We have four kids from 0-7. Since our oldest was 4, we have visited 6 different countries and traveled up and down India by plane, train and automobile. These trips have had a variety of purposes, activities and expectations. Looking back, there are a few things I might have changed about each one. For instance, I would definitely have double-checked the elastic on Marie’s swim diaper before jumping into that hotel pool in Sri Lanka. After four years into this crazy journey, I feel like we are learning from our mistakes and getting a few things right. We just returned from a recent trip from the beach that was absolutely amazing for everyone involved. Reflecting on this, I wanted to share a few tips for vacationing with kids, toddlers, and babies!
1. Surrender to the fact that you will NOT make the most of your trip - Expectations are like rubber bands. The further they are from the truth, the more they will sting when they snap. If you are looking to see and do everything in a particular location, consider sending the kids to the grandparents for a week and going by yourself. Be okay with the fact that you may come home and have a million people asking why you didn’t go to this amazing restaurant or see that national landmark. Its okay. Choose one thing per day that interests you and the kids the most, and don’t feel guilty about missing the rest.
3. Schedules are Important - If you follow the first point, this one will naturally come easier. There will be a temptation to run the kids HARD so that you can fit everything in. Trust me, by the end of the day, no one will be happy. Even if your child has outgrown a nap, vacation will wear him or her out. And I’m not talking about a 30 minute nap in the stroller while you hop from one place to another.
4. Take-it-Easy Mornings - We have fallen into the trap of running the kids hard in the morning (when everyone is fresh and happy), with the intention of giving them a good nap in the afternoon and heading out again in the evening. This plan typically backfires. Activities go longer than expected and before you know it your out in the heat of the day and your kids are in a state of exhaustion that they probably won’t recover from, even with a nap. Do an easy activity in the morning, give a nap, and everyone will still be fresh to head out in the evening. For instance, when going to the beach, we do the pool in the morning, have an easy poolside lunch, and hit the beach by 4:00. We can stay late into the night, enjoying the waves and sand without even applying sunscreen! The kids will be tired, but not drained.
5. Hotel - Location, Location, Location - If you are cheap like I am, you will likely be lured by cheaper hotels, just outside the city at a fraction of the cost. Don’t do it! Sacrifice on amenities if you must, but having a hotel that is close to your attractions is priceless. And you may even make up the difference by transportation savings. This will allow you to get a quick start on your day and make it easy to get back for that nap. You never want to feel like you spent half your vacation in a car.
7. Initiate Games during Tough Times - Expect that there will be prolonged periods of time where you have to wait, or worse, walk. Maybe you missed the bus and the next one comes in an hour. Maybe a flight was delayed. Maybe you misjudged the time it would take to get to the beach by foot. Whatever the case, these are the moments that can make or break your day. Everyone, especially you, the parent, will be discouraged and feel like having a pity party. You will probably yell at your kids for complaining about it, when your own heart is in a far worse state. But you have the power to transform the situation into a fun memory. Make it a game. Sit on the floor and play duck, duck goose. Challenge your kids to a racing game (which will also make everyone walk faster!) Be creative, put in a bit of effort, and don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself in public. It may just end up being a highlight of the trip!
8. Blitz Shopping - If I were by myself, I could devote an entire day, or more of shopping! Who wants to settle on the first souvenir that they see, when there are a hundred more shops down the road. But take your kids on a long shopping outing, and you just might end up buying a whole bunch of broken souvenirs that your kiddos knocked off the shelf. Set a time and shop limit. Pick out something for everyone at the same store, even if it means everyone gets another magnet, keychain or mug. Its okay. Souvenirs are much more exciting when you are buying them than they are when you get home. And it is likely that you will forget about them in a month. So don’t waste your precious vacation time on them.
9. Remember Your Priorities! - Finally, don’t forget that the most important part of your trip is the people that you are there with. Having an attitude of service over selfishness will bring greater joy than doing everything that you wanted to do. When mishaps occur, don’t blame your kids or your spouse, but see it as an opportunity to bond in a way you otherwise wouldn’t have. And remember, no matter how stressful things get, you will probably laugh about it when you get home!
Luke and I are married and have four little munchkins that travel the world with us. I blog about living overseas, travel, kids, education and graphic design.
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