5 Family Vacation Traditions

A family of four hikes under an arch in Moab, Utah.
Whether your family enjoys national parks, educational museums or poolside naps, making a tradition of sharing those experiences will bring you closer together.

Family vacations -- and the traditions they encourage -- offer benefits that last all year. Traditions, particularly those outside of normal, day-to-day routines, provide a vehicle to better understand the goals and challenges belonging to each individual within a family unit. And long after a holiday ends, the rituals shared will provide comfort during times of crisis or change [source: Hill].

Encourage everyone to participate in your family vacation traditions. Even if, for example, your youngest child is frustrated by her inability to find sand dollars as quickly as her older siblings, continue to draw her into the activity. Offer positive, enthusiastic feedback about her efforts, and ask other family members to pitch in so her collection can grow, too. Your enthusiasm, as long as it's consistent, will catch on [source: Parent Wonder].


No matter what vacation traditions you choose, they'll foster a sense of support and cooperation among siblings and generations -- feelings you can recreate no matter where you go together.

5: Mapping Your Route

A young girl reads a map in the back seat of a car.
Navigation duties will keep kids busy (and help you make sure you don't miss that left turn at Albuquerque).
Digital Vision/Thinkstock

Start your vacation tradition weeks before you hit the road. Children love to explore maps, so buy several state or city maps and let them help plot the route. They'll learn invaluable map-reading skills and be able to ask questions about the area in which they'll soon vacation. By tracing the route, they'll assume a navigator role -- and a sense of empowerment [Travel Sense].

These maps can play double-duty as a souvenir after your trip ends, too. Turn them into colorful backgrounds for scrapbook pages, fold them into envelopes that can hold trip mementos or use them as part of a larger travel collage to illustrate the route your child helped select [source: Martha Stewart].


Repeating the tradition with each annual family vacation is something children are sure to anticipate. Plus, it will keep their minds -- and hands -- busy while you make last-minute travel preparations.

4: Dining for More Than Nourishment

A girl's father takes the family cooler out of the car.
Even simple sandwiches, fruits and veggies make for a feast under the open sky.
Maria Teijeiro/Getty Images/Thinkstock

A family vacation is the perfect time to start a new culinary tradition. Get off the fast-food track by packing picnic lunches to eat at scenic parks along the way. And you can bypass the dubious nutritional quality of airport snacks if you make and take your own. Try granola, trail mix, fresh vegetables or cheese sticks that your children can prepare (or at least pack) themselves -- which also means they'll be more likely to eat them [source: Waechter].

Dining exclusively at mom-and-pop-style eateries and other locally owned establishments is a vacation tradition your children will be sure to remember. It adds a valuable layer of experience, because local foods reflect a region's history and tradition. And eating at a favorite local restaurant will become its own tradition the next time you return to the area.


3: Getting in the Game

A mother and her kids entertain themselves on an airplane.
Keep a few kid-friendly games, books or comics on your smartphone (in addition to good old pencils and paper in your suitcase) for emergency entertainment.

The best travel games are those that don't require any special equipment -- or take up any extra room in a backpack or the backseat. And the truly great games are ones your kids will want to play again and again. These games can become a tradition that your children may introduce to their own offspring someday.

In your travel tradition arsenal, keep games like "I Spy." Take turns letting each child spy, with his "little eye," an object or color inside or outside of the car or airplane as other family members try to guess what it is.


On a road trip, try to find a license plate from each state, or give it a twist for older kids: Turn license plate letters into acronyms. The letters ILC, for example, could mean "I like carrots" [source: FamilyFun].

2: Snagging Souvenirs

Seashells in a shadow box with a hinged glass lid.
Even if you don't have artistic tendencies, the inherent beauty in the little treasures you find will make them lovely conversation pieces.

Photographs are wonderful, if perhaps obvious, vacation souvenirs. And they're great fodder for family traditions, too. During your trip, make a tradition out of each stop. For example, take a photo of your children in front of the iconic marker at each state line.

Don't let the fun end when you return home. You can create a family T-shirt using a photo you took, a design by your resident artist, an annual slogan (like "5th annual Brown family vacay") or a list of places you visited on your "tour." Local or online shirt printers can turn your ideas into wearable, personal souvenirs, or you can use home-printed iron-on transfers to make your own.


If you collected little treasures along your way, show them off instead of putting them in an out-of-sight place for storage. Use a framed memory box to display rows or groupings of sea shells, tree leaves or other objects from your vacation, like the witticisms contained in fortune cookies [source: Martha Stewart]. Seeing the collection will trigger pleasant memories, and creating the visual art may become a family tradition, too.

1: Embracing the Destination

Sometimes a vacation destination can become a family tradition all its own. A lakeside resort nestled within a thousand-acre national park, for example, can grow with your family's interests from year to year. While your children are young, they can spend afternoons at the swimming pool. By the time they're teenagers, they can race jet skis around a nearby lake.

Or consider choosing a different destination for each trip based on your family's favorite activity, such as a ski lodge, dude ranch or theme park. Alternatively, make it a tradition to embark on a new activity each year.


Remember, family vacation traditions aren't all about the destination; there are equally important inner journeys taking place, too. Wherever you go, you've already done the most important thing of all: gone somewhere together.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Conners, Valerie. "Top 10 Family Vacation Spots." TravelChannel.com. (Aug. 6, 2011) http://www.travelchannel.com/Places_Trips/Travel_Ideas/Family_Travel/Theme_Parks_Resorts_And_Beyond/Top_10_Fun_Family_Resorts
  • De Graaf, John. "Just What the Doctor Ordered: Vacation for Your Health." VacationBetter.org. (Aug. 6, 2011) http://www.vacationbetter.org/content1208
  • FamilyFun.com. "The Best of the License Plate Games." (Aug. 6, 2011) http://familyfun.go.com/playtime/the-best-of-the-license-plate-games-707975/
  • Hill, Melinda. "Family Traditions." (Aug. 7, 2011) Ohio State University. http://ohioline.osu.edu/flm00/fs12.html
  • MarthaStewart.com. "Family Vacation Memory Crafts." (Aug. 6, 2011) http://www.marthastewart.com/photogallery/family-vacation-memory-crafts#slide_1
  • ParentWonder.com. "Creating Family Traditions: It's Easier than You Thought." Dec. 14, 2010. (Aug. 7, 2011) http://www.parentwonder.com/creating-family-traditions/
  • Smith, Laurel. "Car Travel Games for Kids." MomsMinivan.com. (Aug. 6, 2011) http://www.momsminivan.com/bigkids.html
  • TravelSense.org. "Planning your Greatest Family Vacation." (Aug. 7, 2011) http://www.travelsense.org/tips/familyvacation.cfm
  • Waechter, Tara. "Road Trip Recipes." Planning-fun-road-trips.com. (Aug. 7, 2011) http://www.planning-fun-road-trips.com/road-trip-recipes-snacks.html