When I used to picture a vacation, I would think of relaxation, luxury, sunny beaches, and admittedly, those cliché frozen drinks with the little umbrellas on top. Now that I have children, I have to tack the word “family” onto my vacations and a new set of images come to mind—tantrums on airplanes, toddlers wandering off in crowded amusement parks, endless potty breaks in public restrooms, and not a single moment of peace for a week. No longer does a vacation conjure thoughts of feet in the sand and drinks in the hand.
Though if you choose to travel with kids, it will never be a relaxing or luxurious experience, it can still be enjoyable and even exciting for both kids and adults. Like most things involving children, the key lies mostly in preparation. So I’ve consulted my most well-traveled mom friends and put together some tips for avoiding disasters and making family vacations easier (and even fun) for everyone.
1. Always think ahead:
Ziploc bags are a traveler’s best friend – A friend of mine gave me this awesome time-saving packing tip, and I love it. Instead of emptying out half the contents of their drawers into your kids’ suitcase and calling it a day (like I used to), pick out entire outfit ensembles—accessories, socks and all—and place them in labeled, individual Ziploc bags for each day of the vacation. Getting everyone dressed will be a snap. I also use Ziploc bags to hold anything that can bust open in a suitcase, a trick I learned the hard way after the tragic loss of my favorite shirt to an opened bottle of baby oil.
Have your stuff delivered – Hauling your children out of the airport is hard enough without having to haul a hundred pounds of luggage along with them. Reduce your chances of accidentally leaving behind a suitcase—or a child—by arranging to have your luggage delivered right to your hotel. You can order other things to be delivered in advance as well: cases of water, baby wipes, snacks, etc.
Be ready to babyproof– I once witnessed a woman frantically chasing her toddler down a hotel hallway after the child had easily opened the door and wandered out on his own. I swear, it wasn’t me! But don’t let it be you, either. Bring door locks (the adhesive kind), outlet covers, and whatever else it might take to easily secure the room and keep the kiddies safe. It might seem like you’re being overly paranoid, but how will you ever relax if you’re constantly worried that one of the kids might nosedive off the balcony?
2. Raid the medicine cabinet:
Pack Motrin, Tylenol and a good thermometer– You may not be able to stop someone else’s kid from stealing a swig of your two-year-old’s sippy cup while you’re busy ordering waffle cones for the whole family, but you can prevent a fever from spiking with the right medicine.
Pack Benadryl – Your one-year-old wanted chocolate chips on his waffle cone. He’s had chocolate before, right? Right?
Pack some Pedialyte– You probably shouldn’t have let your daughter have candy, a hot dog, a waffle cone, AND ten chicken nuggets.
Purchase insurance – When you finish raiding your medicine cabinet, go make sure you purchased travel insurance. You probably (hopefully) won’t need it, but it’s NEVER a waste of money when the little virus mongers, um, I mean kids, are involved.
3. Avoid unpleasant plane rides and road trips:
Bring a baby carrier – Even if you’re not usually the type to rock a Baby Bjorn, you’ll want to take one along on the plane if your child is too young for his or her own seat. The baby carrier allows you to be hands-free and not stuck holding a squirmy baby the whole time. Added bonus? Naptime for baby can be naptime for you too (you know, because you won’t drop her on the floor in your sleep and stuff).
Protect their ears – Giving the baby a bottle during takeoff and landing will keep their little ears from popping. Older kids (and adults!) can chew gum.
Apps keep ‘em happy– Download some new apps on the kids’ tablets and wait until you’re on the road or in the air to let them play. It won’t keep them busy for the whole trip, but it will keep them from kicking the seat in front of them for a while.
Other ways to keep them busy – Portable DVD players are a must-have for car trips, plane rides, and hotel rooms. Travel easels are great too; your little artist will have a place to store crayons and coloring books as well as a table to lean on while playing. Small books and sticker sheets will occupy their time for a little while too.
Bring blankets and pillows – And anything else that will promote sleeping children.
Dramamine- If your child is prone to motion sickness, Kids Dramamine will help prevent the need for a barf bag. The label also warns that it could cause drowsiness. Just saying.
Leave at bedtime – I used to think it was best to start a trip while everyone was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. But children are on their best behavior when they are asleep, so now we leave after the sun goes down. The last road trip my family took together was so peaceful that my husband and I felt like we were on a romantic date. The kids were asleep, the radio was on low, the night sky was clear and beautiful, and we sipped coffee and talked for three, whole, uninterrupted hours.
Start with a full tank – Never stop for gas until it’s absolutely necessary! We all know what happens to sleeping children when the car comes to a complete stop. “ARE WE THERE YET???”
4. Prevent dining-out disasters:
Arrive early – The early bird gets the worm, and the early diners get the empty restaurant. My family usually eats dinner around 5 p.m. at home, so on vacation it’s no different. The crowds pile in around 6 p.m. at most restaurants. If you get there early enough no one will be around to complain that your child is belting out the theme song to My Little Pony at the top of her lungs during dinner.
Make sure your hotel room has a kitchen – At least make sure there is a refrigerator. After you arrive, go find the nearest supermarket and stock up on breakfast food, snacks, milk, juice and anything else your family might need. Unless you enjoy the high-pitched echo of your children whining that they’re hungry every five minutes, this is an absolute necessity. There is no reason to have every meal in a restaurant. It’s pricey and wastes time that you could spend waiting on two-hour lines for two-minute roller coasters.
5. Enjoy yourself:
Seriously, enjoy yourself –It may not always feel very vacation-like to you, but it’s still a break from the bills, work, laundry, cooking, errands, homework, relatives, doctor’s appointments, and everything else that occupies your everyday life. Maybe you’re building giant sand castles on the beach with your kids; or walking amidst a sea of mouse ears leading up to a Magic Kingdom; maybe you’re bunny sloping it with a bunch of little bundled up first-time skiers; or you’re cruising in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on a giant boat filled with actors in Dora and Diego costumes—whatever adventure you’ve chosen to take with your family, it’s undoubtedly going to be an experience that you’ll never forget. So try not to get caught up in all of the frustrating moments, as frequently as they might occur. Because when you’re back home and daydreaming over piles of dishes and laundry, you won’t be reminiscing about how many potty breaks you had to stop for on the way to Disneyland; you’ll be thinking of the priceless way your daughter’s face lit up the moment she first met her favorite princess, Cinderella.
About the author:
Jeannine Cintron is a freelance writer, blogger, and mother of two. While in the past she worked in advertising, now her life is one big advertisement for diapers, sippy cups, and wine.