Family Travel Fun: Not an Oxymoron. Really.
By Cindy Loose
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 16, 2004; Page P01
From her home in Leesburg, Julia Humphries, mother of boys ages 3, 7 and 9, plans family trips with great enthusiasm, often to her husband's chagrin.
He doesn't call them vacations. He calls a one-week trip "21 meals." A two-week trip is "42 meals," with the focus on the ordeal of laying out lots of cash at a table filled with what his wife admits are "messy, picky, boisterous eaters."
Ken Humphries has a point: Family travel can be a wallet-sucking, time-consuming, stress-inducing exercise in interpersonal drama. But it can also be a time of not just getting away but of coming together.
"Travel has become the new family dinner table," says Hank Phillips, president of the National Tour Association, an organization of tour operators. "Kids' schedules these days are as hectic as their parents' schedules, and trips become a key time for families to regroup."
How you plan the trip -- the pre-trip research and discussions, the rules you set, your reaction to problems -- are as important as the destination. Many parents are overwhelmed with choices, in part because the Web has made the options more obvious, in part because travel providers have created so many new choices in response to a fast-growing market. There are some logical ways to begin.
1. Set a Budget
It's better to enjoy a few happy days at a regional attraction than to spend an African safari fretting about how you're going to pay for it. Deciding what you can realistically spend not only removes stress but helps you narrow choices.
The average family's longest trip last year was 7.9 days and cost $1,005, according to the Travel Industry Association of America, a trade group. Those costs suggest that a number of families in the survey were bringing down averages in the traditional cost-saving ways: staying with relatives, camping or sharing a house with friends.
The theory is clear when you consider that even in the cheapest state in the union, a nearly eight-day stay for a family of four costs on average about $1,352 for meals and hotel rooms, according to an annual AAA study to be released later this week. On average nationwide, according to AAA, a hotel room for two adults and two kids costs $124.54 a night -- and that's assuming you don't mind crowding. Average daily meal costs for that same typical family traveling in the United States: $110.47, not including beverages, tax and tip.
That's an overall price decline of 4 percent from last year -- and a good thing, since gas prices are now about 14 cents a gallon higher than they were during last summer's historic highs. (A gallon of regular gas is now going for $1.87 a gallon on average, nationwide.)
A few cost-cutting tips:
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
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