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Children are looking for fun, not 'meaningful' trips


Talk to kids about family vacations and one thing is clear: They don't see the experience from the same perspective as a parent does.

Museums that might broaden their horizons are dismissed as boring. Visits to relatives are excursions to be missed. Heart-stopping scenery rates barely a glance. Whatever the budget, it's not enough for the souvenirs they want. Hikes are invariably too long, while pool time is too short. Restaurants never have exactly what they're in the mood to eat. Neither do moms who have packed a picnic.

Then there are the annoying siblings whose mere existence ruins an older brother or sister's good time. Sharing cramped quarters with them certainly is no fun.

It's not that our kids are spoiled or ungrateful. On vacation, however, just as at home, they've got a different take than we do on what it takes to have a good time. Their formula for a successful holiday, besides hitting every theme park in the country: Include them in the planning. After all, it's their vacation too.

"Vacation is a time for kids to recoup too," says Sharon Berry, a child psychologist at Chicago's Children's Memorial Medical Center. They aren't interested in "meaningful" experiences. "They just want to have fun and have mom and dad's attention for a few days."

A parent listening to youngsters talk about how adults mess up family vacations might wonder why bother to take them anywhere, forking over a big chunk of hard-earned money in the process.

The reason is that family vacations can be terrific. Whatever the family's style, a trip together -- even just a weekend -- provides much-needed time for everyone to forget the stresses and strains of home, work and school and focus on one another. They're a way to share new experiences, explore new places and maybe even relax.

American families seem to want that break more than ever. A record number of adults -- 47 million -- are planning to take a family vacation with children this year, reports the Better Homes & Gardens family travel survey.

They're planning to spend more, go farther from home and stay longer, suggests this survey and another recently released by the Travel Industry Association of America and the American Automobile Association. AAA predicts that Americans will take 184 million car trips this year.

At the same time, the percentage of vacationers traveling with children continues to grow. More than half of family travelers say they'll take the kids this year, up from 44 percent a year ago, reports Better Homes & Gardens' Peter Mason, who oversees the annual survey of 1,500 people on their family vacation plans and attitudes. "Stress-filled lives lead the vast majority to say vacations are very important to families' health and well-being."

Mr. Mason adds that the No. 1 reason Americans offer for taking a family vacation is to have time alone together. Family reunions rank just behind theme parks and ahead of lakes as the top vacations planned with children for this summer. Historical sites and adventure trips also made it to the top five, Mr. Mason says.

Despite kids' inevitable groans about long car trips, they remain the transportation of choice for families: Nearly 80 percent of some 36.6 million vacationers traveling with children this summer plan to hit the roads rather than the skies to get where they're going.

With so many parents planning to drive their kids somewhere across the country this summer, and such an obvious communication gap about the subject, we all could use some advice to keep everyone happy.

So kids, here's your chance to have your say: Send a card with your car vacation tip to Taking the Kids, Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, Calif. 90053. Include your phone number. I'll print some of the best suggestions in future columns.

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