By: Devin Morrissey
Vacation is the thing we all dream of; it’s the result of all the 9-5, the daily grind, and the PB&J dinners. Vacation lets us step out of our lives for a small window of time and gives families with kids the chance to show children the great wide world outside the backyard. Traveling with kids presents its own kind of problems, though. When you’re schlepping the world with your younger ones in tow, how do you get the most out of your vacation?
Catch Their Interests
It might sound like a good time to hang out on a beach and laze in the sun, but your kids might not agree. There might not be enough for them to do, or they might not enjoy sunlight and sand. It’s important to have the vacation that makes everyone happy, so try to find something about your destination that catches their interests. Play to the things that fascinate them — that make them run in from another room to show you something they just learned. Take turns with how you spend your time and make sure they know you’re taking turns. Signal that their interests are as important as your own.
Give Them Experiences
There are so many things in the wide world to inspire knowledge, creativity, and wonder. Give your child the experiences that will help them develop into the adult you want them to be. You can do this anywhere. It’s tempting to say that your kids need to see the Seven Wonders of the World, but it’s not always possible to take them across the globe. You can start as small as you like; there are wonders in every home town. From the best of nature, like caves or places where there’s visible evidence the dinosaurs roamed, there are tons of stuff that can open their eyes to the world around them.
Travel is an important experience in your child’s development. Whether you show them the wonders of nature or science or technology, or just expose them to a new culture, it’s a learning experience. They’ll learn from your family interactions, and they’ll learn from you how to handle new places and new things. They’ll follow your lead, whether you’re speaking to someone in another language or being respectful of your surroundings in an art museum.
It cannot be overstated: Kids can be forces of nature. They can make everything beautiful and meaningful, but they can also rip through a half-formed idea like tissue paper. Be prepared wherever you go. Make a plan. Pack some snacks. Keep medication on hand. Think of every possible contingency. No one knows your kids like you do; you probably have an idea of what kind of things can go wrong with them. First aid kits are great, especially if they have a health issue like asthma or diabetes. Pack food if they have allergies so you don’t have to worry about not being able to get food that conforms to their dietary needs. Call ahead to hotels and event facilities to make sure any of their needs will be met.
Remember that kids go at a slower pace than adults, so plan in a little extra time to do things. It’ll take you longer to get ready in the mornings. If you do anything with a lot of walking or moving, not only will they walk slower they’ll probably need breaks. If you wear them out in the morning, plan for time to relax at the hotel, or nap. A cram-packed, back-to-back schedule might not work out best for your family. You know your family best; if there’s a must-do item on your travel plans, put it in the time of day your family is most likely to be up and active.
That said, things can go sideways (and they often do). It’s important to be flexible, so if something goes wrong, you need to be able to adapt. If you’re unable to hit an item on your itinerary, it can be disappointing. If you have to swap some things around, do it. Call venues to see if you can change tickets or reservations. Give yourself room in your itinerary to rest, or leave holes in your schedule so you can do something spontaneous or nothing at all.
Use What You’ve Got
Being a parent is all about resourcefulness. There’s never enough time or money in the world to give your kids all the things you’d like to give them. You can make use of all of your resources to make sure you do everything — or the most amount of things. Discounts come in a lot of forms: frequent flier miles, an Airbnb with a kitchen so you can save on eating out, warehouse coupons like Groupon, or calling in every favor with every out-of-town relative near your destination (or that one uncle who used to work for Disney). Don’t be afraid to utilize every resource to make your family’s vacation memorable. The more you pull your resources, the more you and your kids can see, do, and experience together.
Traveling with your kids can be a dream, but it can also be more complicated than following your own wanderlust. A little planning, a little creative thinking, and your kids will experience a surge of fun, creativity, learning, wonderment, or anything else you want their vacation to inspire.