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Families may favor old place over new Fond memories: Children find comfort in the predictability of a familiar vacation spot.


Almost everything that mattered in Andy Thomas' boyhood happened during his family's annual holiday in the same Welsh village on the Irish sea.

In Holyhead, he learned to sail and later, to drive. He had his first romances there and more adventures exploring the familiar bluffs and cliffs with his cousins than he can count. "We knew every rock and beach," Mr. Thomas says.

"All of my childhood fantasies and memories come from those summers. We looked forward to it all year long," continues Mr. Thomas, a Chicago-based marketing executive. The London-raised father of four daughters laments that they can't return to Wales every summer as his siblings still do.

"Those summers weren't just about a place. They were about connections and rites of passage. There were a lot of rituals, starting with the long car ride to get there. I wish I could find something like that, so my kids would have that same kind of experience."

These days, many families are looking to forge exactly those connections and inspire similar emotions by returning again and again to the same vacation spot, whether it be a Southwestern dude ranch, a cottage on Cape Cod, a favorite Colorado ski resort or Midwestern lakefront cabin.

"When communities are so much in flux, it's reassuring to kids to find someplace that doesn't change much. It's comforting and it's safe," explains UCLA child psychologist Jill Waterman.

"Especially for younger kids, returning to the same place eases the transition between home and a new place," Dr. Waterman continues. "For older kids, in the process of separating from the family, it brings everyone together."

Such trips help children to preserve good feelings about family times, she explains, noting that her own sons wouldn't miss their annual August week at UCLA's family camp for anything.

There's another reason, though, that families like to return to familiar haunts: It's easier -- on everyone. Parents know what to expect, as do the children.

My children talk all winter about the fish they're going to catch up at Ludlow's Island in Minnesota, where we've vacationed since they were babies. I get that "You must be crazy!" look if I so much as suggest we might consider another spot somewhere else.

Dr. Waterman suggests parents be ready to let go of a place when the children outgrow it. But be careful not to do that too soon.

Sue Brunner learned that lesson the hard way. After several years of heading to the same Wisconsin condo for a week, she and her family decided to vacation in northern Michigan instead. The place was nicer, the pools better, but the children didn't care.

They missed Wisconsin. They missed the bowling alley and the restaurant where they bought pie. They missed the french fries at a certain deli and the corn.

"It's those little details," said Ms. Brunner, an attorney who practices in Chicago. "They didn't like the new place because it wasn't the old place. They spent hours debating the merits of Wisconsin and Michigan corn.

"I thought they'd think it was fun to find something new, but what mattered to them was the familiarity. Kids hang on to all of that."

Sure adults might get a little bored by the predictability of it all. They might crave the stimulation of new places and new things.

That's the trade-off for developing the children's sense of belonging at one place, believes Don Wertlieb, who chairs Tufts University's child studies department and vacations every year with his family on Martha's Vineyard.

Besides, he says, "When you don't have to exert a lot of energy finding your way around a new place, it's a lot easier to relax."

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