The following post is written by Jen from the Boscov’s Travel Marketing Department. Jen’s an avid traveler with her husband and her three kids.
At the conclusion of our third vacation with three kids, I threw my hands up in the air and proclaimed to my husband that I was beyond done traveling with kids. Puzzled–and knowing just how passionate I was about traveling and how much I looked forward to our trips–he questioned me as to why I wanted to stop, and I simply replied: “It’s just not a vacation anymore.”
At that point in our parenting journey, our travels had taken us with our 7-week-old first-born on a should’ve-been-8-hours-but-turned-into-12 car journey to the Carolina beaches; three times up to the Maine coastline (similar car drive, natch); several trips to the Jersey shore; countless local day trips and overnight trips to relatives’ homes; and once to Walt Disney World. Along those journeys, I had figured out how to breastfeed babies while strapped in their carseats, how to reduce the number of potty stops, how incredibly late my eldest could stay up well beyond her usual bedtime ignoring the lull of a moving vehicle, where we could get the healthiest “fast” food, and what was absolutely necessary to pack (and what could stay at home). And even though travel had become easier as our kids moved out of the infant stage, there was just something during that third year of managing three kids out of the familiarity and routine of home that made me say, “Enough!”
But despite my unusual outburst, on our way home, my husband and I talked and made plans for the following year of vacation, promising ourselves that we’d get better at planning and preparing to travel with our young brood, determined more than ever to share experiences that we loved with them while breaking them away from the monotony of home. With our kids now well into their teens, here’s what we’ve learned along the way:
1. You’ll only have as much fun as the person having the least amount of fun. Hats off to whomever told me this while we were in Walt Disney World as they observed my youngest beg for some frivolous souvenir–the 145th request that day–and then pout for a good hour afterwards when we wouldn’t succumb to his demands, thereby making it difficult for anyone else in our family to have a good time. While we still won’t cave to his persistent demands for overpriced mementos, we have learned how to vacation trying to meet the needs of each of our children to ensure they stay happy–or at least content–during our travels. Oftentimes, it means bargaining with our brood and trading our well-crafted itinerary for more time at the pool or going to the mini-golf course in exchange for happier kids for a happier vacation for everyone.
2. Less is more. I’ll never forget the first time we packed for a week vacation with our 7 week old. Even though her clothes were small, we filled our entire car as if we were moving the entire contents of our house out of the country. We had portable swings, and bouncy chairs, and beds, and sand tents, and bassinets–all of which were never used once since she had so many eager arms willing to take her at a moment’s notice of discontent. Be realistic about what you’ll use and pare down to what’s absolutely necessary. To make things easier on yourself while you travel, consider shipping big and bulky essentials to your destination, or take advantage of rental services: Many resorts or businesses in bustling tourist destinations offer everything from strollers to cribs at reasonable prices–and usually deliver and pick up directly to you for extra convenience.
3. And sometimes more is more when you’re traveling. Parents, don’t expect your 18-month-old-SO-overtired-from-being-off-his-routine toddler to magically fall asleep the moment you buckle him into the seat of the airplane. As often as we’ve flown, I’ve noticed a direct correlation between the inconsolable and content kids based upon the attentiveness of their parents and the novelty or lack of the items they brought with them to keep their children occupied. On most airlines, your toddler (if you paid for a seat for him) is afforded a personal item: Fill it with new and never-seen-before books, stickers, play-doh and crayons. Download new movies and apps to your tablet or phone before you take off. Bring dry snacks like pretzels and crackers, as well as drinks (which you can legally bring through TSA Security–see guidelines here), or purchase them after you’ve arrived at your gate. If you bought a seat for your toddler, use an FAA-approved airplane travel harness or travel with your own carseat so your child knows he must stay in his seat and can’t just walk around the plane whenever he feels like it. As much of a pain it is to lug a carseat through the airport, I’m forever grateful we did it with our hard-to-contain toddler’s first flight since it provided him somewhere to sit securely, as well as familiarity and a comfortable and safe place in which he was used to sleeping.
4. Stick to your child’s sleep schedule. While sleeping in and staying up late is one of the joys of adult travel, babies and young children are not nearly as adaptable to sudden changes in their schedule and routines. As much as it might pain you to leave sightseeing for a few hours every afternoon while you head back to the hotel for your child to rest, you might find it will save your sanity overall having a well-rested and happy child.
5. Let them plan parts of your trip. Just like involving your children in preparing dinner makes them more prone to eat it, giving your children some control over the planning of your vacation makes them more likely to enjoy it. For us, we’ve found that when our kids were little, they garnered the most amount of happiness with simple and easy choices, such as giving them a list of what we plan to do for the day and letting them plan the order in which we sightsee, or picking which restaurant to go to. As our kids have gotten older, we’ve given them more decision-making power in choosing destinations and activities–which allows their budding leadership and research skills to emerge!
6. Prepare yourself and your children for any physical demands of your vacation. For about a year or two after our children had graduated out of regular stroller use, we continued to bring one along on vacations where we knew we’d be walking a lot or pushing the limits of bedtime. If we still had a child who used a stroller regularly, we brought a double stroller so our walking kids could hop in and out of it as necessary for breaks or quick naps. Once we had decided that our brood had outgrown the use of a stroller, we’d start building their stamina several months prior to our travel date by taking them on long walks and slowly increasing our mileage until we felt confident we’d be able to travel successfully without the aid of one. This not only made the trip more enjoyable for them, but also for us as we weren’t trying to carry a 35-pound child for hours on end as we tried to accomplish our to-do list with a too-tired-to walk preschooler.
7. And on that note, don’t forget to take breaks. See tip #1. Once you have an overtired child, you’re likely to have an unhappy and bringing-down-the-rest-of-the-family child. Sometimes all your child needs is 5 minutes to sit and stop, enjoy a drink or a treat, and that’s enough to ensure his/her happiness for another few hours.
8. Bring cleaning supplies. True story: The last three times my kids have thrown up, it’s been while we’re on vacation. At home, they rarely catch GI bugs, but it seems the moment we travel during tummy bug season, someone comes down with it while we’re away from home. While it could simply be coincidence, I’ve decided to take no chances and have become fanatical about making sure our hard-earned money isn’t (literally) flushed down the toilet. We carry wipes to clean our room paying attention to remotes, toilets, doorknobs, handles and phones; we carry hand sanitizer and use it when sinks aren’t available; and we pay close attention to making sure everyone in the family washes their hands well before they eat and following bathroom breaks in hopes of avoiding illnesses. In the very least, while we haven’t been able to stop someone in our family from getting sick in the first place, our cleanliness measures seem to have worked to keep it contained to the one ill person in our family, only derailing our vacation plans for a day or two while he/she recovered.
9. Be present. For as long as I live, I will forever be grateful for every night that we’ve spent in a hotel room. Living in one forces me to recognize how little I need, and how close the quarters bring my family. One-by-one, freshly bathed kids make their way into my bed, to snuggle and to relive the favorite parts of their day. Exhausted, they fall asleep, and I find peace with the money we’ve scrimped and saved so that we can travel often. It’s the one time where our lives aren’t encumbered with deadlines, alarms, work, sports, activities, chores, homework or stress–and we soak in every second, grateful we’re able to afford the time together and to be present with one another.
10. Plan adult time. One of the greatest joys when we traveled with our young family and our parents was that my husband and I had built-in and willing babysitters to head out for a few hours for an adult dinner. As our children have gotten older and as we’ve traveled without grandparents, our kids have loved spending time in organized kids clubs. If your vacation plans don’t include trusted relatives or organized kids activities, we found it was always nice to give one parent a break for an hour or two as needed and allow them to seek some quiet with a book, or head to the spa or gym. Trips with kids aren’t always vacations for parents–particularly when your children are young–but allowing your spouse or significant other to have some down time (and get it in return) often allows you both to come home from your travels happy, refreshed and excited about the quality time you spent as a family–and without needing another vacation!
To learn more about family-friendly travel destinations, please contact a Boscov’s Travel Specialist at 800-755-8020 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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