A new report helps to explain why my kids have experienced so many "firsts" while we've been on vacation, and drives home why these trips are so vital for families.
Family of four biking
Credit: Shutterstock

First time my daughter tried a mussel: San Diego, 2006. First time she swam underwater: Orlando, 2009. First time on a zipline: Williamsburg, 2013. First time she told me that she's scared to grow up: Raleigh, 2015. All of these "firsts" happened on one of our family vacations, but they could easily have taken place while we were at home in Pennsylvania. After all, I buy mussels at the supermarket, my mom has a pool, we have a couple places to zipline nearby, and almost everyday I ask her if there's anything she wants to talk about. So why do a disproportionate number of firsts happen the two weeks of the year that we get away from home? A new report from Project: Time Off helps explain my experience and gets at the heart of why vacations are vital for families. The group announced that Americans on average take four fewer vacation days now than they did 15 years ago—and revealed the results of its survey of 8- to 14-year-olds:

  • 84 percent of kids reported feeling closer to their parents when they take time off
  • Nearly 80 percent of kids say they have stress, but less than 30 percent reported stress on vacations
  • Just 19 percent of kids noted that they are routinely in a very good mood; spending time with a parent triples that number
  • 82 percent of kids say their parent is more fun to be around when they have time off
  • 60 percent of kids mentioned that they see a different side of their parents on vacation

Bottom line: On vacations, kids are less stressed, and parents are less stressed. So kids let go of those anxieties—whether it's tasting something unfamiliar, doing an activity outside of their comfort zone, or sharing their long bottled-up feelings with you. And, according to the kids interviewed for the survey, you don't have to fly cross-country or take them on a road trip even to tear down these walls. Spending the day with you is enough. As one child said: "The most fun I've had with my Dad, when he had time off from work, was when he bought a Slip 'n Slide from Target and we played on it."

What did you do with your child the last time you took the day off?

Karen Cicero is Contributing Nutrition and Travel Editor at Parents. Find her on Twitter or on Instagram.