Years ago someone told me that traveling with kids is a trip, not a vacation — Meagan and Sarah chatted about this in Episode 356, too! When my husband and I took a 19-hour road trip to Disney World when our oldest was seven months old, we quickly learned that the days of packing light and lying by the pool were over. We came home from that vacation cranky, tired and feeling like we needed a vacation. (That’s a sentence that might only make sense to parents who’ve traveled with children!) That vacation didn’t deter us from taking others, though, and as we’ve added two more kids to our family we continue to love traveling. The memories we make are well worth the stressful situations and over the years, through trial and error, I have learned how to stay sane and have fun while traveling with kids!
Rent a house, if possible
My husband and I have learned that the more space we have, the better. A hotel room is perfectly fine if that’s the best option, but we can usually find a house on Airbnb for the price of a hotel room with a lot more room for our family to spread out. This allows our toddler to nap in a quiet room with the door closed, and my husband and I to stay up later than 8 pm once all of the kids are in bed. Renting a house also gives the kids more room to run around and get their energy out, without having to worry that they’re bothering the people in the room below. We have found some great deals on rentals by booking in the off season.
Stick to a routine
This could be my Type A personality speaking, but sticking to a routine on vacation makes it a more enjoyable experience for everyone, at least in my situation with three young kids. For my family this means continuing with similar nap and bed times, because my kids will wake up at 6 am no matter how late they go to bed. For other parents it might mean waking up before the kids to read a book, drink coffee in peace, or take a walk. A little extra sleep and a bit of alone time are never a bad thing.
Keep food expectations low
In my house, vacation food is a lot like holiday food — there’s a lot of it, and my kids are too distracted and too excited to eat any of it. For this reason, I have learned to keep my expectations low when it comes to the food my family is eating on vacation. I know that if we go out to eat, my kids might take two bites and be done. I know that if we make dinner in the house that we’re renting, my kids will probably only want pretzels or a popsicle. Since I go into the vacation knowing this, I’m less frustrated and I don’t feel guilty letting the kids eat whatever they want (within reason). I am a big fan of keeping the food simple and making the majority of food at the house, getting pizza, or going out for lunch or an early dinner so the kids aren’t overtired.
Travel with family or friends
Having extra hands on vacation is one of the best ways to ease some vacation stress. One of my sisters has kids close in age to mine, so traveling with her family, our other sister and our parents is a great way for us to get all of the cousins together while having some extra help. More kids results in more chaos, but it feels less overwhelming when we’re all in it together.
When in doubt, bring the gear
I once found myself at a Walmart in a city I didn’t know, searching for a portable highchair after I realized my baby wouldn’t have a place to sit and eat. On another trip, I found myself purchasing a humidifier for our vacation rental after my baby was up all night with an ear infection. I’m not saying I’d recommend traveling with everything plus a humidifier, but I’m also not saying I’d skimp on the gear. In my experience, if you think you might need the double stroller, a portable playpen, or the bouncy seat, it’s worth the hassle of reorganizing the trunk to make it fit. Better to be an over packer than get there and realize your kids don’t have their favorite sound machine.
Being overly prepared can feel like a lot of work upfront, but it’s such a sanity saver once at the destination. When all of the work is done, it is time to enjoy the trip (I mean, vacation)!