Is travel with kids really a vacation?

A Mai Tai on the beach?  A book on a porch swing?  Are these wonderful holiday treats a thing of the past when you travel with your children?    Well, those particular luxuries may be on hold for a few years, but a true holiday can be accomplished with your family, if you plan ahead.

Choosing the right destination:

I have traveled as far as Australia and as near as Orlando (less than two hours away) with our toddler boys and I will attest that the fewer times zones you cross, the less stress and frustration you will experience.  If you take on the challenge of far-away places, ask your pediatrician if Melatonin, a natural hormone responsible for regulating sleep cycles, is safe for your little ones (and you).  Remember it takes about one day of acclimation for each hour time difference and jetlag is generally worse when traveling West (ie returning from Australia/Europe).  Travel from the East Coast to Europe for a week and expect it to take as long to recover when you get home.

Choosing a family friendly option doesn’t have to mean a vacation to Disney.  Many wonderful resorts and destinations offer activities for children and childcare services.  It can make all the difference in the world when kids are fully engaged in the activities and parents need some alone time as well.

Mode of Travel:

Your destination may determine how you get there but think about the best time for your flight or your drive based on your child’s behavior patterns (i.e. I would never travel in the evening as that is a witching hour for whining and tantrums).  Try to avoid long layovers or multiple plane changes if possible. 

When flying, minimize the amount of time your children are pinned to their seats by sending in one adult with the bags and having the other stay back and board with the kids as late as possible. 

Plan Ahead:

Be sure you and your children have the required ID for your destination and find out if there are any vaccines or precautionary medications needed.  Request travel accommodations like car seats, cribs and cots well in advance to be sure your kids can be comfortable and safe.  Research family friendly restaurants so you can have the best dining experience without having to hit McDonalds or take a doggie bag from Chez Pierre’s.

Pack:

I like to have one suitcase for me and a separate one for my kids.  For each child, I include an outfit, underwear, socks and PJs for each day we will be gone and then two extra of everything to be safe.  I also include bathing suits, swim diapers and a sweater or sweatshirt.  Don’t forget enough diapers for the whole trip if you have really little ones.  I bring one pair of sneakers and a pair of sandals (or boots as appropriate) but don’t overdo it on shoes.  Many organizers suggest putting each outfit in a sealable plastic bag.  I haven’t found this extra step to be necessary.  In a toilet kit I put their tooth brushes, toothpaste, mouthwash, floss, baby body wash/shampoo, general medications, and first aid items like Tylenol and bandages.  I also include medications they need to take daily like vitamins and allergy meds.  Then I leave the whole suitcase open in their room and the morning of the trip I add their “lovies”.  I do not include these treasured items in carry on for fear it will be lost during travel.

In a separate bag, I pack general entertainment like books, games and a few toys they seem to enjoy the most.  I also put anything specific to our destination (ie ski suits or beach toys).

Finally, I pack the travel bags.  The first is my diaper bag with the addition of ample snacks, drinks (or empty drink bottle if traveling by air), tablets, headphones, books, crayons and stickers.  I include an extra set of clothes and a plastic bag in case anyone gets sick or splits during travel.  I am sure to put their travel documentation in this bag (or in my purse if I am carrying that separately).  Next, I let the kids have a say in what they want to include in each of their small backpacks (books, toys and snacks).  I don’t include any items that need to be removed for airport screening as it is easiest to remove from only one bag.

Enjoying the Vacation:

Stick to some routines.  Children generally thrive on routine and if you change up too much of it, they may act out with unwanted behavior.  Maintaining rituals like family meals and nap times will keep some consistency in a new environment.

Don’t try to do too much.  Although there are so many fun things to do and you want to fit them all in, everything takes longer with kids and everyone will feel stressed if you are pushing them and rushing.  Limit major activities to one per day and build in a lot of downtime to the itinerary.

It doesn’t have to be over the top.  I recently learned this lesson the hard way as friends and I gathered our children for a day at Disney.  No knock on Disney but the walking between events, the difficulty in finding food everyone would eat, everyone needing bathroom breaks at different times and the excitement of seeing so much left kids and parents feeling stressed and frazzled.  Later in the day we met at a small local park and everyone had a more enjoyable time playing on the swing set, having a picnic and being able to sit and just talk.  Sometimes with kiddos, the simpler option is the better one for making family memories.