So often I talk to other moms who lament that vacation with their family isn’t really a vacation. For them, it feels like more work on top of their already overloaded lives. It doesn’t have to be this way. I’m not saying that getting ready for a vacation is not like taking on a third job, it is, but, a little planning can actually make your time away feel like time away.

Now, we need to set some parameters. If money is not an object on your vacation then you probably don’t need to read this. If you budget for your vacation and want to get the most out of it, read on. There are different types of vacations. Let’s divide them into three broad groups:

  • Family Visits – many families use their vacation time to visit family in other states or other countries. Maybe you go stay with grandma or Aunt Vanessa for a week. How can you make the most of it?
  • Reunion-ish Situations – many families and old friends get together at a designated vacation spot. Manage these scenarios without anyone getting hives.
  • Just You – On Vacation – it’s nice to go away with just your immediate family. The key to making the best of it is to be sure most of the work does not fall on one parent.

What is the key to making each type of vacation work? Sit down, relax and imagine the worst-case scenario and then plan accordingly. That’s right! Plan for your kids to melt down, have allergic reactions or to simply get strep throat the day you arrive. If you plan for the worst, whatever good that happens is a bonus. Watch a few episodes of Malcolm in the Middle if you cannot get yourself down to the worst case. It will get your creative juices flowing.

FAMILY VISITS

Family is a known thing. Take off the rose-colored glasses and look long and hard at where and who you will be spending time with. If you know your mother-in-law is going to criticize the fact that you don’t bathe your kids everyday, work around it. Either throw them in the tub everyday or do what you normally do and let the criticism roll of your back. Either way, be prepared to not let others ruin your vacation. Do not try to convert her to your way of thinking – this, my friend, will never happen. She won’t join you. Same with food. If your kids are not eager eaters, step in and do some cooking. Yes, you’re cooking on vacation but you are avoiding discussions about crazy stuff like the “Clean Plate Club.” Most importantly, plan time away. Your family will appreciate the time apart and so will you. When you get home, think about something your hosts would appreciate (even if it’s not something you would) and send it to them as a thank you.

REUNION-ISH

Maybe it’s just your family and a sibling’s family or maybe it’s all 187 cousins and their families. Be pro-active. Know the territory and plan for your own family. As a child, my cousin had a sincere fear of umbrellas. That family reunion at the beach would have gone much better had her mother considered this. As it is, that cousin is nearly 50 and is known by everyone in the family as Screaming Pat. Fill your kids in beforehand on quirks as needed. If you know your crazy second cousin is a big hugger and your kid doesn’t like to hug people they don’t know very well then be sure to scoop your child up in your arms for that introduction. This will help your child feel comfortable and your crazy second cousin to not feel shunned.
Bring a lot of stuff for your children to do while there, don’t assume there will be things to do. I’ve made the mistake before and paid the price with two very unhappy and bored children. It’s better to have too much than not enough. I love travel sized games, inflatable balls, frisbees and other games that are compact and easy to travel with. Plan for time apart from the extended family to allow you to regroup and share stories. And, always remember, it’s nice to be with family but you are a grown up. If it gets to be too much, don’t make a fuss, just leave.

JUST YOU

This seems like it would be the easiest type of vacation. It should be. Take time to talk to your partner beforehand. If you want a hotel and they are looking for a cozy cottage, you’re already at odds. Discuss your budget as a couple rather than trying to negotiate after you’ve arrived at your destination. Be in agreement before you sign up for anything!

family road trip

If you are driving . . .

  • Plan for scheduled stops where the kids can get out and stretch their legs. When I was a kid we always drove the same five hour trip and my parents planned a picnic lunch and a swim at a lake that was half way. We loved that because it was something to look forward to and it tired us out for the rest of the drive. You can stop at a mall and walk around, find a local park to let your kids play for 20 minutes or a lake to go for a swim. These little stops may add time to your trip but they will save your sanity in the long run.
  • Bring snacks, cereal and other dry goods from home. Pack a cooler with the basics – milk, lunch meat, cheese, yogurt, etc. It will save expensive stops on the drive and you won’t have to run out to grocery store the minute you arrive.
  • Be prepared with audio books, old-fashioned car games and distractions beyond video. If your kids have been engaged mentally for most of the trip, they are less likely to be hyper when you arrive at your destination.

If you are flying. . .

  • Each kid gets a backpack for toys, snacks, books. And, each kid carries his own backpack. It’s a good idea to include a change of clothes in the backpack. My son once spilled apple juice on his pants and we didn’t have a change of clothes for him. Never again! Do you know how bad spilled apple juice smells?!
  • If your children have not flown before, do a few practice runs at home. Include tips about not kicking seats, not leaning over other passengers and using their inside voices. Ask them what things they could do in their seat if they are feeling antsy and want to get up and walk around but they can’t. Giving kids ownership over ideas like this make the ideas more effective I find.
  • Know in your own mind what you will do if your kids flip out on the plane. Having a plan in place makes a melt down much less stressful. Hopefully it won’t come to this but being prepared will help. I find a lollipop helps in these cases. It’s a huge treat for my kids and one that I know works well as a bribe and to help them calm down. Sometimes you have to pull out all the stops when flying just to save your sanity and, more importantly, the sanity of those around you. 😉

    flying kids

No matter what, once you arrive, find time to spend with your partner. It might not be as romantic as you like but you can make it memorable. A moonlit walk around your childhood neighborhood, time spent on a cramped balcony while the kids snore in the hotel room or a quick kiss over Grandma’s potato salad while the relatives fuss at your kids. Vacation can mean a lot of things. Make the best of yours.