Memorial Day weekend is almost here, bringing the unofficial start of summer and the start of vacation season.
With two children ages eight and ten, my husband and I have experienced many family vacations, and, over the years, I have picked up some helpful tips to make these trips more enjoyable.
Packing smart doesn’t mean skimping on what you need for a trip. It means being mindful of what you must have on a trip in order to make it as enjoyable experience as possible. For some families, electronics are a must to ensure a calm and peaceful journey, for others, disconnecting is important. Some families prefer to bring their own outdoor gear, others find it better to rent at their destination.
When packing you need to think about the benefits and disadvantages of each item you bring. Whether traveling by car, plane or train, you never have infinite space, so being mindful matters.
If you have more stuff than you can handle and you must have certain items on your trip, consider shipping to your hotel. Often this costs less than paying extra baggage fees (if traveling by air) and is easy enough to arrange. When my family went on a trip sponsored by my husband’s company, I knew I couldn’t pack all the diapers and other items I needed for my youngest, who was an infant at the time. I was able to coordinate the shipment of diapers and other products to the hotel and everything was there on arrival.
Get A Place With A Kitchen
Family travel can be costly, and the idea of spending more on an accommodation that includes a kitchen may seem foolish. Yes, in some cases, your initial trip investment will go up, but the savings on meals, not to mention avoiding the often disastrous experience of dining out with small children is well worth it. Furthermore, vacation rentals are often a better value than standard hotels, and deals can be found if you are flexible with your dates and/or willing to stay further from the main attractions of your destination.
Even though my kids are better at behaving at restaurants these days, I still prefer the having our own space for meals when we travel. I like that we can wake up when we want and not have to worry about finding a place for breakfast or waiting online at a mediocre breakfast buffet. I like that if we don’t have to think about reservations. And, I like that if we want to eat a meal out, we always have the option to do so.
We keep our meals very simple. (Think lots of pasta, cereal and sandwiches), and pack much of what we need ahead of time (if we are driving). At our destination, we will pick up milk and other perishables.
What about all-inclusives? My little experience with all-inclusives has been underwhelming. I appreciate the convenience, but most of the time the food is average at best, and you still run in to a lot of the same challenges you would if you had to rely on restaurants. However, if you must do an all-inclusive, bring some food storage bags and use them to take some extras of things like muffins and bananas to have on hand in case your child wakes up hungry before the buffet opens.
Have A Mix Of Planned And Unplanned Time
There are people who plan every moment of their vacations, and there are people who just want to see what happens. Neither approach is ideal when it comes to family travel. Too many planned activities is exhausting, however, if your family has must-dos on their list, most often you can’t just show up and expect to participate. Popular activities often require reservations ahead of time, often months in advance. Smart planning also takes advantage of things like museum and transit passes.
While it is tempting to fill every moment of your vacation days with something to do, always being on the go can be exhausting. Kids (and adults) need time to recharge, and often the best vacation memories can be made on those “lazy” days.
These laid-back days are also when you are most likely to get the true vibe of wherever you are visiting. Taking it slow allows your family to better experience the local culture, people and environment.
Don’t Make it Just About The Kids
A family vacation is just that, a FAMILY vacation. Everyone, including the adults should enjoy the trip. Of course, there will be activities that are more for the children, and it is OK if that is the main focus of the trip. Just be sure to include activities you enjoy, even if they aren’t what your kids might choose.
As a child I was dragged to many sites I had little interest in, and, yes, I complained. Now that I am an adult, I can appreciate how much I learned from being exposed to interesting and unusual places.
Aim to have at least one activity for each person in your family to enjoy. For you it might be a museum, for your partner, it might be a site of historic significance, for your kids, it might be a candy shop. This gives everyone a chance to experience something they truly enjoy, and opens up the rest of the family to things they may not have chosen to do on their own.
Say Yes More
Vacationing with children is hard enough without stressing over what they eat or getting them to bed. Let them have ice cream every night and stay up well past their normal bedtime. Or, if that much deviation from the routine would be too hard on your family, consider allowing for some small perks like an extra hour of device time or letting your kids purchase a small souvenir item.
Saying yes more opens you up to new possibilities as well. If your kids want to explore a place not on your list, or if you see a tempting roadside eatery, saying, “yes,” may lead to the highlight of your trip.
Traveling with children will never be 100% stress free, but with some careful planning and an open mind, family vacations can be a great experience for all.