When we become parents, we accept that our lives are going to change quite a bit, and vacations are no exception. We know that traveling can be a very enriching experience for a child of any age. But, as you would expect, it can also be quite overwhelming for the parents. You can no longer simply throw a few things into a bag and go where adventure takes you. Now you have to make long packing lists and contingency plans. Even if everything goes well, you’ll still have to deal with at least a couple of tantrums.
But we don’t mean to discourage you. Quite the opposite. Traveling with your kids shouldn’t be a scary experience. You just have to get organized and follow a few practical tips. Although, as parents, we can’t control everything, there are a few things we can do to make family vacations as stress-free as possible.
Kids love exploring the world and learning new things… up to a limit. When faced with a little too much novelty for their taste, they don’t know how to handle it. They get overwhelmed and act out. You know what helps? Going over the outline of the trip a few weeks and again a few days before leaving. If they know what to expect, they’ll be more comfortable and less likely to get cranky.
At this point, you can also tell them what kind of behavior you expect from them. Explain how they should behave on planes, on tours, and in hotels. Let them know that they should expect to share space with others who are also trying to relax and enjoy their vacation, so it’s important to be respectful.
If they understand what to expect and what’s expected of them, they’ll have fewer questions to ask while you’re busy trying to take care of logistical details.
Now that you’ve explained your expectation, you can sit down and write a full itinerary of places to visit and things to do. After you’ve carefully laid out your plans to the very last minute, you can take that piece of paper, crumple it into a tiny ball and throw it in whatever bin you’re most comfortable with.
After this emotional shock, you are ready to set more realistic expectations. This won’t be like your vacations before having kids. You won’t be able to follow a neat schedule or go with the flow.
For example, maybe you like visiting museums so you can learn about the history and culture of the country you’re visiting. You’re also thinking that this is a great chance to tell teach your kids about the world. After all, isn’t travelling supposed to be an enriching experience for your little, wide-eyes angels?
Well, you’ll also have to keep in mind that kids get bored easily. Maybe they’ll manage to care about history and culture for an hour or two at most, but they’ll be more interested in theme parks and zoos. Also, they like nature, but they don’t like long hikes. You’ll need to make some adjustments so that you can all enjoy themselves. This way, if they start complaining that they’ve had enough of the museum, you can remind that that in X amount of time, you’ll go get ice-cream and then head to the zoo.
Hotels have their advantages. You get room service, breakfast buffet, and they’re usually located closer to the main tourist attractions. At the same time, when you’re traveling with kids, you want to have as much space as possible, and that can get very expensive in a hotel. For this reason, we recommend you opt for renting an apartment or villa. Joining a home exchange program can also be a great way to get extra space and save money.
You’ll have access to a fully equipped kitchen so you can have breakfast at whatever time you’d like, and you can accommodate any food allergies or special diets. Since you’ll have more space, you can let the kids sleep in one room while the adults can enjoy a quiet and relaxing evening. In a hotel, you might have to share the room with them, which means you’ll spend the evening in the dark, scrolling through your phone.
Another benefit is that you’ll have a washing machine, so you don’t have to pack as much. This brings us to our next point.
When we go on vacation with the kids, we’re tempted to pack many of the things they use at home because we think it will make them more comfortable. You might even let them pack a small suitcase themselves, and they look so cute doing it. Of course, they’re probably going to stuff it full of toys.
This is a bad idea because kids can get tired and cranky quite easily, and when that happens, they’ll; drop everything: their blankie, wheelie bag, and top five favorite toys for this month. Then you’ll have to carry all those things. In more unfortunate cases, you’ll even have to carry them because they are no longer willing to move.
To prevent sore arms and back pain, we suggest you pack as light as possible. That’s why it’s so important that you have access to a washing machine. It’s no secret that kids have a hard time keeping their clothes clean. If you do decide to stay at a hotel, using the laundry services can be quite expensive, so you might want to look up more affordable options like laundromats.
As we mentioned before, vacations with kids are different. You won’t be able to do as much, some things may take twice as long, and kids get tired more quickly. The amount of downtime you need to schedule depends on the age of the child. While older kids can power through an entire day of fun activities, younger ones really care about their power naps.
The good news is that downtime doesn’t mean you have to head back to the hotel, apartment, or villa. You can relax on the grass in the park or take the kids to see a movie. Whatever slows down the pace a bit so you can all recharge.