What to do when you never want your family vacation to end

What to do when you never want the vacation to end

Ever visited a place that you liked so much that you didn’t want to leave? Me too.

I have a short list of destinations that we were so enamored of, we would live there. Some of them might be on your list, like Hawaii and Southern California. Others, like Fort Collins, Colo., New Orleans, and Ketchum, Idaho, might come as a surprise.

Identifying them isn’t hard. They’re places that have it all: nice weather, friendly people, fun things to do. Getting there is the easy part; leaving isn’t. The kids are sad they’re departing the perfect vacation destination and, depending on their age, they don’t know why you can’t just extend your stay.

A recent report by Mayflower found that two in five millennials relocate to popular destinations like San Francisco and Seattle. Mayflower calls these 18- to 35-year-olds “vacation movers” because they don’t necessarily intend to stay permanently. It’s like an extended getaway.

I know what that’s like. For most of my life, I’ve lived in tourist towns. I’ve called Vienna, Austria, New York, Orlando, and Los Angeles home. (OK, so Vienna and New York don’t have perfect weather, but they’ve got a lot of other things going for them.) I have some insights into ways you can leave a popular vacation destination without the separation drama. They include setting the right expectations for your family, keeping them focused on the next adventure, and ending on a high note.

Here's what to do when you never want your family vacation to end
Erysse Elliott tosses a frisbee in Fort Collins, Colo., in 2018.

Set realistic expectations for your family vacation

One of the best ways to prevent an end-of-vacation letdown is to not raise the bar too high for your trip. You’re going on vacation. It will be fun. But don’t overplay it, even if you secretly know it’s going to be the best trip ever.

I talk to my kids all the time about the pros and cons of a given place. For example, my children loved Fort Collins, Colo., last summer. Who wouldn’t love Colorado in June? The weather was warm but comfortable. Fort Collins has a cool downtown and terrific grocery stores. There’s a lot to do, including almost unlimited hiking opportunities.

So, of course, we had a “we-want-to-stay-here” conversation about a week before we were supposed to depart. I was relieved that I hadn’t hyped up this visit, because it would have made it even more difficult to tell them the truth — we were moving on.

It helps to paint a picture of what life is like year-round in a place we’re visiting. Colorado has cold winters (all of my kids are cold-intolerant native Floridians). And having to drive into Denver for cultural events–which is an hour in good traffic–would limit our fun.

“We have to leave now,” I explained, “But we’ll come back.”

They seemed happy with that promise.

When you never want your family vacation to end
Aren and Iden Elliott in Washington, D.C., in 2013.

Wait! There are more places to explore

One way to persuade your family to leave a place they love is to tell them about the other destinations out there that you hope or plan to visit. That’s a trick I’ve used often.

“I’ll miss Hawaii,” my son said before we returned to the mainland.

“Oh, if you think Hawaii was great, wait until we get to LA. It’s got nice weather and lots of things to do. Who knows, you might even meet someone famous!”

My daughter already has her celebrity home tour picked out. She’s hoping to meet several YouTube millionaires I’ve never heard of. Kids!

The promise of adventure pushes us out the door toward our next destination. We often have no idea what it will be like, but we’re curious and open to new experiences. I also know that my time with the kids is short. They grow up quickly and move on, and soon I will be on this journey alone. I want every moment to be special.

End your family vacation on a high note
Erysse and Aren on the flight deck of Hawaiian Airlines flight 36 from Honolulu to Phoenix.

End on a high note

Plan something special for the last day of your trip. That will distract your family from the fact that the fun is over and it’s time to head back to school. My distraction was scheduled for the final day of our stay in Hawaii. I arranged for a behind-the-scenes tour of Hawaiian Airlines’ operation for an article. My kids got to tag along for part of it. The highlight was sitting on the flight deck of the Airbus A330 we were about to fly across the Pacific.

Unless you’re a journalist, you might not be able to do the same thing. But you can try something similar — a visit to a favorite restaurant, a flightseeing tour, or a whitewater rafting adventure. Saving the best for last will ensure your family doesn’t dread the end of your vacation.

There’s no easy way to wrap up a trip when you don’t want your family vacation to end. But by talking to your family and giving them something to anticipate, you might avoid a total meltdown. That’s no way to travel, believe me.

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