Tis the season for family summer vacations. Whether you’re a beach-potato, an earthy/outdoorsy type, or a savvy international traveler, you’re a mom, and you deserve a vacation. You plan, prepare, and have high hopes of getting some much-needed r&r. Then it happens. Reality strikes faster than flying applesauce from a baby-sized spoon, and you arrive home needing a vacation to recoup from your vacation.
Parenthood changes the meaning of summer vacation forever – or at least for the next few years. It’s not just about upsizing the square inches of your bathing suit. Instead of soaking up the sun, you’re sweating in the sand chasing your toddler as he runs full speed, uninterested in the giant bag of beach toys you so smartly brought along. One day your cute little camper may love the tent, the next, not so much. Of course moms cherish time with family, but sometimes being away from home can be anything but relaxing. Although it will be a far cry from a honeymoon, your family vacation can be less stressful if you follow some rules of thumb.
- Over plan. Your vacation philosophy might be to go-with-the-flow, but that is easier said than done with bambinos. You never know when the unforeseen can put a kink in your plans, so know what kid-friendly activities are available at your destination and even long the way. A long car ride can be much more pleasant with a fun stop or two. Have back-up options in case you can’t do your first choices. To collect ideas, go to tourism websites or travel message boards to find a hodge-podge of options. Better yet, ask around, especially during your trip. You might get some great suggestions from locals.
- Think safe (and sane). Some items like sunscreen or kid-safe bug spray are obvious packing choices depending on the destination, but a few extra health and safety products can be useful. A first-aid kit is great to have, but check to see if it leaves out any items you should have. A teething infant may need teething relief more than bandages. If your kiddo is in that ever-moving inquisitive young toddler stage, pack your own baby-proofing essentials. Sure, it’s impractical to cover all electrical outlets and secure every cabinet, but a few of these items can help you to finish that first cup of morning coffee without saying variations of, “Be careful, oh no, no…I said no!” several dozen times. You may want to keep a few small and simple baby proofing items, such as a sliding cabinet lock and a handful of outlet covers, in your suitcase for future trips too. Each child is different, so decide what few items are important for keeping your little monkey safe.
- Don’t forget toys and entertainment. Remember the sentiments of “something old, something new, something borrowed … ?” Well forget the wedding. That tradition is more suited for traveling with kids. Bring at least one favorite toy for something tried and true, but also invest in a new special something that might invoke squeals of delight. You might even want to have it as a surprise and introduce it in a time of need (like when your child decides to throw a tantrum or continues asking, “Are we there yet?” in repeat mode). If a friend or family member volunteers to loan you something that will make your trip easier, take them up on it! Borrow the portable DVD player or awesome beach toy. By doing so, it’s less likely that the “something blue” will be you or your kid’s mood.
- Enlist help, if available. Vacationing with your extended family? Take advantage and let them help! Sure they could give your child too many sweets or keep them up too late, but if you’re ever going to relax the rules a bit, now is the time. Those teen nieces and nephews might seem a bit too preoccupied to want to babysit, but offer some moola that they can spend at the nearest tourist trap and they may suddenly morph into the world’s best sitters. If family help is not an option, consider asking friends of family if they know of sitters in the area. Even if you’re not comfortable leaving your little ones while on vacation, just some helping hands while you’re nearby can make a huge difference in your chill factor.
- Maintain perspective. Remember that although family vacations can be exhausting, you’re creating memories. Focus on the positive. Instead of sulking over how you can’t sit still for five minutes while supervising your tiny explorer, just think of the calories you’re burning – especially helpful to remember while indulging in that post-bedtime cocktail or decadent dessert. Smile for the family picture, even if your tot is crying harder than that time with Santa. It’ll make for a funny story later. If you’re stuck in the room during naptime, know that your sweet angel will be more angelic with a bit of rest. The goal is to try to enjoy your trip as much as possible, and a good attitude can make any sticky situation a bit easier to overcome.
- Regroup. If you can, plan a day or two of downtime. You’ll want some time to recoup, unpack, and get mentally reorganized before you resume your regularly scheduled life. It’s also likely that the kids will need help getting back in a routine, especially in terms of sleep. Having an extra day can help everyone get back on track. If you want to be really type A, during your downtime, jot down a few ideas that will make your trip easier for the following year. You’ll forget, so having something in writing will help. Tuck it somewhere where you’ll find it when it’s time to plan another vacation.
Hopefully, you will come back home feeling better than a Griswald and all the more prepared for future trips. What additional travel tips do you have in your super-mom arsenal? Inquiring “Type A” moms want to know.