As anyone who has traveled with a baby, toddler, or small child knows, a vacation with kids can feel like anything but. When my daughter was born almost five years ago, her dad and I decided we wouldn't let our newest addition prevent us from being on the move, but a handful of trips spent in a severe state of sleep deprivation quickly calmed our wanderlust. Home was safe, stable, and scheduled, and once our second child came along two years ago, we relegated travel to two annual family beach vacations and the occasional parents' night or weekend away. The latter always went too fast, while the former were a mixed bag that mostly involved us fighting over whose turn it was to get up with the baby, jockeying for naps, and feeling as far from relaxed as possible.
But this year, we experienced a Christmas miracle: we went on a 10-day trip to Florida with our kids and extended family and actually came home feeling more rested, connected, and happier than when we left. Driving to the airport to fly home (with two napping kids in the backseat, miraculously exhausted from all the fun instead of a refusal to sleep in a foreign bed), we looked at each other in shock. Was it possible? Had we actually enjoyed our vacation? Here's how we cracked the code.
- Have an organized game plan for day one. Flying with two little kids is never really fun, but I made it easier on myself by packing super early so I had plenty of time to remember every sippy cup and extra crib sheet. For the car rides and flights, I made sure I had plenty of snacks (including suckers and other usually limited treats) and new, fun activities to keep the kids' entertained. Also, we scheduled our flight early in the morning, which meant we arrived at our rented condo with plenty of time to get unpacked, make a grocery run, and fit in a quick swim before dinner and bedtime. While waking up at 4:30 a.m. wouldn't usually be my first choice, if it means I can get up the next day without any lingering stress about getting everyone settled, I'm on board . . . literally.
- Think about your adult-to-kid ratio. My kids are the only little ones on my side of the family, which means we get lots of help from their grandparents and my brother and his girlfriend. More adults made it easier for my husband and I to sneak out for the occasional walk on the beach and also helped us accomplish other previously difficult activities like showering and pouring a drink that doesn't need to be served in a sippy cup. I'm not suggesting you invite fully grown strangers along on your next vacation, but if you can recruit grandma and grandpa or an aunt, uncle, or older cousin, you'll probably be happy you did.
- Schedule at least one adults' night out. If you and your partner are solo with your kids, it's even more important to get a little adult-only time. Look into local babysitting services online or through your resort and plan a date night or two.
- Stick to a schedule when possible. My almost 2-year-old son pretty much made our vacation by sleeping through the night and napping for at least an hour every single day. This might not sound revolutionary, but considering that five months ago, the same kid got kicked off our last trip for his refusal to sleep pretty much at all, I was extremely relieved. Maybe he's just getting older, but I think our efforts to make sure he napped at around the same time every day and went to bed the same time every night (his sister, dad, and I hit the sack shortly after) certainly helped. Well-rested kids and parents are much happier kids and parents.
- But break the rules occasionally, too. Vacation is all about escaping from your normal routine, so once you're confident that everyone's settling in well, it's time to shake things up. We took our 4.5-year-old daughter for a few night swims, even though she'd already had her bath (and her hair was becoming distinctly straw-like after four-plus hours in the pool every day). We let her stay up as late as she wanted on New Year's Eve and on our one night at Disney World, bedtimes be damned. Popsicles became acceptable morning fare, and lunch was whatever snacks we had at the pool, followed by ice cream. Sure, we were all ready for a little normalcy by the time we left, but man, did we all have fun on our vacation.