The family vacation is back, baby. We’re busting out of these four walls and hitting the road, a bittersweet reward for our many sacrifices, hard work, and service to society. The kids earned it too after a confusing year of distance learning, canceled activities, and party-less birthdays. We’ve previously written about splurging on making memories; now, it’s time to execute.
To make it a summer to remember, we sourced memories from twenty adults from six countries, diverse socioeconomic classes, and various generations. We wanted to know: when investing in memories, what has the best ROI?
The conclusion: you can cancel the private jet. The answers were surprisingly humble. The sweetest memories centered around visiting family and togetherness.
Playing in the rain, a freezer full of ice cream, a family basketball game. Whether your family lives in Pakistan or Texas, get there. You’ll get a free place to stay, an abundance of delicious food, and a lifetime of memories for your kids.
Trevor: I’ve been to 83 countries, but the most exciting vacation I’ve ever been on was visiting my grandparents, a six-and-a-half hour drive. Staying at their place and going to the orchards to pick fruit every day was just awesome.
Craig: We would all pack up into the car, drive up to my grandmother’s house, and spend the week making syrup. If you have never done it, you will never have a better vacation.
Abdullah: Every summer, we would fly from Dubai to Pakistan for three to four months. A majority of my family lives there, so every single summer we stayed with my grandparents. In June and July, it was monsoon season. The cousins would spend the entire season playing in the rain. We’d come inside, wrapped in a towel, and there would be hot food waiting for us.
Isabel: Every summer as a child, we would stay for a couple of weeks in Texas with my grandparents. We’d go to the beach every day, basically living in swimsuits and bare feet for the summer. In Texas, people have two refrigerators. One inside and one in the garage or on the porch. My grandpa would fill the porch freezer with ice cream and we had free rein over it—literally the sweetest of memories.
Nick: My grandparents lived in Italy. We used to go back quite often. They lived in a small town—maybe 1500 people. As a kid, it was really fun to see a completely different way of life in a small Italian town on a mountain. That perspective was really cool, and the food was obviously great.
Danielle: My parents had the genius idea to take a 12-year-old in a 13-year-old on a cross- country drive through California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas. They dropped my sister and me off at my great-grandparents’ ancestral home in Shreveport, Louisiana. I learned that pigs growl and bark like dogs. We went to church for eight hours. I also learned that my hair can do an afro because it’s so humid. I remember every warning my dad gave me about running into poisonous snakes, and there were bugs everywhere. If you’re thinking about vacationing in Shreveport, Louisiana, I highly recommend not doing that. At all. Unless your grandparents are there.
Jonathan: I visited my family in the Philippines when I was seven. We went spelunking in a cave and it was not at all safe. The guide was just a random guy in a t-shirt and sandals, guiding twenty of us through an entire cave in the Philippines with one lantern. My dad was absolutely terrified, but I thought it was amazing because I was young and it was just reckless.
Shahtaj: When I was around 10 years old, I made my first trip to my parents’ home country in Bangladesh. It was the first time I got to see what life is like on what felt like a completely different planet. I didn’t have access to the usual TV channels I enjoyed or the food I liked to eat. The one thing I remember most from that trip though wasn’t in Bangladesh per se, but on the long flight. I kept asking my dad to please ask the flight attendant to give me a hot dog. He said, “No, if you want anything in life, you have to go ask for yourself.” I wound up never asking, so I never got the hot dog. I remember that lesson to this day.
Scott: My extended family took a vacation together every year to Myrtle Beach. We stayed at a hotel with a really awesome rooftop basketball court. One day, when I was about 14 or 15, I was money. It was bucket after bucket—they couldn’t stop me. My dad was still alive and playing ball and I hit him with the ones and twos. It was fantastic.
Javairia: Going back home to Pakistan, everyone was so hospitable. It was like an open-door policy multiplied by 5,000. Everyone’s doors were open. They put their entire fridge on the table for me. It was the best experience ever.
Aditya: Every summer, I lived at my uncle’s house in New York City for two or three weeks. I’d just look out the window and be amazed to see so many people, versus Houston where you would see, like, one or two people.
Amee: I went to the Philippines, and my cousins and I were allowed to roam the streets in my uncle’s neighborhood. It was safe. We went and bought chickens. It was amazing as a kid because I got to be on my own.
As expected, the iconic camping trip is worth the effort. You don’t need a six-figure Airstream to impress the kids—a tent and some togetherness will do just fine.
Lukasz: During my childhood every summer, we went camping as a family. I got to play with a hatchet, carve a steak, build a fire, and erect the tent. In retrospect, I realize I learned a lot of life skills that allow me to experience nature and enjoy it in a different way.
Tamara: When I was a kid, it was chaos in Serbia, and we couldn’t travel anywhere. My mom and dad found a cheap RV to rent. We went to a lake not far from home, maybe an hour ride, and we stayed for two months camping. We brought the TV and the whole camp made pancakes and watched the Olympics. It was great.
Shaun: We had family friends who had a camping lot on a lake that was two hours from town. We would go there six-plus times per summer. Going to the same place that many times, vacationing every year with the same people, added extra quality to it.
If you have more than one child, you may want to consider a one-on-one trip with one at a time. Not only will you control expenses, but you’ll create truly special memories.
Nicolette: When my sister and I were in our preteens, my mom started taking us on separate vacations. I think all parents should do that. I never had to compromise on what we did, and no sibling fights. We went to LA, ate at fancy sushi places, and just did a lot of cool stuff together. We got to indulge in ways we wouldn’t have if the whole family was on the tab.
Meagan: I go on road trips with my daughters. We like to stay in bread-and-breakfast type places and it’s really cool because you just never know who you’re going to meet. The stories are always really great afterwards.
Jen: When my son graduated from high school, we cleared our schedules for a week. That was the extent of our planning. We pointed the car east and drove until we hit the coast—all the way from North Dakota. We found fun little stops along the way, visited museums, and explored national attractions. The highlight for both of us, though, was the last night. We slept in the car in a Walmart parking lot—just for fun. We returned home with an incredibly free feeling—we had inadvertently discovered we could get by on very little and there is a whole world just a car ride away.
Wherever you go, whatever you do, make it a happy time—even if the luggage gets lost or the car gets a flat tire. The kids will soak it all up.“The most memorable part of vacationing with my parents was seeing the pure joy on their faces,” said Anthony, who visited Las Vegas with his folks. Although they didn’t win a jackpot, the memories made for an incredible return on investment. Safe travels.