaves plenty of time for that unscheduled nap (that we all really need).

Of course this can’t always happen at a moments notice (you still have your kids to look after!) but my husband and I try to work it out so that we both get time to get whatever rest we need.

9) Focus on simple activities that bring you together.

I like to think of vacations as times for us to discover what makes us feel rested, and often, that’s includes doing simple things like drawing, reading, writing, and coloring.

Before each vacation, we let our kids pick a handful of craft-related items they can do during those quiet moments at home on our vacation.

There are so many craft-in-a-box-type activities where a child can learn a new skill, and these are ideal for this type of a restful family summer vacation.

We also let the kids stay up late at least a few nights so that we can host a game night.

We bake cookies or pop popcorn and pull out games like Monopoly (there's so many fun versions now!) or other board games, and just have fun together.

And what about all those electronic devices (phones, tablets and video games)? Here's our take:

We in no way want it to be a time-stealer (or to be the root of bad attitudes), but there are times when electronics can not only be educational but something we experience together.

We have had some vacations that were completely media-free; and others that we’ve allowed it in small amounts. I'd encourage you to consider the “the electronics or no electronics?” question one vacation at a time.

10) Make time to unwind with your spouse (and also respect his/her individual rest needs).

Yes, you still have a house full of kids. Yes, you mainly are going to be together as a family.

But, if possible, try to get everyone to bed fairly early (at least a few nights) so that you can have couple time together alone. Or better yet, if you're near friends and family, ask them to babysit one night so you can go out!

Resist the temptation to veg out in front of the television and spend time genuinely connecting (communication, intimacy time, working on a project together, etc). Find ways to build your relationship and to truly connect.

And, at the same time, I'd encourage you to respect each other's in-the-moment rest needs.

Case in point: It was day three of last year's summer vacation, and my husband turned on the television in the bedroom.

Instantly I was completely irked by the noise of the movie he was happily watching. I really wanted to say, “Turn off that TV!!” but realized that this was how he needed to unwind right now. But what I really really needed was silence.

So I picked up my stuff, closed the door to the bedroom, and sat on the couch in the living room (in the quiet). For two hours, we happily fulfilled our own rest needs… and that was a good thing.



11) Lower your expectations about how the vacation will turn out.

We somehow expect that when we enter “vacation mode” we will step into this Shangri-La experience where everything will be perfect.

However, the thing is that we’re still traveling to an imperfect location with imperfect people12I try to think of our vacation asour regular life… but in a different location. As much as possible, offer grace to yourself, your family, and to whatever comes on the vacation experience.

Case in point: We went to Hawaii a few years ago and literally spent the entire week (except for one blissful day) inside our condo because of the torrential rains and power outages.

Not to mention that we all had the stomach flu that week while there. Not exactly what we’d expected.

But we made the best of it. Which brings me to the last one…

12) Relax, let go a little and enjoy whatever comes!

In the final hours of prep before our last vacation, I started feeling really stressed by my still-way-too-long to-do list (while the kids were literally vibrating with excitement around me).

An older mom friend of mine texted me during this time to wish us well on our trip. I shared some of what I was experiencing in the moment.

I’ll never forget her response to me: “It’s all part of the experience. Enjoy every single minute of it—the good and the bad.It doesn’t have to be perfect to be good!”

That turned everything around for me. I relaxed a little, kept going on my tasks and began getting as excited as the kids were.

She was right: It was all part of the experience, and no matter what, it was all going to be alright.

I'd also encourage you to loosen up a little and live in the moment (yep, preaching to the choir on this one).

Have that piece of cheesecake. Splurge on an activity for the kids. Laugh more deeply and try to not take yourself so seriously.

Step out of your comfort zone and try something unexpected. Try to stay centered in just this moment, enjoying every aspect of it.

13) Spend time each day as a family reading Scripture.

This is a wonderful activity that not only encourages Christ-like behavior on the trip, but it allows us to spend unhurried time together connecting about incredibly important issues.

You can go through a devotional together; read a book of the Bible aloud; or simply just choose a word (such as “rest”) and look up verses on that word and discuss them together.

The 5Rs Bible Study Resources are an easy, powerful way to grow together spiritually in only 10 minutes a day.

Why not take the first few minutes of your vacation day connecting with God? It's an amazing way to find true soul rest on a family vacation!

Learn more about these awesome Bible study resources here.

I simply can’t tell you how spending time with God together changes our vacations. I highly encourage you to find a simple way to find spiritual replenishment as a family this summer.






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