If your last family vacation was filled with cries of “Are we there yet?” and “I’m bored,” try letting your children plan your next vacation. They’ll complain less and be more engaged in the journey.

If your kids don’t already have a destination in mind, ask if they want to visit places they’ve studied in school, locations in books they’ve read, author’s hometowns, or places where they want to practice a hobby, such as hiking or photography. If their choice works within your budget and your schedule, hand off the reins to one or more of your kids.

Organizing a family trip can be very educational. Kids can develop skills they can use in school like researching, understanding maps, reading books or guides about the destination, and writing to ask for information. You might be surprised at what your kids discover.

Raquel Scharf-Anderson, a Scottsdale, Ariz., resident, has let her two children plan vacations for a number of years. On their own they discovered Denver’s History Colorado Center with hands-on, high-tech exhibits that take you back in time and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill. Tzipporah, 11, and Sam, 13, also found San Francisco’s Musee Mechanique, a collection of mechanically operated musical instruments and antique arcade games, and the Museum of Flight in Seattle, which salutes aviation history.

The Anderson children have a health-related reason that also makes them invested in planning a vacation. One has an allergy to peanuts, so the entire family avoids eating tree nuts. “Tzipporah and Sam always research peanut-free bakeries and restaurants and put their discoveries on the travel agenda, and they’ve made some great finds in Oklahoma, Minnesota, Washington, and Canada,” says Scharf-Anderson.

As a final touch to any trip, the Anderson children also look up appropriate songs to sing in the car and print out the words and music for each family member. Singing “The Yellow Rose of Texas” while traveling to Texas and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” on a road trip to Lake Superior made the time go faster and kept the kids off their electronics, Scharf-Anderson says.

Designing a trip around a hobby also gives kids a buy-in. Karen Cordaway, a Connecticut mom, has a daughter who enjoys letterboxing as a hobby. The goal when letterboxing is to follow clues to locate a waterproof box containing a rubber stamp, an inkpad, and a notebook. The location is always outdoors and usually in a park or trail-type setting. Cami Cordaway likes to take her hobby on the road, so on last year’s visit to Orange County, Calif., she searched for 15 letterbox locations. Although Cami used the Internet to get clues for her hunt, other kids have handwritten letters to get the information they need.

Tonya Prater, a mother from Mansfield, Ohio, says her three children have written to convention and visitor bureaus in different cities to ask for brochures and maps in order to research trips. A similar investigation helped with arranging a family vacation to Virginia. Prater’s children had read the book Misty of Chincoteague, and wanted to see the wild ponies highlighted in the book on Chincoteague and Assateague islands in Virginia.

“Although our children didn’t get to see an actual pony penning [an auction to control the herd size] as they’d hoped for, we did share our campsite with the ponies for an unforgettable night,” Prater says.

Even though detailed plans have been made, the Prater kids know they may have to change them on the fly. After years of helping to plan family trips, 17-year-old Chelsea started arranging a vacation to Los Angeles with a friend. When the friend had to decline, the Prater parents decided to make it a family outing. Chelsea, as the planner, got to choose three activities she wanted to do—see stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, go to Venice Beach, and hike to the Hollywood sign. But on the day the hike was scheduled the temperature was in the 80s, so Chelsea changed her mind.

“We’ve traveled enough that the kids have learned that things don’t always go the way you expect them to,” Prater says.

Besides flexibility, planning teaches a variety of skills that transfer to the classroom. Rosita Darden, a language arts and writing teacher at Grandview Preparatory School in Boca Raton, Fla., says children learn skills they can use in math, reading, writing, and social studies. In addition to state standards, National Common Core Standards would also be covered in the same subject areas.

“Students have to use critical thinking, research, analysis, and technology skills when researching a travel destination,” Darden says.

Letting kids plan your vacation means less whining, more learning, and best of all—more family time.



Trip Ideas To Fit Any Schedule

Even if your kids aren’t quite ready to take over vacation planning, they can gain valuable experience by organizing shorter family outings like these.

Out on the town: If you need to stay close to home, have your child pick a local destination your family hasn’t explored yet. Think farmers’ markets, historic sites, parks, or museums. For short outings, ask your child to estimate how long the trip will take, and determine whether you’ll need to pack a meal or will make it home in time to eat.

Day trip: Provide your kids with a map and a limit of how many miles you’re willing to go in a day, and see what ideas they come up with. You may find yourself visiting a tourist attraction, exploring a state park, or enjoying a festival.

Weekend getaway: Overnight trips provide families with even more options. Tell your children what you must accomplish on the trip (visiting relatives, shopping, etc.), and ask them to research ways to spend the rest of your time. You might have each child suggest an activity, or, if you have frequent getaways, have kids take turns as the lead researcher.