By Joanna Goddard for A Cup of Jo
When brainstorming family trips, I sometimes think of that funny Onion article, “Mom Spends Beach Vacation Assuming All Household Duties in Closer Proximity to Ocean.” So, how can you get a family vacation to feel like a true escape — not just for kids, but for grown-ups, too? Here, experienced mothers share their tried-and-true tips…
From Kendra Smoot, mother of three (aged 2, 5 and 10):
1. I start packing the week before we leave. I set out a suitcase or start a pile out of the way, and when I think of something (bug spray, sun hat, headphones), I just pack it up instead of scrambling right before we leave.
2. Ever since I heard that anticipation is half the fun, we involve the kids in the planning part — learning a bit of the history of where we are visiting, what things we want to do there.
3. We bring headlamps. They’re so handy and comforting for kids when they’re in a new space, or when you are all sharing a hotel room with a sleeping baby, etc.
4. Eating out for every meal with kids can sometimes feel like a drag, so we buy groceries and cook — and save eating out for a few special restaurants.
From Linsey Laidlaw, mother of three (aged 3, 6 and 9):
5. My best advice for easing plane travel is to keep your kids nice and deprived any time they aren’t flying so you can lord the prize of screen time and snacks over them as a bribe for good behavior. We don’t give them juice in our normal life, so the promise of their own little can of cranapple is tantalizing.
6. I love that exploring a new city as a family gives us a truer idea of what it’s like to live there. With kids, we experience grocery stores and neighborhood playgrounds and local spots that we’d probably miss if we were on a grown-up trip. We shape the itinerary so that everyone can choose one activity per day, and we alternate between adult and kid picks. The rule is you have to be supportive of other’s picks. So, if you keep it together on Mom’s walk through the museum, you won’t be cut short at the park — and also your chances for ice cream will increase exponentially.
From Brooke Williams, mother of one (aged 9):
7. On car trips, we listen to podcasts. Hours fly by like minutes. Tumble is a great kid-friendly podcast about science, and NPR has a whole directory of family podcasts. Then there are my favorite books on tape. We devoured the D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, which is read by Harry Belafonte, Kathleen Turner, Mathew Broderick and Paul Newman and might just be the Best. Audiobook. Ever. We also loved Wonder and A Wrinkle in Time. Oh, and we probably listened to The Little House on the Prairie 1000 times. Maybe more.
8. We try to rent apartments when traveling — it makes the pacing feel more human, and you can have that downtime at home. I like Kid & Coe for family-friendly houses in cool places. Plus, that way we’ll eat a good breakfast before setting out for the day. If Daddy makes pancakes, we’re all good!
From Amanda Jane Jones, mother of two (aged 1 and 3):
9. We carry a big (thin, so it can be easily folded) picnic blanket that can be used for picnics in case the kids are too rowdy for a restaurant. It also can be used for naps in transit.
10. We have the most success when we plan outdoor adventures in nature. The kids are always 10 times happier on some sort of hike or beach or lake, so we try to work that into our days.
11. “Hangry” fits happened so often at the beginning of our last summer vacation, I quickly learned my lesson. Now I’ll pack sandwiches — croissants with tomato, mozzarella and arugula (the kids eat it without the arugula). Or if we’re in a rush, peanut butter and jelly.
From Liz Libré, mother of three (aged 9 months, 4 and 6):
12. We bring a few things for indoor play (for early mornings, downtime and rainy days): A Koosh ball is great for tossing around, especially at the airport; it doesn’t bounce away, which is key. Plus, the games Rush Hour and Spot It. Also, on a recent trip, my friend recommended Perler beads, which were a HUGE hit with the kids. We were on the most beautiful beach in the world, and my son wanted to go back to the room to do Perler!
13. We love being outside but don’t want to get burned, so we wear brimmed hats and hooded sun shirts. Kids are always exposing their backs and necks, digging in the sand or playing on the ground, and these help keep sun off them without being too hot.
From Erin Jang, mother of two (ages 1 and 5):
14. I always like to tell my son, “It’s an adventure!” My dad used to tell me that growing up. Energy is so infectious. If I am stressed, impatient and cranky, my kids feel it and it can sour the moment for everyone. But if I’m amped up, the day becomes that much more fun. As a parent, you can spin anything — even the mistakes, the detours, the forgotten diapers! — into an adventure.
15. On our last trip, I gave our five-year-old the very important job of being our family travel reporter. To my surprise, he took it very seriously! I brought a notebook, scissors, tape, a glue stick and markers. He collected bus and museum tickets, asked for business cards at restaurants, and sought out other ephemera. He documented the most important events (i.e., all sugary treats he ate) and it was a great activity when we were waiting at restaurants or on long train rides.
16. Lastly, packing cubes! They’re the best! It makes it so much easier to pack and unpack all the kid’s clothes, and keep things organized when we’re traveling.
Of course, tricky things still happen on family vacations, but it’s worth it for the great moments, right? “We’ve had tantrums and time-outs all over the world,” says Linsey Laidlaw. “For us, this is an acceptable cost of business, and we figure if we are gonna learn to master these behaviors somewhere, it may as well be on the go.” Also, I loved this mother’s Instagram comment on vacation mindfulness: “Repeat after me: ‘I’m on vacation and I don’t care!'”