By Melissa Stefanec
Parenting and vacation, can the two really coincide?
Between the packing, the unpacking, the travel, the shopping, the dirty clothes and the mishaps, taking a vacation with kids can feel like it’s not actually a vacation.
A family vacation is always going to be more demanding than a child-free vacation. But with a little proper planning and a willingness to throw away unnecessary expectations, a family vacation can feel like a real vacation.
Here are some tips and tricks for how to pull off a successful family vacation:
- Pack some balls
Balls are fun. Whether you’re 6 months old or 46 years old, a ball can turn a vacant parking lot or field into a good time. Pack a couple of different kinds of balls. When people get bored, a ball can turn the world into a game.
Last time you were on a vacation, what did you run into the gas station or drug store for? Was it Band-Aid, children’s ibuprofen, bug spray, sun lotion, motion-sickness medicine, hair ties, tweezers, hand sanitizer? Whatever your family always needs, pack into a bag or pouch that is easy to find and access. Don’t waste precious moments of your vacation in line at a drugstore.
- Make a list of things you can’t live without
Not having a vital item really cramps the style of a vacation. Whether it’s an important medication, a favorite stuffed toy, an extra pair of contacts, cash or something else that you can’t do without, put that item on a list. Do not leave the house until you’ve confirmed you have every item on that list. Check that list again in the car.
If you’re taking a road trip, pack these two items. When traveling with children, there will be a mini crisis. There will be bodily fluids. There will be mud. There will be a spill. A couple of plastic bags and paper towels can keep a mini crisis from becoming a full-on mess.
- Pack wipes
Even adults drip ice cream in the car, get their hands dirty and get strange injuries. Do the whole family a favor and make sure wherever you go that you have wipes. They aren’t just for the bathroom; wipes work on food, dirt, spills and just about anything you throw under them.
- Bring extras of important clothes
Whether you or your children have a pension for going through sneakers, socks or underwear, pack a few extras in a separate bag. Think of this bag as an emergency clothes stash. Access it when needed.
- Forget all those rules about screen time
Too much screen time is bad for developing brains. We all know that. However, vacations are about indulgence. Give yourself a little break and bring in the screens when you need them. Whether it’s in a car or on a plane or in a restaurant or when you need some alone time, you shouldn’t feel guilty about giving the kids a little extra screen time on a vacation.
Throw all of your family’s food rules out the window. Turn the kids loose in a store and let them buy a few items from their dream grocery lists. When you give them power and autonomy in some areas, they just might be more likely to pick some of their battles.
- Let each person choose an activity
A happy family makes for a happy vacation. When planning a vacation, make sure there is a little something in it for everyone. Then, when the whining ensues, you can kindly remind the kids that they got to do a special thing, so they should make room for other people’s special things.
Water is dangerous. According to the CDC, drowning is the second-leading cause of death for children between 1 and 14 years of age. If you are going to vacation anywhere near water, talk to your entire family about water safety. Drowning probably doesn’t look like you think it does. You can learn about drowning prevention from the CDC at www.cdc.gov/drowning/prevention. Don’t let your vacation turn into a nightmare.
- Talk about rules and expectations
Before you go on a trip, have a small family meeting about rules and expectations. Make sure everyone understands. If people clearly understand expectations, they are more likely to meet those expectations. That rule goes for 4-year-olds and 40-year-olds.
Vacations are a break from the ordinary. Although kids (and human beings in general) crave structure, most of us also enjoy rebelling against authority every once in a while. If you hype up the rules the kids can break (e.g., early bedtimes, no ice cream before dinner, no movie popcorn in the living room), they will be psyched, have a little extra gratitude and, perhaps, be more likely to fall in line on the important stuff.
So, as you embark on summer and fall trips with the family, remember these tricks. Family vacations don’t have to be stressful. With a little planning, some methodical packing and some family conversations, your trip can be just the break everyone needed.