If you’re a parent you’ve probably learned by now that vacationing with small kids can be very stressful. Vacationing with little ones is essentially all the same chaos that comes along with normal parenting – just in a different location and amplified due to erratic schedules and endless excitement. As someone who loves to travel, I was blindsided once having kids with all the do’s and don’ts of vacationing as a family. Traveling is not always easy, and some trips you may find are more trouble than they’re worth. I admit in past excursions I’ve made serious rookie mistakes that cost my family’s temporary sanity, but each trip down has been another lesson learned. I’m not an expert yet, but there have been less tears and more fun infused in our recent vacations.
In lieu of summer break when families tend to go on their great adventures, I’ve compiled a list of survival tips when traveling with small kids. You can thank me later.
1. It’s not about you – it’s about them. Once you realize this, you’ll enjoy yourself a lot more. Kids do not understand the concept of relaxation, nor do they care about white-sand beaches and exquisite food and wine.
2. Choose a destination that welcomes and caters to kids. I love the Apps MiniTime and Trekaroo; they give you lists of kid-friendly hotels, attractions, restaurants and shopping in any destination!
3. Lower your expectations. Expect the worst, hope for the best. Many of us build up these grand illusions of our vacations, only to be disappointed when real life gets in the way. There will be delays, fights, and snags in your plans. Accept it and prepare, that’s all you can do. When you set your expectations low, everything else will seem like a bonus!
4. Plan travel times during nap times. If you have a three-hour flight, try to plan it when your little ones usually nap. At first the excitement will take over, but once they feel the vibration of the plane – it’s lights out. Once your kids are asleep, that’s when your vacation really starts! Go ahead and have that glass of wine or dive into your book because this peace will not last.
5. Stay away from sugar. Don’t, I repeat, don’t give your kids any candy, juice, chocolate, etc., during travel times. You might think this is a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised. Once on a flight with my toddler, the flight attendant gave my son a piece of chocolate candy to try and deter him from yelling, “Wakey, Wakey” to all the sleeping passengers around us. In theory, it may have been a good idea, but I still had two hours to tame the wild beast in him before we landed. I cried on that flight and luckily I had veteran parents around me consoling me. I vowed never to fly with him alone again – and I haven’t.
6. Pack heavy. This mostly pertains to toys and entertainment. Young kids have the attention span of a goldfish. Any shiny thing in their line of sight will send them running. Take a whole suitcase of toys, extra batteries, chargers, and coloring books, really anything that fits. Don’t be the idiot who forgets to charge the iPad before you get on a plane too – like me. Download a lot of kid friendly Apps that don’t require the Internet in case your flight or car doesn’t have Wi-Fi. Some of my favorites are: Moonfrye, KidsDoodle, PBS Kids, and Puzzingo.
7. Make an itinerary. Create a schedule of events and stick to it. Kids are creatures of habit; they like to follow schedules and direction. Fill their days up with activities so at night they welcome sleep. More sleep for them, more peace for you. Trust me on this – a bored kid equals a disaster.
7. Bring help. If possible, bring guests on your trip. Parents, in-laws, friends and nannies make for great babysitters when you need a break. As much money as you spend on these vacations, you deserve at least one kid-free dinner with your significant other.
Overall, the most important thing you need to remember is to let your kids be kids on vacation. Once you allow this, it might just bring out the inner-kid in you.