You know what kinds of New Year's resolutions are really worth making (and way easier to keep than weight-loss goals)? Travel. It's good for you, good for your family and you'll make memories that last longer than your one-month Facebook hiatus.
Here's how to up your family travel game. It doesn't take much, but it pays to plan a little:
1. Arm everyone with a passport
It's never too early to prep your family for overseas travel. And, you're probably more likely to book a foreign getaway if you've already jumped this sometimes tedious hurdle.
The truth is applying for a passport isn't actually that hard; it's just a bit time-consuming. You'll need to fill out a handful of forms, get passport photos taken and send in the appropriate payment for everything to be processed (detailed information can be found through the U.S. State Department). If international travel is on your radar for the coming year, get started on the process right away. It can take several months to go from paperwork to passport in hand.
If everyone in your family already has a passport, this is a good time to check the expiration dates. Some countries require that U.S. citizens have passports which expire more than six months out. Many popular European destinations, including Italy, Spain and France, require that passports are valid for at least three months beyond the intended date of departure from the destination.
2. Learn about history in the places it happened
Pages of a history textbook come alive when you're actually standing on the Gettysburg battlefield or seeing where the attack on Pearl Harbor took place. A trip to Washington, D.C., in particular, is packed with history-heavy sites that can be digested in small pieces.
Photograph by WikiCommons
Before leaving home, check out kid-friendly books from the library that provide a brief overview of the historical significance of your intended destination. Many popular tourist sites have reenactments, shortened tours and interactive activities to help engage interest and stimulate conversation with kids.
3. Create a family bucket list
They may be young now, but your kids will grow up and have families of their own before you realize it. Before they do, where would you like to go and what would you like to do as a family? Include feedback from all the members of your family and create a list of a dozen or so items that you can aim for over the years (of course, interests change, so this is really a list in progress).
These things can be as simple as going camping as a family or more complex such as signing up for a voluntourism opportunity abroad. Don't hold back when it comes to brainstorming. These fun ideas will serve as motivation to get out and create memories for many years to come.
Children pick up languages easily at a young age—and you can do it, too. Sign your kids up for an afterschool program that allows them to practice with others their own age. You can take a class through the local university or brush up on those rusty skills you once had with a meet-up group. In the evenings, run through vocabulary over dinner and make a point to use the words and phrases you're all learning together.
Of course, you have to reward your efforts with a trip to a place where locals speak that language. How awesome will it be when your kids can converse with others at the playground, and you can all muddle your way through a bit of bartering at the market?
Photograph by WikiCommons
5. Get outside more
'Tis the year to breathe more fresh air. We live in a world where work schedules suck away free time and technology draws attention away from the people around us—so make a commitment as a family to unplug and get outside.
Certainly spending quality time at the local park or even in your own backyard is a great idea, but why not pick up a new hobby as a family instead? This can be the year you take up hiking so you can explore the national parks in your area, or learn the ins and outs of geo-caching.
6. Explore your own backyard
Too often we set our sights on destinations we've never visited (or, conversely, places we've been to a thousand times before). One place that is often overlooked is the very place you live. Call it a staycation if you must, but taking the time to dig into what your own town has to offer may make you appreciate it even more.
This year, make an effort to check out some of the local museums and events that pique your family's interest. Or, go so far as to sign up for a local walking tour of your hometown—you might be surprised by what you learn.
7. Take a vacation for two
Yes, this is a family-friendly list of travel goals, but it's important that you and your partner make some time for yourselves as well. Employ the generosity of family members and friends—and trust them when they say they can take care of your kids for a few days so you and your loved one can slip away for some alone time. Don't cheat by staying home to catch up on chores—actually book a trip and get out of town!
You don't have to spend a fortune to take advantage of an intimate getaway. Find a cute cabin in the woods where you can hike during the day and snuggle up over hot cocoa (with a 21+ twist) in the evening. Or book a room at an all-inclusive resort so you can spend time at the pool or getting couples massages. It doesn't matter where you go, as long as you go somewhere.
Make a commitment to focus on yourselves, limit communication with the little ones back home and stick to a strict no-work rule. Your mind and body will thank you.