How to have a great family vacation

Author: Canadian Living


How to have a great family vacation

This story was originally titled "Ultimate Summer Planning Guide" in the June 2007 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!

Every year Marion Goertz, a registered marriage and family therapist in Toronto, takes to the open road with her sister and female cousins. The differences between their personalities are immense: one is completing her PhD in social work; another is a mom and teacher; and one is into making her own soaps and lotions and travels throughout Asia on medical education exchanges. Sounds like a vacation nightmare waiting to explode, but because Goertz and her travel partners strike a balance between group activities and time apart, they have a blast every time. If travelling with family and friends appeals to you, the following considerations will help smooth the ride.

1. Decide if inviting friends and family is the best decision for everyone. Don't forfeit your child's happiness by inviting a family with children he doesn't get along with; it's his vacation, too. If your sister's constant chatter gets on your nerves when you invite her over for dinner, chances are you won't want her in the back of your car on a cross-country road trip, either.

2. Discuss what your communal trip would look like. Is every night movie night? Are you playing board games or computer games? Do you get up early or stay up late? Is the sight of someone checking work e-mail from a laptop welcomed or discouraged?

3. If you decide to go ahead, sit down before the trip and work out a plan together. Goertz suggests recruiting the logical list-makers of the group – you know, the ones who always plan the best birthday parties or have all their spices lined up alphabetically – to come up with a project-management plan, starting with research. If a canoe trip suits your desires, for example, research campsites, costs, necessary equipment, portages and trails, and skills required.

Once you have "what" �gured out, work out the who, where, when, how (transportation, �nances, logistics) and why. "Choose a time to sit down as a group or canvas all adult participants to remind yourselves what principles, such as strengthening relationships and sharing experiences, are guiding this effort," says Goertz. To stay focused on these principles, carry the list with you and refer to it often when things get tense along the way.

5. The planning team outlines an action plan that is a blueprint of the trip: timetables, maps and directions, who does what, reservations, contact information, etc. "It's absolutely vital to lay down ground rules," says Goertz. It's at this point that everyone needs to raise any questions and concerns. This is the time to share if there is a museum or roadside hot spot you want to visit that is missing from the schedule or if you just don't think the kids can last for eight hours in the car. "It's fair to speak up for what we want in the planning stages; it isn't fair to whine en route," says Goertz.

6. Be fair with �nances, too. Each person can purchase his or her own groceries, but if you are renting a cottage together, divide the cost of food and liquid sunshine equally. If one traveller or family suddenly opts out of a preplanned day trip or event, they should cover any cancellation or nonrefundable fees. Outline ahead of time how �nances will be divided and make sure everyone involved is comfortable with the �nal price tag of your vacation.

Are group holidays for you?
If you're not sure whether you're ready to take a trip with family or friends, ask yourself the following questions. If you answer no to any, think twice.
• Does everyone get along, including spouses, kids and in-laws?
• Are you comfortable asking for private time?
• Do you all want to get the same thing out of this vacation?

Page 1 of 3 -- Should you visit a campsite or cottage? Explore your outdoor options on page 2.
Campsites and cottages
Are you dreaming about cosying around a camp�re and falling asleep to a symphony of crickets? Although many people book their campsites and cottages far in advance, there are still plenty of nooks of the Canadian wilderness to explore.

Back to nature
Public campgrounds are funded by the government; all are located inside national parks and must adhere to all regulations in the Parks Act, which means noise levels and cleanliness of the campsites and washrooms are controlled, among other things. The website for Parks Canada ( provides a convenient list of all 42 national parks.

: Campsites go quickly, especially around long weekends, so try to reserve in advance. The farther a�eld from a major city, the more camping spaces will be available.

Private campgrounds are businesses owned by individuals. Each province and territory has a separate website listing all of its privately owned campgrounds (visit for a list of websites). One of the perks of camping in a private campground is that there are a wide variety of services that are not offered at provincial parks, such as hot tubs and games rooms.

Tip: If you arrive at your campsite and are unhappy about the location, search the rest of the campground to spot better empty sites and then check with the park attendants to verify that they're available before switching.

Vacationing with family and friends
If you're looking for something with wood rather than nylon walls, consider renting a cottage. Some of the best cottages to rent can be found through word of mouth; check with of�ce colleagues or bulletin boards at work or just ask around among friends.

Tip: Last-minute cottage rentals are posted on as of the last week of June; click on Last Minute Specials.

Ask the following questions before renting a cottage:
• How secluded is the cottage? How close are the neighbours? How far is it from stores? Does it have electricity and running water?

• Is there direct access to the waterfront? How busy is the waterfront? Are motorized watercrafts permitted?

• Does the shoreline gradually dip into the water or is it a drop-off? Is the water safe for young children?

• Are pets allowed?

• What is the cancellation policy? Is the deposit refundable?

• Do linens, cooking items, propane, clean drinking water, etc., come with the rental fee?

• If you have accessibility needs, does the property meet your concerns?

• Is everything shown in pictures posted online available for use, such as a ï¬�replace, canoe or sand beach?

• Ask for references.

Learn more about camping vacations at these sites:

Page 2 of 3 -- Learn how to keep your house safe while you're away with our best security tips on page 3.

Keep your home safe
You've packed plenty of repellent, sunscreen and even booster cables for the car – your road trip has the safety seal of approval. Before heading out on vacation, keep your home safe with the following tips.

• Hold mail delivery if you'll be away for more than one week (; click on Other Products and Services under Personal). If your vacation is less than a week, ask a young neighbour to collect your mail.

• Set your light timers to go on and off at different times.

• Ask a neighbour to park his car in your driveway and to put a bag of garbage in front of your house on garbage day. The same neighbour can retrieve any flyers that land on your doorstep.

• Give a trusted friend or family member the keys to your home and ask him to enter it every 48 hours to make sure there are no emergencies, such as a leak in the water tank, and to change the position of blinds or curtains. Make sure this same person has your contact information while you're away.

• Keep your answering machine message the same; never say you're away.

• Decrease the volume of your telephone's ring so people outside won't hear repeated missed calls, and increase the volume on a radio to give the impression that someone is in the house. Set the television or radio on a timer to go on in the afternoon and again in the evening.

• Visibility is key; keep all your valuables out of sight from windows and trim bushes around the house so prowlers can be spotted.

• Unplug your computer. Other electrical items, such as your TV, should be connected to a plug that is grounded, which means its charge has been neutralized. Also, be sure to remove anything that's flammable, such as old newspapers or propane tanks, from the basement and attic.

Page 3 of 3 -- Is a group trip right for your family? Before committing, check our list of travel pitfalls on page 1.

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How to have a great family vacation