Ahhhh, sweet vacation. Relaxing on the beach with your feet kicked up and an icy cold drink in your hand. Not a care in the world. You can leisurely pick up an indulgent book or let your eyes slowly drift shut and slip into dreamland. This. is. the. life.
But wait, you have kids.
It’s more like, AHHHHH!!!!!….vacation. More accurately described as “moving your chaos to a new location with fewer resources.”
A day at the beach means early wake-ups after restless sleep in a tiny hotel room, where you probably spent half the night getting kicked in the face or shushing a crying baby. It means GIANT bags packed with snacks, drinks, floats, toys, diapers, beach umbrellas, towels and plenty of sunscreen.
Sitting back and relaxing? HA! Your job is to KEEP YOUR KIDS ALIVE. Which is WAY harder on vacation than regular life, because, you know, the ocean and stuff. Not to mention extra sugar, not enough sleep, lots of new, fun and potentially dangerous stuff to explore and no teachers, babysitters or grandparents to help you out.
Traveling has always been a major source of joy for my husband and me. And, despite all the friendly advice we got as newlyweds to “travel now, because once you have kids, it’s all over,” we decided to travel with our kids, even if it’s inconvenient. [Check out 7 Surprising Reasons to Travel with Young Kids.]
So over the past 6 years, we have taken our kids to over 12 states and Canada. We’re currently saving and planning for an overseas trip too! We’ve traveled by car, airplane, train, bus and subway with our kids and made it out alive.
While vacation with kids may never be *quite* as relaxing as without them, it can be every bit as enjoyable and MORESO.
Check out these 10 helpful tips to actually ENJOY traveling with kids:
1. Let Go of Perfection
I have found that the #1 problem we have to overcome when traveling with kids is unrealistic expectations. We’ve all seen the Disney World commercial with the picture-perfect family, holding hands and smiling those magical grins as they waltz right through the park in slow motion, with not a touch of sunburn or any indication of the impending meltdown when one of their kids wants the $270 Mickey Mouse watch at the gift shop and can’t have it.
But that idealistic view of “family vacation” only hurts you in the long run. When you can adjust your expectations accordingly, you actually free yourself up from having to make everything perfect and give yourself permission to take the good with the bad and enjoy what you get.
Something will always go wrong. And that’s okay! The disasters end up making the best family stories anyway. The funny thing is, those moments where everything seems to go wrong become an opportunity for your family to work together, be on the same team, and help each other laugh through the process. They can bond you faster and stronger than the good moments, if you let them.
2. Create Margins
This has been HUGE for us. We live in such a “bigger, better, more” culture, that it’s easy to approach traveling and vacation with the same attitude. There’s this pressure to visit ONE MORE museum, or hit the beach ONE MORE time.
We try to squeeze every drop out of vacation that we can, but we end up exhausted instead of refreshed. Plus, it forces kids out of their routine for eating and sleeping and creates lots more opportunities for meltdowns and overstimulation.
So our family started creating margins in our vacation, and it has made all the difference. We realized that, if we’re going on a “touring” vacation, trying to see sites every day is just too much. Instead, we’ll spend one day site-seeing, then the next day relaxing at our resort, then another day site-seeing, then a low-key day at the beach, etc.
Another great margin we created is coming back a day early. We used to come back from vacation at 10pm, and then have to be back to work or school or both the very next day. Every ounce of feeling refreshed got sucked out of us in that final push to get home and in bed.
Getting home a day early lets you even enjoy the drive (or flight) home, knowing that if you get delayed, it’s no big deal. It also gives you time to unpack, do some laundry, and get groceries before you start back into your normal routine.
It will extend the feeling of vacation far beyond the final day. And THAT is worth it.
3. Make a Realistic Budget
There’s nothing more stressful than overspending on vacation and wracking up debt. I grew up in a single-income pastors’ family. Eating out was a rarity and usually meant you got to choose one item from the $1 menu at Taco Bell (uh, it was totally 59 cents back then).
But one thing I loved about my frugal family is that we saved and budgeted for vacation. So when we went away, we knew exactly how much we had saved and could feel confident in spending it.
I asked my mom SO many times, “Are you SURE it’s okay for me to get something at the gift shop?” or “Are you SURE it’s okay for us to eat at this restaurant?” And she would reply, “It’s okay, it’s in the budget.”
It was freeing for my little kid heart to know that we could afford it and I didn’t have to feel guilty.
Creating a realistic budget for vacation (thinking through all the aspects and saving in advance) will help both you and your kids have more fun.
4. Maintain Routines When Possible
Kids thrive with routine. We all do, really. That doesn’t mean you have to have every minute of the day scheduled out, but it does mean having some rhythms in your life helps everyone feel more secure.
One of the best ways to prevent meltdowns in your kids and feelings of overwhelm, is to keep your regular eating & sleeping routines while on vacation.
It seems like “vacation” should mean throwing all the rules out the window and eating whenever and whatever you want, staying up late, and having a grand old time. What we have found is that this leads to chaos for our kids…..and subsequently frustration for us.
As much as possible, try to keep your family’s regular bedtimes and mealtimes. Continuity will help them feel secure, know what to expect, and make sure their primary needs are being met. This is the NUMBER ONE way to prevent tantrums and meltdowns!!!
Also, try to keep their regular diet and make sweets or greasy food the exception, not the rule. Even on vacation. It will make everyone feel better. (I speak from much experience.)
5. Come Prepared
This does NOT mean you have to pack 60 outfits to choose from. The more I’ve traveled, the less I actually pack, and yet the more prepared I am. Crazy, right?
It’s all about mental preparation. You don’t have to bring everything you could possibly need, you just have to know how to handle potential problems as they arise. Take a few minutes to think through what things you really need, and what things you can do without.
One of the best ways to enjoy vacation is to eliminate common stress factors. So think through some of the “fears” you have surrounding traveling with kids and find a solution in advance. Then if any of them DOES happen, you’ve already decided how to handle it and what attitude to have.
–What will I do if we run out of clean clothes? Use washer/dryer in the resort. Visit a laundromat mid-week. Handwash a few necessities in hotel sink.
–What will we do if we forget something essential? Ask the hotel desk attendant for a free toothbrush, razor, shampoo, etc. Find a Wal-mart or cheap place close by to get a replacement.
–What will we do if one of us gets sick? Then we’ll take the opportunity to spend extra time resting and be grateful for the time we have.
6. Let Yourself See the World Through Their Eyes
As much as I loved traveling before kids, I have to admit there are elements I enjoy even MORE now WITH kids. Sure, it’s easy to be impressed by the Eiffel Tower. But when you allow yourself to enter into the sheer wonder and delight of the world around you through the eyes of your children, the ordinary becomes extraordinary in a brilliant way.
The pigeons on the streets of New York City. The ants marching across our picnic blanket. The alternating black and white tiles that beckon you to pick a color and hop to it. The penny you get to throw into the fountain.
All these mundane things become magical when you allow yourself to let go of the “perfect” vacation and embrace the one you have. There’s so much to be thankful for all around us. Kids are a great reminder to see the world with eyes of gratitude and wonder.
7. Lots of Coffee – or Other Things That Bring You Joy
Just because you’re herding children, doesn’t mean your vacation has to be devoid of the things that bring you joy as well. You may not get as much sleep as you’d like, but be intentional to identify a few things throughout your trip that will refresh you in some way.
For my husband and me, trying new coffee shops is one of those things. Wherever we go, we do our research and find the best local coffee shops and try them out.
Something else we do is to take turns watching the kids so the other one can go have a few hours to rest or watch Netflix or go shopping, or whatever their heart desires….alone.
8. Try Something New as a Family
One of the best ways to form lasting memories is to break out of the norm and do something new. So even if you’re going to the same destination you’ve vacationed to before, don’t let yourself get stuck in a rut of the same restaurants, the same pool and the same beach spot every time.
It’s totally fine to have your “spots” that you frequent, but also challenge yourself to try ONE new thing as a family. Go on a hike. Try an escape room. Play putt-putt. Spring for a helicopter ride. Do a photo scavenger hunt. Take a bus tour of the city.
It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive to create a fun memory. It just has to be different.
9. Don’t Let Your Happiness Depend on Everyone Else’s
This. Is. Huge. So many times I have caught myself rolling with the tide of my children’s happiness or even my husband’s happiness. And I was miserable.
I realized that I was making it my responsibility to make sure EVERYONE was having a good time. But no matter how hard I tried, there were always too many things outside of my control. And always someone who wasn’t entirely happy.
Not only is it impossible for you to make everyone have fun, it will steal your joy quicker than anything else.
Instead of falling for the lie that your family’s happiness is your responsibility, embrace the truth that you can only control you. And when you choose to be happy in the midst of whatever is going on, your family will most likely follow suit anyway.
10. Choose to Go With the Flow
If there is one thing I’ve learned about successful travel, it’s the ability to go with the flow. You can plan as much as you want, but there will always…I mean ALWAYS…be things that happen that you did not expect.
When this happens, you have a choice: To let it ruin your vacation or to laugh and go with the flow. Some of our best stories have come from the “adventure” of weathering the unexpected.
Choosing to embrace the good things and find humor in the challenges will help you and your family truly enjoy your vacation, sunburns and all.
Like this post? Pin it! Share it on Facebook or Email to a friend! Also, be sure to check out:
- 7 Surprising Reasons to Travel with Young Kids
- How to Road Trip With Kids: 15 Quick Tips for Success
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