Group Reunions & Rituals Make the Best Family Vacations

Bring the family closer together with vacation ideas for creating new traditions.

By Candyce H. Stapen

Rituals build family bonds. Searching for Easter eggs with your kids or sweeping the floors together on Passover to scoop up crumbs of chametz (forbidden leavened food) are rituals associated with religious holidays. Gathering everyone to build a sandcastle on your first day at the beach or ending your ski day by meeting for hot chocolate at your favorite village café can be memorable rituals, too, which create a warm sense of unity and closeness in families.

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Family vacations provide many things to do to share your favorite family rituals or even create new ones. Let your children use their imaginations to come up with new family vacation ideas based on your next destination. That will help make even the best family vacations even more meaningful.

“Rituals or traditions are a way of connecting to each other, making an event or occasion into something more special,” says psychologist Sonja Benson of Wayzata, Minnesota. “What makes a tradition into a ritual is to make it more formal. With a ritual, everyone knows what’s going to happen and who does what within in it. A ritual is intentional, purposeful.”

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Unlike routines, rituals “…convey ‘this is who we are’ as a group,” says psychologist Barbara H. Fiese in her article, “A Review of 50 Years of Research on Naturally Occurring Family Routines and Rituals: Cause for Celebration?” Rituals often provide an “emotional imprint” that can be remembered afterwards to re-experience some of the positive feelings generated by the ritual, the article says.

Those anticipated traditions not only cement family relationships, but also enable you and your children to connect across the generations. Kids who happily anticipate the summer vacation gondola ride up the mountain with grandpa, followed by the hike down through the pine trees and wildflowers, are just as likely as adults to take their children in the same or a similar activity when they book a summer-on-the-slopes vacation. Taking group photos of the family at the trailhead each year is a good way to document and deepen the ritual’s significance.

Activities For Family Weekend Getaways

With a vacation house or condo, you have the space to create new vacation rituals and group activities. For example, you can gather in the living room to put together that 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle that you must finish before the trip ends. Or, you can play your favorite board games that you only play while on vacation. Or, on your next family trip, you can continue your weekly movie night, just like at home. Having a kitchen makes it easy to whip up your special banana pancake breakfast and having a grill enables you to enjoy your yearly hot dog and steak feast with your family or friends. From your family vacation rental’s backyard or balcony, you and your spouse can toast each other in your own special way, whether you’re under the city lights or the country stars.

What are some of your family’s favorite vacation rituals?

Long-time family travel guru Candyce H. Stapen writes for many publications and outlets. She has written 30 travel guidebooks, including two for National Geographic.