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Family vacations: Best with or without the kids?

Should a summer vacation always include the kids?
Should a summer vacation always include the kids?
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

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You probably remember them well: those hot summer days spent fighting with siblings and incurring sunburns while being herded by parents from cars to campgrounds, hotel rooms to historic sites.

Family vacations might seem like a good idea at first. They certainly provide time for families to grow closer, share adventures and build memories to last a lifetime.

But sometimes, the competing agendas (“Turn off that Game Boy!”) and stress, outweigh the benefits for parents as well as kids. Mom and Dad might feel guilty leaving the kids at home, but let’s face it, quality grownup time is important too.

So what’s the ideal family vacation? A romantic getaway focused on strengthening a couple’s relationship? Or a trip that includes the whole family? Does it depend on the family or couple? How do you balance time with the kids and time with your spouse?

From the phones

Steven, Mid-City:
“The greatest thing I ever did was a 2-week camping trip with my two sons and my wife. The first two days my boys were mad they didn’t have their cellphones and all that junk but then they got over it and it was the most wonderful family time we’ve had together.”

As for vacations for just the wife and him? “Oh no, that’s for when [the kids] are in college!”

P.J., Marina del Rey:
“I believe if parents focus on spending quality time with their kids rather than spending a lot of money, it simplifies everything and you have a better vacation. [Kids] are gonna have fun in what they’re gonna have fun in, not what we adults think they’ll have fun [doing]. Not Disneyland, not those things -- instead, do they just want to be on the playground? Do they just want to play fort inside the house all day? And even though [the house] is a mess, in the end we clean it up, the kids have a blast, and no money spent.” And quality time with the spouse? “Big vacations with the kids, mini-vacations with the spouse.”

Phylline, Ontario: “For years, my mother took me [on vacation] the middle of August, and it was always extremely hot, so I made sure when I grow up I would never do that. So the other day my 19-year-old son said, ‘Do you know that every vacation we ever took was in the depths of winter?’ So I did the same thing, just at a different time of year!”

David, Miracle Mile:
“Every vacation as a kid, before cell phones and GPS, would practically end in a divorce of my parents. It wasn’t necessarily that everything went wrong, but it was just the driving and my dad didn’t know where he was going and that could result in a ‘divorce.’ Or, you know, we’re just in close-quarters together and everyone wants to do different things. It travels through the family dynamic but now, we just typically don’t travel together. But my parents are together, they made it through our vacations. … Everything was done with a bit of trepidation -- do we really have to get in the car? Do we really have to go to Stratford-upon-Avon, can we just stay in London where we can all walk around and go where we want to go separately?”

Megan, Long Beach:
“My husband and I have been having the same conversation. We’ve been married two years and people keep asking us when we are going to have kids, but we really want to go on a trip to the Virgin Islands. So we keep telling everyone, ‘We’re not having kids until after we do our trip so we won’t have to worry about getting a babysitter or leaving them behind and things like that,’ so people can either quit asking us or they can give us money for our trip and speed up the process.”

Debbie, West Covina:
“Our vacations have always been camping because we don’t have a lot of money and camping is not that expensive and we all do love being outdoors. I still do the things I do at home -- I cook, I clean, I make beds -- but because it’s a different environment, it’s outside, I still get such a wonderful vacation. It’s a treat being out there. I don’t mind. It’s such a good thing for your family because you do have a wonderful time but you have trials, you have to solve problems together, everybody needs to pitch in to help, and it’s a wonderful growing time for everyone.”

Elaine, Hollywood:
“A best vacation ever is a cruise with children because they have cruise directors for children during the day and you get together at night and you’re finding each other to tell what a wonderful day you had.”

Angela, at La Brea and Olympic:
“I don’t know how any family travels with small children, I have to hand it to them. I lived in Vegas about four years ago and I had two little kids in diapers and I would have to drive to California and back all the time, and when they were not in the car it was like getting in a massage. It was like a spa on wheels. I don’t know how people take little babies on the plane. My family we’re going -- really for the first time -- to Hawaii but they’re six and eight now. I kind of held off going to a lot of places when they were younger.”

Maria, Studio City:
“My sister had taken road trips with her two boys and had problems, so at one point, my husband and I had invited them to go to British Columbia, to Victoria, with us. We said the only thing you have to do is research it, find out what you want to do, and they were great because the dynamic was a little different. We were uncle and aunt, so they were themselves but they were a little bit better behaved and we just had a great time with us and they enjoyed it.”

J.R., on I-80 in Southern Wyoming, returning to California:
“We’re having a great road trip. We’re at 2,346 miles right now. We’re actually heading back from our week road trip we do every year to South Dakota. We pack up the kids and we hit the road. It’s been a great trip, we had one little car incident, other than that it was a great trip. We spend short trips on the road so we can stop at all the points and show the kids the sights and interest.”