I bet you’re thinking: sanity and family vacations just don’t mix! But I’m here to say that you can actually have fun on a trip with the kids in tow, provided you follow some of my tried-and-tested tips:
1. Know that cheaper is not necessarily better. I have a husband who used to happily book the cheapest room at a hotel for a family vacation (“It’s a great deal!” he would tell me, adding my all-time favorite: “We’re not made out of money.”). And then we’d show up and the living room of the suite (which looked large in the photos) could just fit our suitcases once the couch was pulled out into a bed. And you couldn’t flush the toilet in the middle of the night because it would wake everyone up. The list of hotel-room “atrocities” goes on… But, we’ve actually found that renting a home (through homeaway.com or vrbo.com), with lots of sanity-saving SPACE, actually works out to about the same cost as a hotel room. Plus, there’s even room for grandma or grandpa, which brings me to my next point…
2. If possible, bring help! Whether it’s your mom/dad, in-laws (if you stand them!), or your neighbor’s daughter who’s of babysitting age—having an extra hand on vacation will ensure that you and your husband are still married by the end of the trip…and that you actually have fun with your kids. Plus, an extra hand allows you to get some sanity-saving exercise in (even if it’s an early-morning run) and is built-in babysitting if you want to go out for dinner with your husband.
3. Be realistic with yourself. Three months before the actual trip, it probably sounded okay to drive eight hours straight to your destination with the kids in tow. But, you’ve got to be truthful with yourself: frustrating construction delays, traffic, very frequent bathroom (and diaper-changing) breaks, plenty of “Are we there yet’s?”, fights over what to listen on the radio, interrupted conversations with your husband…the list goes on. I’ve found that four hours is really the max you can go in a car without some sort of meltdown. And there’s no need for it if you plan appropriately up front. What that means, fly don’t drive on longer trips and/or pick places that are short distances away…or even better, find what works for your family and stick to it.
4. Pack in advance. I have a friend who typically starts packing at least four weeks in advance; she puts a little bit into a suitcase whenever she gets a chance…and keeps a detailed checklist, marking off things as they get packed. This is good! You’re not stressed so much beforehand—and you make sure you’ve got everything you need. I admit: I still have to master the art of packing; I pack way too much leading my husband to ask, “What the heck is in all these suitcases?” (But in my defense: I always like to plan for the what if’s!)
5. Come back a day early. Do not plan to come back from a trip the day before school/camp/work starts. I’ve done this many times in the past and have learned my lesson. Everyone is tired, cranky, and the house is filled with unpacked suitcases (meaning there’s tons of laundry to be done). It’s best to build in a day (or two), if possible…so you can get everyone (and everything) back to normal before the daily grind begins.
I’d be curious to know what sanity-saving tricks you put into place on family vacations. Post yours on facebook; I’d love to read them!