10 Things to Make a Vacation With Kids Successful
1) Have a place to call home. I can’t imagine how much harder it would be if we had to pack up every morning and move to a new hotel, a new location. How many things would get left behind, valuable things, like stretchy frogs or a gorilla cup? And how much harder would it be to unload all the stuff, deal with an ice maker that’s making too much noise or a bed that has too many lumps in it? So, yeah, being in one place for a while was the way to go.
2) Good shoes. So important. It may be important for the kids, too, but for adults, it’s more critical than having a bottle of Xanex in a purse, or taking a thermos full of Jack Daniels. Nothing will grind a great adventure to a halt like sore feet. Oh, the heat, the smell, the blisters, the bone aching agony of wearing a pair of cheap shoes. If you spend any money on vacation clothes, spend it on shoes. You’ll thank me.
3) Always have a first aid kit. Now, I don’t mean stock it with plasma, a bone saw and a vial of morphine (though the latter may come in handy sometimes,) but having a bit of bug spray, a small can of that numbing stuff (like Bactine), a handful of wet wipes and a few spare bandages comes in handy. I mean, hey, let’s face it, especially with boys (old or young), there’s a good chance they’ll climb something they shouldn’t, stick their hand into something icky or prickly, trip over something, fall into something, scrape their knees on something, or burn their skin on something. It’s not that you can’t find supplies nearby (at least in San Diego), but it not only saves time running off to a pharmacy or first aid station, but keeps everyone from crying a lot.
4) Do not over-plan. Not as easy as it sounds. But one thing that continues to amaze me is how long it can take for 2 boys to get ready and out the door. If you think you can do, ‘9:00-9:05 brush teeth, wash face, go to bathroom, 9:05-9:37 Drive to gun range. 9:38-10:57, shoot guns,’ you’re kidding yourself. It’s ok to have a rough plan. Like we’re going to see the aircraft carrier, today, maybe even in the morning, but the more flexibility you have, the less stress there will be (and this will save money on the minibar bill at the end of the trip.)
5) Leave one day (at least) free for simple fun. With a 7 and 11 year old this should have been pool time. It sort of goes to #4, don’t overplan, but by having a flex day, there can be a day everyone can relax and bit and avoid burn out. I wish we’d done this. I think by the last day we were just going through the motions of touristing.
6) Food. Eat food. I know this should be a no-brainer, but it’s easy to skip on snacks, or push supper to later to go on that one last ride or yell at the lions to wake up one. Bring snacks if you have room in a backpack or simply set your fancy iphone to remind you or organize breaks at a certain point. Lack of food nearly ruined the Midway experience. Lack of food caused more than one melt down. And realize, as I often have to, that children have different eating/drinking needs than we, as adults, do. I know, another no-brainer, but the signs of hangry kids are not always there until it’s almost too late.
7) Have distraction devices or ideas. An iphone with Angry Birds can stop a meltdown. A DS3D can make a long drive tolerable. Even playing the ‘would-you-rather’ game can make a wait for your Denny’s pancakes go by faster. It’s something I’d had to learn. Distraction is your friend. The Prettiest-girl-in-the-world is good at this. “Mommy! I want to go on the Deathspin ride!!!!!” “Oh, look over there, there’s a giant jug of milk! Don’t you just want to hug it?”
8) Know that things will go wrong. Things you can’t plan for. Things that will cause you to be late or miss something or have to use #3. Short of arterial bleeding or a zombie invasion, most of the obstacles are actually pretty unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Even missing a plane can be dealt with. My way of coping is to remember that all the crap that happens makes for good stories. I mean, who wants to hear, “hey, the vacation was fine, we had fun and nothing bad happened”? Better, “OMG, you wouldn’t believe what happened when the youngest …”
9) Ask for help. As a guy, this is one of the hardest things to remember. If you’re can’t find Bricksburg in Legoland, ask. If you need to find a good place to eat, ask. If you need a bathroom really, really badly, like now, like really now, ask. It helps to ask people who might know – The concierge at the hotel, a taxi driver, a theme park employee, google, a friend who lives there. If you doubt me, watch Amazing Race. The winners will ask for help all the time. It’s ok. Really.
10) Remember the purpose is to have fun. Fun for everyone. I loved that on this trip, everyone had something they wanted to do. I think that’s important. That we talked to the boys and found out what was important for them to see, to do. I loved that both the Prettiest-girl-in-the-world and I both got to do some adult-like things. It’s not that everyone can’t enjoy what the others enjoy, but how much better will a trip be that meets everyone’s needs at some point or another. So, ask, what EXPERIENCE are you looking for? “I want to experience the thrill of a fast rollercoaster.” “I want to see my friend, again, and reconnect.” “I want cotton candy, cuz, I dunno, I want it, like, it tastes good and we don’t get it at home.” (that was me, by the way) “I want to find out how claustrophobic it is on the lower decks.”
I’m there are dozens and dozens of other ideas. What tips would you give to other parents traveling with kids?