Summer. The temperatures climb and so do the kids — straight up the wall. Your kids are off their schedules; the kitchen seems to explode with dishes and sticky smoothie straws on the counter; the lawn magically grows faster than any retirement portfolio; and you and your spouse fill the calendar with more items than hours available. In the midst of all that, one task looms: planning the summer vacation.
Most couples dread planning a summer vacation because of option overload, the details to manage, potential conflict and the impending expense.
But what if planning your summer vacation had a bonus this year? What if planning your time away could actually strengthen your marriage? Sound about as likely as a cross-country road trip with no construction zones? Here are three tips to build your marriage as you plan your vacation this summer:
Time to dream together
No matter how long you’ve been married, you can always learn more about your husband or wife, and vacation planning is a fun opportunity to do it. Ask your husband or wife where he or she has always wanted to vacation. If his or her gold-medal destination seems impossible, what might a silver- or bronze-medal trip look like? Encourage each other to “lay on your back and look at the clouds” as the two of you dream about where you would like to go and what you would like to do.
Strengthen your marriage by discussing fun memories, ideas, hopes and dreams for the trip — and touching on any concerns you have about it. Be candid about your excitement — or about your hesitation to commit the time, money and effort. Respect each other’s honesty and see what you can do to address issues together.
A united front
When planning a vacation as husband and wife, you can build a united front that strengthens your marriage. You plan together so you’re “in it” together whether that means solidarity when the hotel you thought you booked shows no sign of a reservation or you have kids in the back seat of the minivan trying to run the show.
Adding kids to the summer vacation mix certainly increases the level of … well, effort. We’ve found three important areas to maintain a united front as parents: meals, activities and extras. If decisions about these three have been spelled out prior to leaving home, you’ll avoid a lot of tension, heated conversations and begging from the kids.
Meals: Eating away from home, even if you buy food in a grocery store, can add cost to the trip quickly. Determine in advance how much money you’re going to spend on meals. Will you brown-bag it on certain days? Will you eat simple, inexpensive breakfasts? Do you want to make sure you have at least one epic, memory-making meal? Are snacks included or are Disneyland churros an expense each child must find in his or her own budget? You and your spouse should answer these types of questions as you plan.
Activities: If you aren’t planning an all-inclusive trip, you need to determine what activities you will pay for as you vacation. Will you hit every theme park? Will you pay for the guided tours or just wander on your own? If one kid wants to zip line and the other has no interest, does the one who’s not interested get money for a souvenir to keep things “fair”? If you decide answers to these questions as a couple, you’ll have more time to enjoy the fun activities instead of debating them during the vacation.
Extras: Even with advanced planning, you will probably run into extra expenses. Anticipate fun items popping up along the way that you wouldn’t encounter around home: cotton candy the size of person, an old-time photo session, panning for gold. There’s no way to know all of the fun options you and your family will encounter on vacation, so discuss with your spouse the amount you’re willing to spend on extras.
Honoring your spouse
Summer vacation can be an opportunity to get … and give. You and your spouse probably enjoy vacations for different reasons: the excitement, the getaway, the chance to reconnect, the new foods, the pretty sights, the lack of chores, visiting others, seeing new places or license-plate bingo (doubtful, but maybe).
A summer vacation is a great opportunity to honor your husband or wife.
- If your wife likes solitude, but most of the trip is hectic, can you take the kids to the luau one evening while she enjoys a bath and a good book?
- If your husband isn’t a fan of theme parks but makes the effort all day, can you show him your appreciation by asking him to “hold spots” for the family at the evening show, giving him time to get away and power down for a bit?
- If you love returning to the same place year after year but you know your spouse would prefer a new adventure, can you find a day-trip option to honor his or her personal preferences, too?
- If your spouse worries a lot about money (certain personalities are just hardwired that way), have you explored the benefits of an all-inclusive or “pay it and forget it” vacation that would remove the pain of watching credit cards swiped right and left?
After you pull safely back into your garage at home, your marriage will be stronger. Sure, the piles of laundry will be daunting and you’ll be a bit exhausted, but you will feel a sense of victory. You worked together on a shared, specific project, keeping a united front and honoring each other’s differences. Now that’s quite a trip!
Scott and Bethany Palmer, The Money Couple, are the authors of The 5 Money Personalities: Speaking the same love and money language.