Last week, we returned from two weeks away. It was vacation in the truest sense in that we vacated our home: the hub in which family, work, and all of our lives center around. Our office / dignify warehouse is in our home (my husband works from here as well), so it is tough to take a mental breather from the work pace when I’m at home; getting away is definitely the best way to find rest and restoration.
And this time, I did return legitimately rejuvenated, and generally, well, happy. That sounds like a natural response, a given after a vacation, right? But for all of us who have (or have had) young children, we know that a successful “holiday” is no small feat.
I feel like because of blogs and Instagram and even those old relics of published books, it can sometimes feel like I am the outlier; like adaptable, go-with-the-flow, grateful, pint-sized travel buddies is the norm. I see families who love travel and when they had kids, simply added one more plane ticket. “It’s worth it!” they say. “Kids figure it out!” or even just the simple, “It’s better than being at home.”
But, is it?
Of course, it is good and sometimes essential to get away (as mentioned above), and there are benefits like adventure, better weather, expanded minds, etc. And, usually, a change of scene or company is an immediate squash to boredom.
But, travelling with kids is like taking the crazy on the road, without any of the tools that you usually have to help you manage it!
I also love travel, but for me, the money, effort, and, well, disappointment, has just not proved to be worth it at this stage. Here is a photo that I feel sums up travelling with small children:
Also known as: We are on top of an enormous mountain with an incredible vista and a real live deer RIGHT THERE but look at this candy push pop that I have!
Chatting with friends about this topic always produces a story or two about our experiences as parents with kids who DO NOT GET HOW MUCH WE DO and make you wonder, on vacation, “Why are we doing this?”
- After a two week road trip with oceans, forests, swimming, adventure, the 4-year old who says her favorite part was “the fancy restaurant” (ahem, that would be Wendy’s on the FIRST DAY, a few hours in to the trip)
- The 2.5-year old who asks every day to go home, please
- The 10-year old who returns from A MONTH in Europe (that her dad planned for them to have fun & enjoy with abandon after she & her sister lost their mom to cancer), when asked on the way home from the airport how she enjoyed it, said, “overall, I would prefer a weekend of skiing.”
- The kids who are ready after an hour to leave the attraction that you just spent $100+ to get into.
- Countless meltdowns and/or inconvenient accommodations due to:
- Bed/sleeping arrangements
- “Weird” food or the “wrong” version of (seeming) no-brainers like ketchup or chicken
- drippy ice cream ↓ [p.s. this list is not exhaustive]
Last summer, I was SO OVER the wasted food and the wasted money and the feeling that the kids were more grumpy than grateful. I was ready to never take them anywhere, and only spend money on fun trips with my husband!
Then, this year rolled around and I knew that wasn’t quite the right (or most mature) response. I do want to push through and try again and make it better and spend some quality time with my family. I also want to set myself up for success and to make choices that are reasonable to my kids’ ages & stages.
Here are my best tips for a successful, simple, happy vacation with kids:
- It is totally ok to accept phases and stages of life. You can take a break from grandiose adventures and it doesn’t mean that your kids will be uncultured or lame or that you don’t still love travel or that you’ll never fly again. It’s ok. We’ll all be ok.
- Less is, indeed, more. The more of an agenda that you have, and the more things on it, the more likely you are in for rebellion. Embrace the lingering. Plan less.
- Travelling with other people (the right ones) can be a great solution to the ails of travel. Kids tend to behave better around other people and keep their qualms to themselves. If you have helpful grandparents, even better. You will probably get over that mother-in-law quirk pretty quickly when you’re sunbathing all afternoon and your kids are “helping” her make dinner. Ha!
- Identify your anger triggers and STAY AWAY from them. For me, it is buying food in restaurants that doesn’t get eaten – that sends me over the edge. So, I now prioritize being somewhere with kitchen/grocery access. If you hate crowds, stay away from Disney; if dirty kids makes you bananas, don’t go camping.
- Spend money on what you want to spend money on. It sounds straightforward, but things (like your bank account) can get carried away on holidays. Think back to other times you have enjoyed each other and what you were doing; then, invest in those areas of success, whether it is good buckets for sand castle-making, or ice cream cones to follow your daily hikes, or ultra comfy beds in separate rooms!
- Try to balance your interests & needs with your kids, with a heavier weight towards theirs. I try to remind myself that there will be lots of time to read my book or have long, lingering restaurant meals when the kids are grown up (in 15 short years!!)
Our vacation this year was so inexpensive and simple, but it was so good. There was camping (no, we still didn't buy a camper... we tagged along with someone else who did!), and swimming, and ice cream, and houseguesting, and hikes, and family, and friends, and getting dirty, and a bit of money spent on adventure, but almost none spent in restaurants on leftover food!
There was also, truth to tell: too much candy & junk food, abundant question-asking, nighttime wake-ups, being peed on in my sleeping bag, bad coffee, rain storms, some tears (of course), and impatience.
But, you take the good with the bad, and if the bad gets too bad, you just NEVER DO IT AGAIN. At least, not until next year ;)