Too often we hear the lament, "I need a vacation from my vacation." And if that's true at any time of year, it's certainly true at spring break. But given a little planning and an intentional shift in attitude, your vacation can be a break no matter where you go or what you do. Here are three goals you can focus on to take a break that doesn't break you:
Relish family time
With today's fast-paced lifestyles, what often gets shortchanged is focused family time. Enter spring break as a great opportunity to reconnect - whether at home or away. But beware: it's easy to get sucked into believing we should be doing activities or seeing sights and forget our companions. It's important to remember children don't need fantastic experiences or exciting locations to make memories. What they'll remember is the time as a family.
"I truly don't think you need to go to Africa, Europe or the Caribbean to make memories with your kids. To them, a vacation is about quality time with mom and dad -- it doesn't matter where you are," says Kara Williams, co-owner of TheVacationGals.com.
As you plan your family's spring break vacation this year, consider what you want family time to look like. Then plan accordingly. If family time means lounging around together or playing lots of board games or long conversations around the dinner table, structure your time and activities as much as you can to make those pursuits possible.
And don't forget: family time can begin before the vacation itself. Kelly Merritt, author of The Everything Family Guide to Budget Travel
explains, "Travel involves research and planning, which families can do together. Vacation planning brings the family together and fosters anticipation."
Taking kids on a whirlwind tour of a theme park destination or other tourist spot may be tempting. After all, you want to get the best value for your dollar. But in reality, quality over quantity may bring you the most benefits long-term. Decide ahead of time whether it will be worth the energy and possible frayed nerves to try to see everything. And if high cost is pushing you to over schedule, consider whether the timing is right.
"It is never a good idea to go over budget or stretch your finances for the sake of travel. Part of the reason we travel is to free ourselves of the bondage of the daily grind we all face," notes Merritt. "But if traveling is going to result in more stress than staying home, it's best to sock away your savings until you can go and actually enjoy the trip."
Rather than take a long vacation extending from the day the kids get out of school (or prior) until the night before school resumes, you may want to reserve time for a reentry period. Instead, save the fancier vacation for a longer time frame such as summer.
"A week sounds like a long time," says Kimm Pilditch, mother of three. "But it's not really that much. Don't make it overwhelming. Some of the funnest times we've had are times when we've not completely scheduled and had some down time."
Bridget Cahill, mom to three girls, agrees. She plans shorter trips, allowing a day or two at home for getting back on routine. "Keep it simple," she suggests. "Shorten the trip a little. All you need is four or five days to get away."
Unplug and enjoy your surroundings
For time off to be a break, there should be a shift from the ordinary. This is most easily done when vacationing away from home (and a primary reason many people choose to travel). But in our digitally connected age taking a break requires another layer of breaking away other than simple physical distance. It may also mean turning off digital devices.
"That means, when you go on spring break, put away the laptops, and forget carpools, volunteer commitments and cleaning the house... just enjoy time together and deal with "real life" on your return," says Williams.
Instead, focus on what's in front of you. Turn your face to the sun and feel the sand under your feet at the beach. Pause to observe the individual brushstrokes of that painting in the museum. Taste, hear and smell what's around you wherever you go.
With this purpose in mind, you may choose to absorb the sights and sounds of areas closer to home. Pilditch chose this approach one year for her family when she planned a weeklong "staycation" in their city.
"When we planned it we were thinking, 'what things can we do to help us get a better understanding of the city we live in and how can we better appreciate it,'" says Pilditch.
Helping your family take a break from the ordinary and make discoveries about the place where you vacation can be all it takes to make a great spring break.
Says Cahill, "I love getting away from the monotony of being at home. It's a nice vacation from the daily blah's."
Wherever you go and whatever you do, review your goals for spring break. If you keep them simple and focus on family, a relaxed schedule, and unplugging to enjoy your surroundings, you'll find yourself returning from break ready to take on the rest of the school year.