6 Ways to Avoid a Nightmarish Family Vacation

My husband and I decided to go away with our twin toddlers for a long weekend this year. Hoping for the best, but kinda expecting the worst, we decided to rent a small house where we could have our own room, and the boys would be able to run around and scream and knock crap over (hooray for the damage waiver!). I stressed about it for weeks–making lists, buying new child-proofing supplies, and steeling myself for what could potentially be an extremely hectic trip…like essentially the opposite of a vacation. Well, much to my surprise, family vacay with our toddlers turned out to be awesome! Not like, “Oh yeah, we drank frozen margaritas by the pool all day while the boys entertained themselves,” kind of awesome. More like, “I might need a vacation after that vacation but, man, that was fun,” kind of awesome. So, here’s what I figured out…

1. Set the bar low. If you go into a family trip thinking you’ll finally be able to catch up on sleep and get lots of reading done then, well, hahahaha. Going away with your kids is not exactly restorative, but if you know that going into it, you won’t feel as disappointed. My kids get really wound up when in a new environment, so I was prepared for total mayhem and disaster. I pictured nap-less days, full of the soothing sounds of toddler squealing, mommy screaming, and kitchen cabinets being opened, slammed shut, and then emptied in a cacophony of clatter. I imagined early morning wakings and middle-of-the-night cries coming from their unfamiliar bedroom. I saw fragile glassware mysteriously making its way into their slippery little hands. I wasn’t totally off-base because all of the above did happen, but it was minimal, and nowhere near as annoying as I thought it might be. Even with some challenges, I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was, probably because I was expecting the worst.

2. Come prepared. I believe there might have been more chaos if we hadn’t come armed with heavy child-proofing artillery. No door could be opened by tiny hands. No forks jammed in exposed outlets. No sliding closet doors could be slammed open and then shut, potentially pinching little fingers. Sure, at this age, my kids probably know better, but I didn’t want their curiosity to overrule any good sense. We made the place about as safe as we make our own home, which allowed us to sit back and relax a bit.

3. Forget your rules. When you’re on vacation, you have that extra glass of wine, you sleep late, and you definitely go off of your diet. So you have to let your kids live a little too! All of our healthy eating habits went mostly out the window. I don’t think my kids ate one green food item while we were away…unless you count guacamole. The kids went to bed about an hour past their usual bedtime because we were barbecuing and night-swimming and playing with our friends. We watched a little more TV. We bribed them with chocolate. Whatever, we were on vacation!

4. Keep busy. Unfortunately, when you’re traveling with kids, you can’t get away with doing a whole lot of nothing. You’ve got to create some action and activity, not only because it’s a blast for them, but also because it’ll wear those little suckers out. A lot of families find that even kids who gave up napping years before, will nap on vacation. We went swimming with our kids for literally hours every morning, and again in the afternoon. We went on a tram ride. We went out for pancakes. At lunch, our boys were asking, asking, to take a nap. And at bedtime, they were asleep seconds after we turned the light off. We filled their day with so much fun, it’s like we played them into exhaustion.

5. Have some downtime. Yes, you’ll want to pack the day, but you also need to allow a little time to breathe and unwind. We have younger kids, so we were able to read a book, watch TV, or take a nap when they napped. With older kids though, you may just want to pop in a movie to create quiet time for everyone. After my boys went to bed, we made S’Mores and watched dumb Lifetime movies with our friends. We carved out a little fun, grownup time for ourselves which made it that much more of a vacation for us.

6. Remember this. When we were packing up to leave, I found myself getting all misty-eyed. We have traveled to see family and been away for a night before, but this was really our first family vacation. At 3-years-old, my boys are really turning into funny little people. And amazing travel buddies. I could have stayed in the pool with them forever. I have mental snapshots (and real iPhone pics) of my babies in their swimsuits, Popsicles in hand, sticky red juice all over their sweet faces. I’ll never forget how they yelled, “Look, the desert! Look, we’re over the trees! We so high, up in the sky, in the clouds!” as we rode a tram thousands of feet up into the mountains. No, this wasn’t at all a relaxing vacation, but all of the memories I have now made it that much cooler.