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It’s science: Vacations make your kids happy long after they’re over

Whether you’re booking flights and hotels for a family getaway, or just punching in your credit card number to reserve a spot in a campground a couple of states over, the cost of vacation plans can make a mom wince. And while price is definitely something to consider when planning a family vacation, science suggests we should consider these trips—and their benefits—priceless.


Research indicates that family vacations are essential. They make our, kids (and us) happier and build bonds and memories.

The gift of an experience, like a family vacation, is proven to be a more prosocial, connecting present than any material possession, according to a study out of the University of Toronto.

"An experiential gift elicits a strong emotional response when a recipient consumes it—like the fear and awe of a safari adventure, the excitement of a rock concert or the calmness of a spa—and is more intensely emotional than a material possession,” says lead researcher Cindy Chan. “If you want to give [someone] something that will make them feel closer to you, give an experience."

Experiencing a vacation together doesn’t just bring us closer to our kids, it also makes the whole family happier long after the trip is over.

One British survey found almost half of respondents stated their most favorite childhood memory is one of a family vacation, and more than half (55%) of respondents said “that these holidays have given them happy memories that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.”

That survey was funded by the Family Holiday Association, an organization dedicated to helping lower-income families fund low-cost getaways. According to John McDonald, Chief Executive of the Family Holiday Association, a family vacation can act as a “happiness anchor.” When families are faced with challenging times, reflecting on memories of happy times can be very powerful. “By using these memories as an anchor to take us back to more cheerful moments, we’re often able to approach problems with a fresh sense of perspective,” he says.

Getting out of the house and heading to a different location isn’t just fun for kids, it actually might make them smarter. Family vacays can also be a brain booster for kids by providing an enriched environment.

“An ‘enriched’ environment offers new experiences that are strong in combined social, physical, cognitive and sensory interaction,” Dr. Margot Sunderland, a child psychotherapist and Director of Education and Training at The Centre for Child Mental Health, wrote for the Telegraph.

Vacations provide kids with all kind of enriching experiences (like making sandcastles with mom and dad) that aid in cognitive development and helps with frontal lobe growth. “If you are choosing between buying your child a tablet or taking them on a family holiday, consider the profound effects on bonding and brain development; there is no competition,” Sunderland writes.

Plus, playing on the beach or running off with the family on a hiking adventure activate systems in a child’s brain (and our own) that trigger neurochemicals including oxytocin and dopamine. “They reduce stress and activate warm, generous feelings towards each other and a lovely sense that all is well in the world. With all the anti-stress aspects of these systems firing, family members get to emotionally refuel,” Sunderland writes.

You don’t have to fly to the tropics to enjoy the benefits of a family vacation. Whether you’re planning a quick trip to the lake or flying the fam to a resort, the results are the same: A happier, more connected family. And that’s pretty priceless.

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