Let’s just get this out in the open: vacationing with children is a daunting affair to think about. There’s planning and packing and food and travel and lodging and food (because they always eat). Should you plan a lot of activities? Should you keep it simple? What is on the menu (because they always eat)?
The stress of the process can make even the most seasoned travel mom want to fold and plan a staycation instead. The getaway becomes more like a chore you have to do rather than an enjoyable experience for everyone. But no matter if it’s your first trip or your fiftieth, I’ve got a few tried and true tips that will leave you anticipating your next vacation, not dreading it.
Involve the Children
If your kids are older than four, this can be a great team-building exercise for them. When my husband and I are scheduling a trip, we like to let our girls have input on some of the activities we do. We don’t always choose things they suggest (do you even know how much it costs for six people to swim with dolphins?), but we like to give them some say. Take cues from the kids on how much (or how little) to plan. They enjoy being a part of the decision-making process, and it takes some of the stress off of you.
Take the Car
When planning how to get from Point A to Point B, I highly recommend driving over flying. My husband and I prefer to road trip when we travel for several reasons, one being cost. As a family of six, we are always looking for ways to have fun while still remaining budget-conscious. Gas is a lot cheaper than airplane tickets, and even renting a vehicle is usually less expensive. Plus, you can pack your own food so you don’t have to eat out as often. Driving also provides quality family time together (we only allow a certain amount of time for electronics), and it gives you an opportunity to see parts of the country that you might not see otherwise. There are so many experiences you miss while crammed with a bunch of strangers in a plane 35,000 feet in the air.
The thought of navigating an airport with my four girls flat out terrifies me. They are pretty well behaved in public, but the packing restrictions and the crowds of people and the making sure I don’t lose anybody are extra stressors I don’t need. Unless it is absolutely necessary to fly, put together a travel binder of fun activities and games, pack some snacks, and hit the road.
Be Open to Rentals
Hotels are great for an overnight port or a weekend getaway, but if you’re planning on staying somewhere for several days, consider going through a rental agency like Airbnb or HomeAway for your lodging needs (especially if you have a larger family). Not only are rentals less expensive than hotels, but you can have the entire place to yourselves! Your kids can be as loud as they want without you worrying about the guests in the neighboring rooms. Also, you can purchase groceries and cook your own meals, which is healthier and saves a ton of money over eating out for every meal. If you do your research and book with a reputable host, renting can really make your vacation stay a lot less stressful. Rentals have been a saving grace for my family, and unless it’s for a quick overnight turnaround, we will never stay in a hotel again.
Limit the Large Items
If you know the hotel or rental you’ve booked has a crib or roll-away, do not take the Pack ‘n Play. If you’ve planned an excursion to a zoo or park that has stroller rentals, do not take your huge travel system (though a smaller umbrella stroller still might come in handy). This is also where driving is preferred over flying—you can take all of your bulkier necessities with you without having to pay extra to check them as baggage on a flight, and you will always have your car seats at your disposal. Knowing you don’t have to pack the kitchen sink alleviates unnecessary stress.
Variety is Key
When deciding what kinds of travel entertainment to pack for the kids, plan for several different types of activities. DVDs and other electronics are OK for a portion of the trip, but make sure to also include plenty of books, games, art supplies, and interactive toys to limit potential boredom. Pack an activity bag for each child.
Map Your Routes
Instead of winging it with the GPS, go online ahead of time and map out your specific routes. This will allow you to plan for any toll roads and construction areas. Don’t forget to schedule pit stops and refreshment breaks.
Keep Calm and Enjoy Your Vacation
While the idea of traveling with children might seem overwhelming, it’s important to remember that you will survive. Your children will choose the worst possible times to throw screaming fits. They will ask you a million times, “Are we there yet?” They will whine and fight and work your last nerve until you are ready to snap. But you will survive.
You will inevitably forget something you need. There will be hiccups with your travel and lodging accommodations. You will be on the verge of tears at one point (or several) during the trip. But you will survive.
So, how do you endure without succumbing to the pitfalls that unavoidably accompany every family vacation? Answer: grace.
Being as prepared as possible is great, but there is no way to be prepared for everything. You will serve yourself and your family best by going with the flow, being flexible, and above all else, having fun! You will enjoy your vacation a lot more if you learn to laugh when you want to cry, take pictures when you want to scream, and give yourself (and your kids) grace when you think you least deserve it.
Take some deep breaths and remember to make the travel part of the experience.
You’ll also like 5 Free or Cheap Things to Do With Your Kids, 10 Tips for How to Enjoy a Road Trip With Kids, How to Fly With an Infant: 10 Helpful Tips, 10 Family Outings That Are Cheap and Fun, and 10 Tips for Packing When You Need to Travel Light.