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Agile Family Vacations

Me in the mouth of a huge bust at the Houston Museum of Health and Medical Science

Getting into our vacation at the Houston Museum of Health and Medical Science

Summer is almost here and that means summer trips are at your doorstep. If family travel stresses you out, let me suggest the Agile Family Vacation for keeping your sanity while you travel.

When we were young, our family pioneered agile family vacations. We’d set out in the morning with only a map, a stack of AAA Tripbooks, and a direction ready to see what the world had to offer us. No agenda and no appointments. We had a clean slate ready for us to create the best family vacation ever. One year, when the direction was north, we were leaving Boston with nothing in mind and decided to drive to Maine to get lobsters. Another year, we flew to England on a whim (we flew “Space Available” on a military plane because my dad served 20 years in the Army) and had a great time in London, then Paris, and then Germany.

The Agile Manifesto, the foundations of Agile software development movement, was codified in 2001.  You can read about it at AgileManifesto.org, but the core of it is:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

The first thing about family vacations is that the family spends time together having fun.  Focus on the individuals and interactions in your family over the travel and recommendation websites.  One year, after spending hours looking at Disney packages because everyone said we have to go there, I asked the girls if they ever thought about Disney World only to get an “ehh, not really.”  Let each person–even or especially the youngest–contribute to developing your agenda.

Secondly, focusing on working software vacations means that your vacation starts when you walk out of work or when school lets out.  The software development analogy is iterative development in which the customer receives several small deliveries of working product that is continually being improved rather than a single delivery at the end of the work phase.  Remember the adage that “getting there is half the fun.”  Don’t let your vacation be a long journey to a single event.  When you’re 1/3 through your vacation, you should have had 1/3 of the fun.

Thirdly, customer family collaboration is probably self-explanatory, but it means that the goal is for everyone to enjoy the vacation.  Sometimes you’ll have trade-offs during a vacation but the entire trip shouldn’t be just for the children, for example.  On that note, I think theme parks should offer discounts for parents of small children who are going to spend the entire day in the kiddie park.

The last point is my favorite.  Every stress assessment I’ve taken asks about responding to change. A lot of the stress of family vacations comes from making a plan that doesn’t go right and, if we were honest, we would admit that it could never go right.  For example, if my family vacation includes any day when we leave before 8, there is a high probability of failure.  If you have to make plans, try to make them as flexible as possible and have alternatives in your back pocket.  If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, just wake up and see what the day brings.

The writers of the Agile Manifesto were focused on software development, but the principles apply in so many fields.  For better family vacations that everyone can appreciate, I recommend the Agile Family Vacation.

Now, as I lead my family, I try to continue the tradition.  One year, as we drove to Texas, we found ourselves at Martin Luther King, Jr.’s home in Atlanta and at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, where King was shot, on our way back.  On the same trip, we also took a detour to go diamond mining in Arkansas.  This spring, when we went to Barcelona, we slept in each day and when we woke up, we would figure out what to do.  Did you know there was a Chocolate Museum in Barcelona or that the Picasso Museum is free on Thursday evenings?  I told my wife when we arrived that my sole objective was to take my family to Barcelona and I had accomplished my mission and anything else we did was a bonus.