Updated on 02.09.17

Fancy Vacations? What Kids Really Want Is Your Time

Ever since my husband and I had children, family vacation has always been a priority in our house. At least once per year, I love taking the kids on a week-long trip somewhere warm, exciting, and new.

Of course, travel is costly. I want to be able to take my kids on vacation just like my parents did, but not at the expense of our financial goals. So, while we may not go anywhere fancy, we do make travel a priority. We just use plenty of savings hacks to stretch our travel budget as far as we can.

Over winter break, we embarked on what I would call a “splurge trip” – mostly because we had to fly. This time, we booked a week-long trip to the island of Puerto Rico. Using airline miles, hotel points, and real money, I cobbled together an itinerary that was part educational and part fun.

And, that’s exactly how it turned out. In Old San Juan, we took the time to learn about the rich history of Puerto Rico and its ancient forts. On our way to Fajardo, we stopped by to tour the El Yunque National Rainforest. With our kids, we saw beautiful waterfalls, climbed the Yokahu Tower for amazing views, and learned about local wildlife and plants.

The rest of our vacation was just plain lazy. We sat on the beach, swam in the water, went down water slides, and played in the sand. In the end, the trip cost around $1,200 total – and that was despite the fact we cashed in airline miles for our flights.

But was it worth it? Absolutely.

My Daughter’s Favorite Vacation Memories

The funny thing is, it wasn’t worth it for the reasons you might expect, or that I would name. At least, that’s what my daughter says.

When we got home, I asked my kids to write down their favorite memories from our trip. Instead of naming off the beaches we played on or the best meals we had, our kids mentioned these five specific memories:

  • When we jumped off rocks into the cold pool: We used two free nights from our IHG Rewards credit cards to stay at the InterContinental San Juan. While there, my kids couldn’t get enough of this little rock formation you could jump off. One night, we jumped off the rocks together at least a dozen times, laughing the night away until well past bedtime.
  • Riding water slides together: Our last hotel had a small water park on-site with four slides and a lazy river. Since my kids are small and we’re easy to please, this was more than enough to keep us entertained. One day in particular, my husband and I rode the slides with the kids until they practically kicked us out.
  • The fact that I only opened my computer once: For the first time ever, I didn’t open my work computer for our entire seven-day trip. My kids were so proud and pleased with this that they mentioned it several times.
  • When my kids learned how to use Uber: We don’t use Uber much at home, but it was cheaper to use Uber than calling a taxi in Puerto Rico. My kids were shocked to learn you could summon a car with your phone — but that was only after I tricked them into thinking I called the car with mind control.
  • Getting lost in the car: We had a rental car for half of our trip, so we chose to tour the rainforest ourselves. Since the roads are windy and we didn’t know where we were going, it didn’t take us long to get lost. Still, the kids loved it enough to mention later they enjoyed the drive and the alone time when no one else was around.

You know what I found funny about our kids’ favorite memories? They had nothing to do with our destination at all. You can get lost, keep your laptop closed, or learn about Uber together pretty much anywhere. And if you want to swim or go down water slides, you don’t have to go to Puerto Rico for that.

When I pointed this out, my oldest child said something I’ll never forget:

“Mom, we just love spending time with you,” she said. “I don’t even care where we go!”

“Then why did we travel so far away?” I joked. “We should have just checked into the Holiday Inn down the street and swam in their pool.”

Of course, she didn’t think that was funny at all.

What Kids Really Want

It’s a shame to spend good money on a trip your kids couldn’t care less about. But it all comes back to one lesson I already knew: More than anything else, our kids want to spend time with us. To them, that time matters more than what we’re doing or even where we are.

That’s why my kids were so excited I didn’t work for an entire week. By not opening my laptop, I showed them that they were my main priority for an entire week.

And jumping in the pool? We’ve got a neighborhood pool at home, but I usually work while I watch them swim. In Puerto Rico, I took the time to jump into the pool with them for hours. Then, we laughed until it was time for bed.

The same truth applies to the rest of their favorite travel moments, whether they include getting lost in the car with mom and dad or riding water slides until they closed down for the night. In all instances, we were together. And in the end, that’s what mattered most.

Final Thoughts

This conversation with my kids was a great reminder of what they want above all else – time. We can take them to fancy places if we want, but what they really crave is that one-on-one time that’s so hard to come by when you’re home and busy with life’s ups and downs.

Kids can teach us simple lessons about life, but we only hear the message when we take time to listen. My kids are still young, and what they want most of all right now is us. Since I know one day they’ll have lives of their own, I’m going to enjoy every moment while I still can.

Holly Johnson is an award-winning personal finance writer and the author of Zero Down Your Debt. Johnson shares her obsession with frugality, budgeting, and travel at ClubThrifty.com.

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Do you think kids crave quality time more than anything else? Why or why not?

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