What are you doing as a family this summer? Whether you’ve booked something already or are thinking about plans, you can make the most of family vacation by thinking about your family’s values and what you want to get out of the time together.

Make the Most of Family Vacations by Focusing on What’s Right for Your Family

Family vacations can be a big blow out event, a spartan camping trip or something in between. You can travel around the world or have a staycation. Any of these things can be fun, if it’s right for your family. Think and talk about what your family wants out of the vacation this year.

Sitting on the beach every day if your family values adventure isn’t a great fit, but for a family looking to kick back and relax, it might be perfect.

Do you value education and learning new things? You can take a class as a family or visit museums. If being in nature is important to your family, think about camping or hiking. Are you into the arts or animals or adventure? Use your vacation time to focus on those things.

What if family values and individual values differ? Maybe mom and dad just want to recharge, but the kids are go-go-go. You could choose a location that allows for comfortable down time and then plan some exciting day trips. Our family is the reverse. Our kids like to chill and Chip and I love to be super active and then sit around reading. We all love to play games and eat great food. We make an effort to find a place that fits all our preferences and make time for shared meals and games.

Whatever you do, think about what your family really wants and needs from this time.

Make the Most of Family Vacations by Focusing on Connection

Vacation isn’t about stuff. It isn’t about the t-shirt from the whale watch or the stuffed toy from the zoo gift shop. Studies show that spending on stuff doesn’t make us happier, but spending on experiences does.

Your kids may disagree, but it’s true. Long after the plastic toy is broken, the t-shirt outgrown, the stuffed zebra forgotten, they’ll remember parts of your vacation. If you focus on connection, instead of stuff, you help create the kinds of shared memories that they will remember. It can help to set parameters ahead of time. Talk about spending, and  if, where, and when you will buy things. If kids save money, they may want to bring some to spend.These are great conversations to have before vacation starts.

Sometimes it’s the little things that really strengthen connection—the puzzle you work on all week on the screened porch of the cottage you rented, the stories you tell around the campfire, the way you handle things not going right, whether its a week of rain or a fallen ice cream. Some of our family’s vacation disasters have become our “remember when” stories. They never fail to make us laugh. Of course we also remember the awe moments –  watching a lunar eclipse in the middle of the night in Montana or the sunset on the bay beach in Cape Cod with three generations of family.

Even though vacation is supposed to be fun and relaxing, sometimes it gets tense. Everyone is out of routine. You may be in closer confines than usual. You’re trying to pack in as much as you can. Try slowing down. See what people need. Is it time to stop for lunch? Do you all need to get out of the hotel room? Are you so busy trying to fit in all the things you thought you’d do you’re not noticing that everyone needs some down time or the kids are happy to stay at the park for the rest of the afternoon. Slow down. Listen. Be flexible. Connect.

Make the Most of Family Vacations by Getting Everyone Involved

A family meeting is a great way to plan your summer. Take time to find out how everyone wants the summer to feel and what they want to do. Listen to everybody’s ideas as you think about what you will do as a family. Include all your ideas in the your vacation brainstorm.

You may not all agree on what you want to do, but find a way to keep it positive for everyone. If driving cross-country is somebody’s dream this year, but it’s not in the cards, add it to your family dream list to talk about at another time. If everybody but one person wants to go fishing, find out what would make the situation better for the odd one out.

Talking and dreaming together is another way to connect, which means planning your summer vacation together can help you make the most of it.

What kinds of memories will you make this summer?

Also, it’s a good idea to write your stories down this summer. Save them. You’ll be surprised how much it means — to you, the writer, and to those who read it. Often the first step in saving family stories is learning them and that means asking questions, so I’ve gathered 5 to get you started.