After my Worst Day Ever, I am very familiar with when a family vacation is more of a gauntlet.
One of my close friends even imparted that if you are traveling with kids, it’s a trip; not a vacation. The element of “relaxation” that we take vacations for can be non-existent.
Being a frequent traveler since I was a child, it was very important to me to expose the girls to new places from an early age. Being comfortable on a plane, trying new foods, seeing nature in its different forms; it’s a big priority for us. We’ve taken the girls on a handful of big trips since they were born, but honestly, none of them have been relaxing.
Beach trips, road trips, family trips; while they all are an escape from our professional jobs, it’s really just 24/7 parenting in a new location.
So here are some things to keep in mind to help you prepare for the additional turbulence that comes with little kids on vacation.
Please keep in mind that we are talking about taking babies and toddlers on vacation. Neither Mary nor I have experience with school-age kids or tweens, so I’m sure this experience will change over time.
Vacations automatically mean a change in schedule.
As hard as we try, it’s very difficult to keep routine on a trip, and this is more than just a normal sleeping/waking schedule (factor in more nighttime wakings since they are in an unfamiliar environment). Eating schedules are likely to be off as well as their overall diet. On this most recent trip, there were not very many vegetables consumed. Their diet pretty much consisted of the same 4 things on every kids menu. Unfortunately, this means that their poop schedule is going to be off for you as well.
AirBnB and vacation rentals help a bit in this arena because you can grocery shop and keep food as needed. We try to keep a box of cereal, a small container of milk, fruit, and snacks. We also try to save our restaurant leftovers.
The Arousal Schedule.
You might not think about this much, but predictable, routine days have predictable arousal levels. On vacation, arousal gets turned up to 11 and drops just as fast. For the first part of our vacation, we flew into Detroit for a family wedding. The girls got super excited to meet all their cousins and Titas, and almost crashed a Bachelor party because they wanted to be around family (FOMO much?). But during the times when people were running errands and we were house-bound, they were irritated, impatient, and demanding.
(Also keep in mind that meeting up with extended family most likely means there will be presents. While this generally isn’t a problem, there will be a tendency for kids to get bored and ask incessantly for more presents.)
For non-family trips, we usually take the kids out in the morning and push through till lunch. We try to wear out the girls as much as possible so that nap time should be easy, but this isn’t always well-received. From there, it can be a domino-effect for later snack and dinner time, or more screen time to get them to settle. This arousal swing can result in more dramatic tantrums as well.
Yes, the girls do eventually go to sleep at night, giving me and Troy the rest of the night to wind-down and be adults. On trips when we’re with other people, we can socialize and stay up late. However, we have to be prepared for the girls to be up at their usual time (between 6:30-7:30am). Yes, sleeping in is not a thing, even on vacation. So this unfortunately means that the later we stay up, the less sleep we will have to recharge for the next day. At best, Troy and I can take turns on who gets up with them in the morning.
The Emotional Effect.
Vacations have the potential for making lifelong memories. But for mom, the usual orchestrator of these memories, it can be particularly taxing. I read an IG post that said it is normal to get excited at all the things you want to expose your kids to. It’s also normal to be disappointed if your kids didn’t enjoy or appreciate your carefully-laid plans. This past week, we brought the girls to the Holland Tulip Festival in Holland, MI. While the girls did like seeing all the flowers and windmills, they also complained about all the walking, scowled in a lot of pictures, and frequently asked to be picked up when they are way too big to be carried. While they had their fill of the event, there was still a lot that I personally wanted to see and do that didn’t happen. As much as I can brush it off for now, the list of things that we’ve missed out on because the girls weren’t feeling it does build over time.
Okay, so even after knowing all of this, we’re not going to stop planning “trips”. The girls are starting PreK next year, so that gives us a summer, Christmas, and Spring Break to plan. As they get older, their physical and emotional stamina will build and they will be able to have trips without turning into gremlins. But for now, we’re packing our patience, more snacks, more spare toys, and more melatonin gummies than we need.
We’ve brought family members on vacation with us. We’ve invited our nanny to join us for weddings when kids were not invited. We could go on a trip with another family so that attention is more spread around. You can also find resorts and hotels that have a kids club or sitter services that will take your kids for the day, depending on age. While these won’t guarantee that you have a total, stress-free vacation, they can help you keep your wits and have some sort of peace and quiet every now and then.
Please, please, please don’t be deterred. Going on trips to have new experiences is such a positive things for kids. We just want you to be prepared so that it’s a great experience for all.