Nine Tips to Survive Travel with Children
“I am so excited to travel with my kids one day. It is going to be magical.” -my 25 year old self
My 25 year old self was a moron.
Don’t get me wrong, we travel with our kids regularly, but it is not all sunshine and unicorns. I cannot remember the last time I ate at a restaurant without shoveling food into my mouth like the restaurant was on fire because I knew the kids would not last much longer. On our first trip with both children in 2015, my then one year old kicked off the trip by taking my husband’s glasses off his face on the plane and snapping them in half. He doubled down on his d-bag behavior by staying up all night in the hotel room. My husband drove him around in a very questionable Philadelphia neighborhood in the middle of the night in an attempt to get him to pass out. Nope. The next morning, I texted my mother to inform her we were putting him up for adoption on Monday if she wanted first dibs.
I am still no expert on this topic, but over the years, we have discovered some things that have helped to make the experience a little less miserable.
1. Lower your expectations
Kids do not care how much you spent on this vacation, do not appreciate the majority of what they see and generally slow you down. My son had a magical day at Disney World, then announced he had the “worst day ever” because he didn’t get his tablet. I felt great about dropping a bag of cash on him again the next day.
Every time I have been excited about something I plan for the kids, they are less impressed than I expect them to be. They have fun, but their minds are not blown. They have no idea how hard we work to plan these trips. My son recently told me he thought our house cost $1,000, so I’m pretty sure he has no concept of how much these things set us back.
You know what? That’s OK. Take the pressure off yourself and accept the situation for what it is. Focus on the fun times you have together and the memories you make. I often think something did not make that big of an impression on my kids, then they randomly bring it up years later. Traveling is important to them too, even if they don’t show it the way you would like.
2. Plan, but be flexible
Do some research before you travel. Figure out generally where you want to go, what you want to do and how you are going to do it. My husband and I want to kill each other every time we are tired from a long day and have to figure out where to get dinner. Decisions are harder to make on the fly.
Going to a theme park? Check crowd calendars and make a touring plan. There are plenty of resources out there to help you minimize wait times and maximize your day. Do you need advanced dining reservations at most restaurants at this particular park? The answer to this question is often yes. Plan ahead to avoid misery.
With that said, when your kids are done, let them be done. Don’t force it. If your kid does not have it in him or her to watch those fireworks, you will not enjoy them either. I promise you. Kids have a superhuman ability to ruin things. Quit while you’re ahead.
3. Do Kid-Centered Activities
Let’s take a stroll down memory lane, shall we? In 2017, I chartered a boat to whale watch in Cape Cod. This was by far the most expensive thing we did the whole trip. I was looking forward to it for months. Within minutes of the boat taking off, our captain zeroed in on a pod of breaching whales. Our captain had not seen anything this amazing in years. A slew of boats circled the whales. Sounds of people screaming in amazement filled the air. God gave us a gift, people.
Meanwhile, my three year old was on the floor of the boat pushing a toy car around and the four year old announced he was bored and wanted to go back to the house to swim. There were other people on the boat, so we didn’t have the option to pull the plug early. We spent the next four hours
tolerating entertaining the kids. I should have saved the money. If your kid isn’t going to be into it, leave it for another time or understand your enjoyment is going to be seriously diminished.
4. Ditch the Kids
Want to go whale watching? Ditch the kids. Not like Madeleine McCann style necessarily, but a complete stranger in the hotel room would work. There are babysitting agencies in most major cities. These agencies run background checks and provide references. Some resorts also offer babysitting services. A night away will do wonders for your sanity.
5. Have Food on Hand
Nothing makes my kid go from zero to Hulk faster than low blood sugar. Know where your next meal is coming from, and be aware of the last time they ate. While most adults can roll while hungry, kids cannot. My kid gives me no warning when he is hangry. I figure it out right after he throws a shoe at the wall. Work meals into your travel plans to avoid an extra charge for property damage at the hotel.
On airplanes, even if they aren’t hungry, shove some sugar down their throats to keep them quiet. Gum also helps if their ears are popping. It is unlikely the flight attendant will be able to catch you before you get off the plane to talk to you about the gum all over the seat.
6. Shamelessly Offer Screens
I am that lame mom that limits screen time. I mainly do this because my kids act like someone 16 hours into a meth withdrawal when I take a device away. Vacation is not the time for good parenting. If four straight hours of screen time on a plane keeps them quiet, have at it. The people who would normally judge you for destroying your child’s brain will appreciate it in that setting.
7. Throw Money at Problems
Vacation is supposed to be fun. If you can afford to make things easier, you will not regret it. TSA precheck? Yes, please. Airplane seats with more leg room? You will be happy to have somewhere to shove all their crap. Hotel rooms with a separate bedroom? You will never be so happy to close the door on your children. Front of the line passes at theme parks? Kids don’t enjoy lines any more than we do.
I know this can be easier said than done. Everyone has a budget and it is impossible to do everything you would like. Consider using points and miles and Disney hacks to cover some of the cost. These upgrades may make all the difference.
8. Pack, but don’t overpack
Before kids, I would throw some stuff in a suitcase fifteen minutes before it was time to go. Today, I follow a detailed packing list. I try to prepare for the what ifs within reason. However, do not overpack. I have been guilty of this more times than I can count. You do not need two bags of wipes and three bottles of sunscreen for one weekend. If things get really hairy, you can always run to the store or the hotel gift shop. Along those lines, don’t let your child bring their own adorable little suitcase unless you plan to carry that too. Kids are useless. The sooner you accept that, the happier you will be.
Vacations are stressful. It’s just a fact. They regularly bring us to the brink of divorce. But they are worth it. Plan ahead, buckle up and make some memories. You will not regret it. Long term anyway. You might today.
- by Adriane
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