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How to avoid another failed family vacation

He wants to be active. She wants to relax. And the kids have their own ideas about an ideal vacation. Dr. Ruth Peters has advice.

Q: We are beginning to plan our summer vacation. The problem is that we all like to do different things.

My 13-year-old son loves to see sporting events and my 15-year-old daughter loves to shop. I like to relax with a good book and my husband enjoys playing golf. In the past someone has always been disappointed with our trips and tends to make the situation miserable for the rest of us.

Any ideas on how to plan a pleasant trip?

A: Creating a successful family vacation can be a challenge. It's difficult even for couples to find activities that they both enjoy, but trying to plan a fun vacation for a family of four is even more of a feat!

Start off by asking each family member for two or three ideas about where they would like to go and what they would like to do. If the interests of three out of four family members coincide, that's a good starting place.

You can then dig into travel books as well as searching appropriate sites on the internet to find something at the possible locations that will interest even the fourth member of the family. Kids love to help plan vacations, and with access to safe sites on the Internet, they can be very helpful in scouting out neat (and inexpensive) things to do.

In particular, take a look at vacation destinations and packages that offer a diversity of activities in one location. Cruises, theme parks and large metropolitan areas, for instance, can provide such a variety that everyone can find something positive about the choice.

It may be that not everything will please everyone all of the time, but if the kids know that something a bit boring one day will be followed by their choice of activity the next, they'll find that it’s fair and that everybody's interests are being taken into consideration.

Also, each family member doesn't have to be involved in every activity all of the time. It may be that your husband and son can go golfing while you and your daughter hit the mall. I've heard from many folks that when they try to force the entire family to engage in all of the activities that the vacation is often ruined.

Finally, if it's feasible, consider including a friend who gets along with both of your kids. (Or if you’re considering an inexpensive vacation, such as camping, perhaps taking a friend for each child may be possible.) Generally, when a friend travels with your family the kids are much less likely to argue with one another and become more capable of amusing themselves. The guest should be someone who gets along well with both of your kids as well as being someone you enjoy spending time with yourself.

Dr. Peters' Bottom Line: Good family vacations don't just happen. They are usually well-planned and the result of compromises between all family members. Think ahead about possible roadblocks and difficulties, and try to iron out as many of these issues as you can beforehand. Be creative, establish a budget and be sure to set some limits about behavior and expectations prior to hitting the road!

Copyright ©2005 by Ruth A. Peters, Ph.D. All rights reserved. Dr. Peters is a clinical psychologist and regular contributor to the “Today” show. Her most recent book,“Laying Down the Law: The 25 Laws of Parenting to Keep Your Kids on Track, Out of Trouble, and (Pretty Much) Under Control,” is published by Rodale. (See excerpts .) For more information you can visit her Web site at .

PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific psychological or medical advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand the lives and health of themselves and their children. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist or psychotherapist.