Anticipation is part of the joy of a family vacation. You tell the kids, you plan the trip, you talk about how much you’re looking forward to it. But there’s another way to travel: Plan the whole thing in secret, then spring it on the kids once you’re in the car and on the road. These five tips are all but guaranteed to give you the gift of shrieks of joy the minute the kids discover they are going on a surprise vacation!


It’s not a roadtrip with the Topinkas unless somebody is yelling. Photo creidt: Amanda Topinka/ Spontaneous TravelingMom


Travel is a luxury that many don’t get to experience. As an adult, I’ve come to realize this. But for my children, who have been raised on road maps and airplanes, travel happens so often that occasionally they will view our next trip as a monotonous experience. So I have to spice it up every now and then.

In a couple weeks, I will be taking my family on a SURPRISE {spontaneous} vacation to Rapid City, SD. Sure I am missing the anticipation from my boys leading up to this trip. But I can’t wait to get to our final destination and see the amazement in their eyes when they see Mount Rushmore for the first time, in person, instead of in a travel brochure or website. I’m hoping that the element of surprise will only enhance their experience. I’ll let you know how that goes in a few weeks!

But Planning a Vacation = Anticipation

Surprise family vacation planning. Photo Credit:  Amanda Topinka {Spontaneous TMOM}I know, I know…the anticipation and lead-up-to of a trip is the part that people like the most. But my plan is to take that to a whole new level. My boys are far too young to understand we’ll be heading north on I-80, crossing the Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota borders. And I have no idea how long I’ll be able to keep it a secret from my husband. It’s been hard enough keeping my excitement to myself. But for my 7- and 4-year-old, I’m guessing it won’t be until we see those beautiful monuments and Black Hills up close and personal that it finally hits where I’ve taken them. And I can’t wait to capture that moment.


How to Pull Off a Surprise Family Vacation

Once you’ve decided where you want to take your family, you can start planning how you’re going to pull this off. I have a few no-fail tips to help you plan the most perfect surprise vacation.

1). Choose a destination that you are 100% sure EVERYONE in your family will love. If you can’t be 100% sure, don’t book the trip. It just isn’t worth the risk and stress. Think about their reaction. You may be dreaming of a surprise trip to Walt Disney World. But is everyone else in your family? Crowds and humidity may not be their idea of “fun.” And keep in mind, if they don’t like surprises, you won’t get the reaction you wanted.

2). Be 100% sure that your family will be free. I work for a small town school district. September 20th and the few weeks before and after are a no-go for me. I have a large report due that day and there is absolutely no way I can skip town during that time. Or maybe one of your children will have a test in school that week and there are no make-up days available. You wouldn’t want to jeopardize their school grades because you didn’t put a little thought into the timing.

So clear everyone’s schedules before you start the planning process. Go to your spouse’s boss and ask if there is a certain time that is better than another. Check with your child(ren)’s teacher and ask the same thing. Then let the office and your spouse’s boss know that you’ll be gone but that it’s a surprise. It’s not only smart, it’s considerate.

3). Think about finances. Keep it within budget. If you’re married to an accountant, you can guarantee that their first thought will be: Can we afford this? That should be your first thought, too, when planning a surprise vacation.

4). Be sneaky and avoid a flop. I’m horrible at keeping a secret and being sneaky. I must give off this certain “vibe” that says I’m scheming. The best way to keep your surprise a surprise is to keep your mouth shut. I have a friend who will slip on anything I tell her. She doesn’t mean to, it’s just that something reminds her of something and the next thing you know, my whole surprise is blown.

Photo Credit: Amanda Topinka / Her son, Cash when seeing "the castle" for the first time.Also, when you decide where you’re going, don’t start charging tickets and hotel rooms and flights on an account or sending confirmations to an email your significant other may see. It’s the easiest way to have your big surprise spoiled. It sounds like a no brainer. But if you usually fly JetBlue and JetBlue has your email address on file for confirmation, it can definitely happen without you intending it to happen.

5). Lastly, find a FUN and creative way to spill the beans. Obviously this is up to you. Whether you want to have a scavenger hunt for clues that leads to a treasure chest with the giveaway inside or if you just want to have the bags packed, in the car, ready to go – that’s your call. For our trip to Rapid City, I’ve chosen to have my husband think he’s coming home early to take care of one of our kiddos but I’ll actually have the car packed and ready to head out. I can see him now … worrying and wondering the whole drive up where we are going and how I pulled this off. So far I’ve kept my mouth shut. Wish me luck!

What’s the Point of a Surprise Vacation?

Sometimes, going on a family vacation makes you realize just how good you really have it. And no, I don’t have to pack my boys up and hit the road to understand that, but sometimes we just need some space away from reality. Some breathing space if you will just to appreciate all that we have. I want them to realize that vacations don’t last forever. I want them to be humble and appreciate the luxury they get by traveling together as a family.

I’m hoping that someday, they’ll surprise their own families with a spontaneous vacation. To take the time to step aside from shouldering responsibilities and routines to capture everlasting memories. Pictures can only show so much. It’s the moments not caught on a camera that bring the best memories. Responsibilities and video games will be at home waiting for us all when we get back. So my advice to not just my own family, but to you as well, is to take the time now to shake things up. Be spontaneous. Surprise your family. YOLO!

Have you ever surprised your family with a vacation?  If not… would you ever?  Stay tuned for my ideas on HOW you can surprise them!