Perhaps you book by reflex: If it has a pool, it must be child-friendly. Waterslides? Perfect. But things are not that simple (although you are on the right track).
On the other hand, there are places where no sane person would bring their kids. A war zone is an obvious no-go, as are places full of industrial pollution. But then it becomes more subtle (and the tradeoffs multiply). Do you dare take your kids to India (which does not feel like a different country, but a different planet?). Do you dare to go to Beijing, when you know the pollution is so bad that it kills the locals?
As a parent, you want to take your kids somewhere that is equally as safe as your home. Unless you live in a bubble (which is not healthy either, unless you are very sick), you know there are everyday risks just associated with living. Especially as a child. Bruises, boobos, runny noses, stomach pains - all of those are part of being a child. If you never get hurt, if you never feel pain, how can you learn what is dangerous? You will get an even more painful experience when someone bursts the bubble you are living in.
Showing your kids that there are painful experiences in the world is probably not how you plan to spend your vacation. Nor should you. Being a child is not just about bruises and boobos, it is about learning to trust and love and being loved and trusted. By whom? Your parents.
If you want to spend your day in a deck chair by the pool, drinking pina coladas or margheritas, then you probably do not enjoy a gaggle of children jumping on your stomach. If you love to play with your kids, you could probably not be happier.
The thing about family travel is that you do not just travel with your family, you travel as a family. You get a vacation, but only from your job. Not from your kids. A family vacation trip means the entire family gets to do something together. This is probably why so many divorces start with a family trip. If you do not have anything in common when you are at home your daily routines will mask it, but if you do not have anything in common it will be painfully obvious when you go on vacation. And the biggest sufferers will be the children.
The best thing you can do for your vacation is go somewhere you can do something together as a family. Without risking getting shot at, or poisoned by pollution, or die from drinking the water. That excludes large parts of the world as potential destinations.
So does the "do something together" part. You can not take your children to an adult - only resort. Of course, there are things to do anywhere, although they may not be as accessible to tourists as the locals.
But while Sagrada Familia might grab the attention of your kids, going into the Barrio Gotic or walking down the Rambla might not. Climbing a Mayan pyramid, diving in a Yucatan cenote, and relaxing at the beach in Cancun sounds like a better vacation, at least for ten-year- olds and younger. Or older.
You need to figure out two hard things: What does everyone in your family like to do? And what is it you want to do together? The third thing may be equally hard to figure out, but is at least as necessary: What is within your means?
Unless you belong to the famous one percent, you can not afford the vacation of your dreams. Well maybe, if you dream small. But a backyard vacation is not going to be what you were dreaming about. Or at least your kids.
Dream right. If you plan carefully, you can probably find something close by that you have never experienced before. Relaxation is about much more, and more different, things than laying on a beach blanket.
Granted, having a week without worries and plans can be amazingly relaxing - although when it is over, you will not know where it went. And you will soon be as stressed as ever. If you can not tell Tuesday from Thursday, so much bigger risk that your only vacation memory will be how hard the pool chair actually was when you tried to relax.
It would be nice to have a vacation without plans but this is a blog about vacation with your kids, not from your kids. And as you will know once you have been a parent for more than a few days, parenthood is all about planning. Vacation is no exception. You need to plan ahead and stay ahead.
So if you have to plan ahead anyway, because your children will fill their diapers in unexpected places, and want drinks at surprising times, and while you typically know when you have to serve meals and snacks, finding a restaurant where your kids can eat (and that serves something they will eat) can be a showstopper for many destinations. To be sure, a 24-hour buffet gives you much less to think about. On the other hand, your kids will never know the challenge of searching for a restaurant and finally finding one that exceeds your expectations - the food is tasty, the staff is friendly, the place itself is a lot more interesting than you would expect. The only problem is that it is more expensive than you would expect as well. And that will be true for most of your dream destinations.
Making a travel plan together with your kids, once they are old enough to understand the concept of money, and make it include the budget, is an excellent way of capturing their interests as well as getting them involved in the trip planning. Once they can read (and even before that) they will start researching destinations, sights, and activities. You have them involved. Depending on how adventurous you are, you can give them responsibility for different days during the trip (provided, that is, you can make them agree).
If your budget does not include enough money for a family trip to Mexico, it almost always has enough to go away somewhere. Even if it is close (but not as close as your neighbors backyard), you can be sure that your kids are able to find interesting attractions. And they will enjoy them even more since they choose them themselves. And you may be pleasantly surprised at how eager they are to spend time with you. Small children are much more appreciative of their parents than the parents like to think. Or maybe not more than they would like to think, but more than they appreciate.
The best destination for your family vacation is where you can do things together and appreciate each other. If that is beside the pool in an all-inclusive resort, so be it.
I am Wisterian Watertree, recently moved from Bangkok to Tokyo, with a brief visit to Honolulu on the way. I write about travel, especially with our three beautiful kids (two girls and one boy, soon turning six - yes. they are triplets). Travel is education and fun rolled into one, and if you are like me, that is something you want to give to your kids. If you want more tips and want to find out when I will publish something, get it from my email list. If you want to be personal, drop me a note on firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you want general tips, follow me on Twitter @wisterianw.