Pity the California dad.
He had spent a lot of money to take his wife and three daughters on an adventure trip to Costa Rica -- idyllic remote eco lodges, nesting sea turtles, monkeys in the trees, butterfly gardens. As adventures went, it hit all the buttons for my 13-year-old niece and her pal -- we were on that same trip from Thomson Family Adventures (http://www.familyadventures.com/).
Unfortunately, this dad's three tween and teen daughters didn't think so. They had wanted to go to Maui and a Costa Rica adventure vacation couldn't be any more different than the big, fancy beach resort they'd envisioned. It wasn't a question of cost either -- Maui might even have cost less. It was what their dad had wanted them to experience. He was very excited about the trip.
Too bad those kids weren't happy campers, complaining about everything from the lack of air conditioning to the bugs. That, of course, meant their parents weren't happy either. The kids weren't spoiled brats; they just hated being dragged along somewhere they had no desire to be. It was, after all, their vacation too.
The lesson: Take the kids' opinions into account when planning a family getaway, whether it's a big-ticket adventure, a trip to Orlando, a camping trip or a weekend exploring a city. Believe me, if the kids aren't happy, you won't be. That holds too for grandparents planning a multigenerational trip for grandkids they may not see that often. I admit I've been there -- like the time I dragged my wilderness-loving daughters to an all-inclusive in Mexico. Thankfully, they didn't whine, but they only perked up when we left the resort to explore a cave or a nearby beach town.
These days, according to new research from the 2014 Portrait of American Travelers, there's a lot more discussion with the kids about vacation and I'm glad to see it. Sixty-Six percent of those polled who have kids living at home report the kids are influential in their vacation planning and decisions. That's a more than 20 percent jump from 2011. (Take note marketers: Kids now have an important and growing say in where families go and what they do when they get there!)
As you plan your next family getaway, ask the kids:
-- See dinosaurs at a natural history museum or take part in a hands-on art experience at an art museum?
-- Hike to a waterfall or a lake?
-- Eat Chinese, Sushi or Italian?
Create pin boards on Pinterest to collect everyone's ideas. Pinterest recently released an app, "Place Pins," that is very popular with family travelers who want to share their ideas. It's even got an interactive online map to help find new places and get directions.
Of course, talk about budget with the kids. You're not going to Atlantis in the Bahamas or on a cruise if your budget can only handle a few days at a modest place a drivable distance from home. And make sure everyone in the family -- even the youngest -- gets a say in the itinerary. (Alternate their picks for first-ride-of-the-day in Orlando, for example.)
I've been talking to a lot of kids around the country this past year as I've been researching my series of Kids City Guides from Globe Pequot. (The Kid's Guide to LA and to Chicago have just come out; The Kid's Guide to Boston next month.) Each book includes lots of tips from local kids and kids who are traveling to help kids have more fun on vacation. To help steer all of you on the path to Family Vacation Nirvana, here are six tips from kids:
1. PLAN TOGETHER "Do research on the computer before you go," suggests Elsa, 8, from Chicago. "It really helps when you get there," especially at a big theme park!
2. ALWAYS BE PREPARED. "Have a reusable water bottle and Band-Aids in your backpack," suggested Rebecca, 11, who is from Orlando.
"Bring snacks like animal crackers," said Allison, 11, who is from Los Angeles.
"Have sunscreen so you don't get burned," said Jennifer, 11, from San Diego. "And sunglasses so you can see if it is too bright," added her classmate Melissa.
3. CUT THE ITINERARY SO YOU HAVE PLENTY OF DOWNTIME
"Have a picnic," suggested Dylan, 12, from Los Angeles.
"Lay down in the grass at a park and then fly kites," added Edward, 10, from San Diego
"Walking around a city with no agenda is the best thing!" said Hannah, 12, from Chicago. "I like to just look around at all the buildings downtown," agreed Ian, 11, also from Chicago.
4. HAVE A SOUVENIR STRATEGY IN ADVANCE "Kids should save up before they go," suggests Lexie, 10, from El Paso, Texas
Parents should suggest kids "get a souvenir that they can see and use every day that will remind them of their trip," adds Alexia, 14, from San Diego.
"The best souvenirs are pictures -- better than a toy," believes Natalia, 10, from Chicago.
Start a collection, like postcards from around the city you're visiting, said Jenna, 12, from Antioch, Ill., or pins from theme parks. "I have over 90 so far," said Macy, 10, who's from Connecticut. "Trading pins is my favorite thing to do at the parks!" said Caroline, who is 10 and lives in Orlando and visits Disney World often.
5. SKIP FAST FOOD in favor of new flavors at local eateries. "It's very fun to try food from different cultures," said Michael, 9, who is a big fan of Chicago's summer Taste of Chicago festival. Kids alternately suggested families not leave where they are visiting without eating Sushi, Mexican, barbecue, pizza and Chinese at favorite local haunts.
6. SEE A MUSEUM FROM A KID'S PERSPECTIVE. Try some of the interactive family activities, whether you're exploring a science art museum or an aquarium. "I like to look at all the different types of art in the past and compare it to modern art," explained Chris, 14, from Los Angeles.
"Try to get a behind-the-scenes tour at an aquarium. It's really cool!" says Amber, 11, from Chicago.
And my favorite from William, 10, who is from Phoenix: "Never put your hand in a shark's mouth when it yawns!
(You can find Eileen's Kid's Guides to NYC, Washington, D.C., Orlando, Chicago, LA and Boston online and at major booksellers. Guides to San Diego, San Francisco and Denver will be out later this year. If your kids have opinions about vacations, have them email Eileen at email@example.com or reach out to @takingthekids on Twitter and Facebook.)
(c) 2014 EILEEN OGINTZ DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.
Taking the Kids -- and the true secret to vacation happiness -- asking their help planning!
Kayaking among glaciers. (Thomson Family Adventures / March 20, 2014)