We recently took our kids on their first “real” vacation. Missed school days. Airplane. Sunny destination. The works.
After years of travelling without them, my husband we felt bad leaving the kids behind, so we booked cheap tickets, asked a friend if we could stay in their home, and planned the trip of a lifetime, reminding the kids at every turn that this was special, a reward for their excellent progress at school, and would not be a yearly event.
Since I’ve been pretty happy with leaving the kids until now, I was the most nervous about what three little monsters bundles of joy would do to my enjoyment levels. A Mommy stays a Mommy, even on vacation, after all.
Much to my surprise, and delight, I enjoyed our family trip much more than I ever imagined I would. The kids weren’t cranky (most of the time), listened even when things weren’t exactly as they wanted (most of the time), and were able to adjust to the lack of routine (most of the…well, you get it).
Here’s why I think it worked:
- We waited until the kids were old enough. Our kids are 7, 7, and 10 – mostly independent and able to handle themselves maturely. They don’t cry when they’re tired (well, not every time) and they can entertain themselves: at the airport, on the plane, in the morning.
- We planned ahead. We discussed the trip months in advance of the kids’ vacation time, and took the time to research cheaper flights and rental cars. We let the kids’ schools know they would miss a day or two and asked for homework to be arranged. We printed menus of the restaurants we hoped to visit so meals could be chosen in advance. We researched kid-friendly activities and spoke to friends about their best suggestions for a successful family trip.
- We didn’t over-plan our itinerary. We know that Disney sounds fun in theory, but every time we considered it, all we could picture were long lines, expensive attractions, and lots of tired whining. Instead, we opted for a more laid back schedule that we filled with tentative plans that didn’t need reservations. We did not plan to go to restaurants on nights when we had a long day planned, instead choosing takeout to be eaten in our PJ’s, without the line-ups and waiting for our food. Many places had on-line ordering and delivery which made the whole process even easier.
- We planned for family time rather than experiences. We chose to book a private kayak tour of the Everglades rather than join an organized tour with many people and lots of information yelled through a microphone. The cost was a bit higher, but the attention our kids received from us and our tour guide, Tod, (highly recommended! – this was our second trip with him) was priceless.
- We involved the kids. From the planning to the packing, we spoke to our kids about everything. What activities would you like to do? My Canadian son asked if they had ice in Miami so maybe we could play hockey. What kind of restaurants would they like to try? Anywhere that offered pizza or hot dogs. We even had them pack their own clothes by making it a game. How many pairs of socks do you think we’ll need for a 6 day trip? No, the answer is more than 2.
- We were prepared for the flight. We packed plenty of gum, and reminded the kids how to unplug their ears when they were on the plane. We brought plenty of food and snacks, including treats they don’t normally eat during the week. We brought headphones from previous trips so the kids could start watching before we even took off. We brought card games for when watching TV was no longer exciting, which never actually happened. They only watch cartoons for an hour a week so you can imagine how they felt about 3 uninterrupted hours.
- We were realistic. We knew that this vacation was not going to be the same as our previous ones. We talked about who would have morning kid duty on which day while the other slept in. We planned date nights for when we got back to make up for the missed couple time during the trip.
- We relaxed our routine. I’m pretty strict about healthy eating, and baths, and bedtimes, so relaxing the routine is not always easy for me. But I also know that there are times when the routine has to be flexible and a family vacation definitely qualifies. It’s not a disaster if bedtime is an hour or two later. The kids’ teeth won’t fall out because they ate more sweets in a week than they did all of last month (we hope). A skipped bath or two isn’t going to turn them into slobs. There’s no question that my kids noticed how much easier we were on them and I think they responded in kind – almost no whining, very few fights, and loads of laughs.
The trip was certainly not without its imperfections. Here’s what I would do better for next time.
- Our kids don’t do well with car rides – long or short. I knew this. We’ve had issues before. But with all my planning, I still didn’t bring enough to do for the car. What fighting and whining there was on this trip all happened in the car. Car games, more snacks, better music – all on the list for next time.
- I missed my “ME” time. When travelling without the kids, I usually spend an hour or two on my own, drinking several cups of coffee, exploring, enjoying lots of quiet time. With 3 excited kids waking up early every morning, that did not happen. As much as we discussed the morning schedule and rotation for the trip, things didn’t really go as planned.
- We needed the “US” time. Even though we prepared for this before-hand, I definitely missed being “Husband and Wife” vs. “Dad and Mom” for the entire trip. We should have arranged for babysitting for at least one night and it’s definitely something I would correct for next time.
So, what did I learn?
Family vacations, by definition, aren’t perfect, but going in prepared and being honest about how much you can expect from your kids will go a long way in creating a trip to remember and family bonding that cannot be accomplished during the every-day hustle and bustle of life.
Bonus Lesson: We need to plan two vacations for next time – one with the kids and one just for me.