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Your trips and travel traditions aren’t just creating great memories — they’re strengthening family bonds.
Our family vacations are not your family vacations, which is good, because for one thing, the car would be uncomfortably crowded. But there are certain shared experiences, timeless and universal, that might have you recognizing our family vacation as yours. We all have fond memories of family vacations; conjure them and they embrace us like old friends. Stop for a moment, close your eyes, and let yourself drift.
I remember a joyous blur of summer vacations, sun-splashed days spent scouring the beach, buckets in hand, plucking up hundreds of pieces of fractured shells so that our two young sons might eventually reassemble a horseshoe crab; nights spent riding merry-go-rounds and standing on the back porch of our cottage listening for squirrels in the trees, the sound and the smell of the sea ever present in the background. I remember holding hands small and large. I remember laughter and carefree stars.
This is important stuff, essential to family well-being. Though we probably don’t need to be told, science verifies this. There’s plenty of research (70-plus years of it) on the importance of family leisure and recreation, and the family vacation dips under this happy umbrella. I spent several days wading through some of this research, enough to conclude that researchers can make even the happiest topic banal. But if you care about the well-being of your family or you need to justify spending a large chunk of change on a family ski trip to Switzerland, the research matters. I know I was encouraged when I discovered that family vacations not only strengthen individual families, they strengthen society as a whole. Now I know that when I’m surfing with my wife and two sons in San Diego, I’m not just having fun, I’m striving for the betterment of society.
“Well, I suppose you could think of it that way,” says Sarah Taylor Agate, Ph.D., a certified family-life educator and consultant who has studied family leisure. “The family that enjoys vacations together is going to be a stronger family.”
These getaways don’t have to be fancy or lengthy; Agate is a case in point. When she and her husband, Joel (both schooled in family studies and recreation), present at conferences, they often bring their 4-year-old daughter along. When the conference ends, the three of them tack on a few days of fun. Since she’s a history buff, they have visited their share of Civil War sites.
Already, they have a stack of close-knit family memories and an impressive collection of photos of their daughter atop cannons.
“A lot of people, especially with little kids, think it’s easier to just stay home,” says Agate, who now brings their 1-year-old son along too. “It’s not always easy, but it gets easier. Our daughter has become a good little traveler. Just go.”
Why? Because family vacations provide benefits that stretch far beyond visiting Civil War sites together. Families engaged in the time-honored tradition of leaving laundry and lethargy behind and heading off to largely goof around can sculpt themselves in important ways. Behind the seemingly trivial curtain of frolic lies increased communication skills, better problem solving, more adaptability, elevated levels of trust and support, increased affection and kindness, and an overall improved satisfaction with family life.