Summer is almost over and if you're like most people that end of the last family vacation before school start is high on the priority list. As a matter of fact we just returned from our end of the summer trip. To say that traveling is something my family enjoys is an understatement. Before my wife and I had kids we took 3 cruises in one year. We throttled that back on the amount of travel a bit once the babies got on board, but we still manage to include them in our getaways every year. I know, you might think traveling with little ones sounds like it's more stress than it's worth, but let me assure that the opposite is true. Family vacations will help create memories that your kids (and you) will carry with them for the rest of their lives. Through the years we've learned some things that worked and some other things that didn't work so well while traveling. Here are some notes from our playbook.
1. Plan Ahead-Part of the reason many people I know don't vacation (let alone with kids) is because they don't plan. Not many of us can just up and take that perfect family vacation tomorrow. Meeting the needs of everyday life at times prevents that from happening. There is something to be said for the vacation club account that your granny used to put money in every pay period. Instead of eating out as much or buying that new Iphone as soon as it comes out, tuck that money away for travel. There are many discount deals to be had on Groupon Getaways, Travelocity, and Living Social, but getting them in advance is key. You should also look for destinations that have something for the entire family when you're making plans. There are certain places that my kids would be totally bored in. This is where being engaged and knowing your kids' interests is vital.
2. Make Getting There Fun-One of the challenges that has always been associated with trips with kids, is the dreaded, "Are we there yet??" or "How much longer?" line of questioning. Being constantly interrogated by your five year old can easily kill your vacation vibe. So, it is important to be ready to entertain your brood during the journey. We always have each kid equip with their fun backpack. Some of the things you'll find in them include, books, magazines, portable gaming systems/tablets, and a camera. The key here is making sure that you don't let your child blow through all of the objects in their backpack within the first hour of your road trip or flight. You're in trouble if you do. You have to stay engaged with what they're doing and help them space out their activities. One of the other options that will help is to play games. My girls love the alphabet game, where you find word that begins with each letter of the alphabet on a sign. I Spy is their second all time favorite.
3. Lean on Technology-Letting your kids veg out on tablets and phones on your vacation might seem counter intuitive, but technology can be a great resource if used wisely on vacation. For example, we've used Google Maps and the plane locator to help our kids keep track of which state we were traveling across. My wife even prepares worksheets and photo projects ahead of time for them to complete once we get to our destination.
4. Night Travel- Whether you have younger kids or older kids, taking that trip at night might be your best bet. Hearing those constant questions like, "How much longer?" or "Are we there yet?" can really injected extra stress into the situation. The remedy...,get on the road or book that flight at bedtime. This will guarantee you get a much needed dose of solitude. Of course if you're driving, then I'd advise taking off from work a day early so that you can get rested up for your nocturnal journey. If your wife is an night owl, it could also give you both a chance to check in with one another without kid interruption.
5. Invite Family or Friends-Getting away with your nuclear family is vital, but traveling with extended family or friends is equally important. I have friends who just returned from their family reunion in London, England! The crazy part is none of them are from the UK, but their family just decided they all wanted to experience Great Britain together. They know firsthand, how family bonds can be strengthened by vacationing together. So, don't always leave grandma or auntie behind when you head to the islands. Get an extra ticket or room so that she can continue making memories with you and your kids.