What Happens When Kids Get to Help Plan Trips

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While I’m still not yet ‘old’, back when I was a kid there was no internet, no endless selection of things to watch thanks to Netflix, YouTube, streaming, or easily recorded TV. When no kids in the neighborhood were available to play, going to the grocery store with my mom on a weekend afternoon was better than just sitting at home. As an added bonus, you could usually convince her to let you put a couple things in the basket. Typically that meant some powdered donuts, or a cereal with a cool toy (remember when cereal had toys?), or some strange new fruit juice like the Ghostbusters inspired Ecto Cooler, my childhood favorite.


But, sometimes there were non-food items you could even toss into the cart if you went along to the store. I remember one year it was a set of encyclopedias that they were selling with certain alphabetical volumes available each week. I think A was a penny if you bought a certain amount of groceries. Then B and C were about .99 cents, and by the time you got those three and came back the next week, D was available for a slightly higher price. Next time, you would get to the full-price book of E and by then you were hooked because who was an encyclopedia set that only goes A – D? That summer we bought the whole encyclopedia set at the grocery store, one book at a time.

The next year they replaced the encyclopedia section of the grocery store with something even cooler. They put in a display, probably sponsored by Coke, for the Summer Olympics that would be held in Atlanta in 1996. The display was out well in advance of the games, so I probably saw it in 1994 or 1995. I had bought in hook-line-and-sinker to the Olympic fever as an eleven-year-old in 1992 when I watched (and reenacted) events like women’s gymnastics on my home recorded VHS tapes over and over again.

I don’t remember everything about the Olympics display in the grocery store, but I remember that in it was a fat brochure with information about getting tickets to the Olympics, so I grabbed a copy. Maybe two.

We were a family that traveled at least once or twice a year, always by car. By this point, we had driven to Florida to go to Disney World and see a space shuttle launch, to Colorado and New Mexico to ski more times than I could recall, and even down to Mexico for a family border crossing…that was interesting. Given all that, Atlanta seemed like a realistic enough destination to me, so I brought the brochure home to my dad, the trip planner, and remember looking at it together at the kitchen table over dinner and sweet tea that night.

It worked. We were going to go to the Olympics! We sent away for tickets thanks to that brochure, and while we didn’t get all the events we wanted, we got enough. I remember watching diving, baseball, and even some track and field events on a rainy morning after the bombing in Centennial Olympic Park.

1996 Olympic Tickets

In addition to the events, we went to the hands-on Olympic exhibits, and the World of Coca Cola, and my sweet dad even tried to buy me tickets to women’s gymnastics from folks on the street.

Playing the 1996 Olympic Exhibits

I saw first-hand how a travel dream presented at the end of the aisle of the grocery store could become something you actually did. In my mind, I was a driving catalyst for that trip, though my early teenage recollection might be over-emphasizing my role. Still, the feeling of seeing a travel dream be born and actualized from the kitchen table to the Olympic Stadium left an imprint, one that I have to imagine helped me think that no travel dream is too big or unachievable.

My oldest daughter is now eight and has been a happy participant on our many journeys for as long as she can remember. I’ve been working on helping her become more aware of the steps in the travel process so she can begin take the lead and eventually do it all on her own. I have her find our gate at the airport, lead us to our row on the plane, talk about how much the hotel cost vs. the number of points, help decide which activities we will do each day, and look at the map as much as possible so she learns a bit more about where we are and where we are going. She hasn’t yet picked up a brochure and pushed to make any specific destination a reality just yet, but I’ll be ready for when she does. In fact, I can’t wait as I think good things can happen when kids get to help plan trips. Have your kids started to take a more active role in planning family trips? How and when did that start?


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  1. Love the flashback, perfect timing!

    Love letting kids help plan the trip. My first big family trip as a kid was to the Grand Canyon after becoming obsessed with it after a Brady Bunch episode! I’m sure there was more to it than that but that’s the way my parents always spun it to me.

  2. We always discuss upcoming vacations together as a family. My kids have been a huge part on our planning since they share where they would like to go and why. We try to mix history, food and most of the times beaches and with their inputs we have had amazing and memorable vacations. As I said my kids love history and geography and thus 2 years ago they shared their interest to visit some places they read in books at school. They wanted to visit Rome (specifically the Vatican and the Colosseum) and we discussed together. I planned everything in detail including private tours and it was a fantastic trip. We did the same to visit Athens, Pompeii and Sicily where we mixed history with fun. The kids read books before the trip and the guides were amazed on how much they knew about the places and the quality questions they asked. We already planned this upcoming summer vacation and it was done the same way.

    • Very cool – I hope to do a similar trip when the kids are older. I remember studying Pompeii in 4th grade – never imagined I may one day go there!

      • It is fantastic. We got a local guide who was a middle school teacher so she tailored the tour for the kids’ age. They talk about it all the time and hopefully will remember forever.

    • We have done the same thing. We went to 6 different countries this fall and the cities that our kids wanted to go from learning about them and hearing about them in stories. Their top ones on our trip were Rome and Venice. Now we are about to embark on another trip to go to Athens, Rome (again) and hit the Vatican, all picked by them because they have studied them and read about them.
      I am kind of throwing around the idea of Tokyo in 2020 and Beijing in 2222 just to go to the Olympics. We really should have gone this year.

  3. We surprised my 11 yr. old daughter this past Christmas with tickets to London (Thanksgiving 2018)…after she had spent hours upon hours researching places to visit in London…she’s obsessed right now….as I am a teacher, I will use this as an opportunity to educate her about these places, as well as her help make out our itinerary..I think as they get older getting them involved in the process of planning is super important; it helps prepare them to make real grown-up decisions about time and money management..also helps get them more excited about the trip!

  4. My 7 year old daughter has started to realized how fortunate she is with travel and that with the proper planning, we can go anywhere. She has some school friends from Ethiopia and whenever we ask where she would like to go, that is her answer. Maybe an African Safari will be in the works for 2019.
    Also, I don’t think Ecto Cooler qualifies as a juice. I hope that and donuts wasnt part of your balanced breakfast. 🙂 If you throw in some bacon though, it would pass!

  5. I just challenged my 8 year old son to research 3 places in the US he wanted our family of 4 to visit. He came up with the places and all of the activities to do there. Then he set up a display for each location and a voting booth for each of us to do “secret ballot”. It was a pretty fun and educational way to plan our next trip. The family chose San Diego!!

  6. I remember loving helping out with our big trips when I was younger (Washington, DC & Disney). My son is nearing 5 and we ask him about what he wants to do on trips, often giving a few options. When I asked where he wanted to go for his birthday he said “First to pick up gramma, then to see trains [Steamtown]” which I thought was cute. I love the idea of going places they’ve learned about in school.

  7. Our teenage son hasn’t shown much interest in trip planning yet, but he always happily goes wherever we tell him we’re going. While in Osaka, he spent every free moment at the Pokemon store. (He was 11.)

    As a ten year old, I remember improving on my parents’ choice of roads (suburban Boston to Central Long Island) and cutting our travel time significantly. In the five years we’d lived in the US, I voraciously read road maps and suggested the short cut. My parents were surprised that the route was much faster.

  8. I love it – I am trying to get my kids (8 and 5) more involved. Travel is so important and educational: it wasn’t until I visited Versailles as an adult and looked at the paintings on display that some of the lessons I had in high school on the French Revolution made sense, despite my history teacher’s best efforts to make the class engaging (as a teen, all I remember are her faux French accent and every student wanting to choose the guillotine as their class project!).

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