According to my girl Monica Malpass,taking a family vacation this summer, can be great fun or it can be a nightmare if you don’t have realistic expectations of what it’s like to travel with children.
What if you’re in line at an amusement park ride for 30 minutes, when suddenly your child has to go to the bathroom? Or maybe your little one is sweaty and sunburned, crying that he or she doesn’t want to play mini golf but just wants to go home?
If you see parents on vacation yelling at their children, or children crying and complaining, it’s unfortunately not that unusual.
How can you get the most fun out of your family trip with the least aggravation and whining? Eileen Wacker, author of the new book, SILENT SAMURAI AND THE MAGNIFICENT RESCUE, has some great ideas.
1. Don’t expect any child to be grateful for all the sacrifice it took to go on this vacation. They’re not experienced enough to understand all the money you had to save, the time you took off from work, the planning, etc. Just watch for the moment of “pure joy” and photograph those precious moments. It’s what good parents aim for and a hug or a big thank-you is icing on the cake. (But I do a simple explanation at the end of our trips of approximately what it cost and how long I planned it, so that my older son will learn to appreciate what adults do for their families.)
2. Leave some flexibility in the schedule. Most kids are not continuous “doers.” If the agenda is pack too tightly, kids will get exhausted and lose their enthusiasm walking from monument to monument…or ride to ride. Down time is a must.
3. Let each person (children and grown-ups) choose one activity and one restaurant per trip. Tell them the options ahead of time or let them propose something else fun to do. That minimizes the complaining when each child knows their “special” day/night is coming.
4. Have a plan for the long waits. I usually have a bag full of options so that my son isn’t constantly watching TV or movies on his iPhone. Don’t get me wrong…I like having the electronics option when we have airport delays, missing luggage, or cancelled trains. But I’d rather do something WITH him. So I pack playing cards, drawing pencils and a small sketchpad, a book, Sudoku or puzzles. We’ve also created our own puzzles, written silly diaries, and written clues for a future scavenger hunt. Set ground rules for how much time your child can use the electronics…so that they don’t “check out” for the whole vacation.
5. Your child may not love writing a journal, but usually when they go start back to school, they have to write about their summer vacation. So I write a daily journal entry for every trip we take, then I ask Jake to add to the entry or sketch a drawing about his favorite things that day. Sometimes, it’s just his list of “best/medium/worst” experiences. But it’s fun to go back later and trigger a memory or a good laugh using the notes. I’m just finishing our scrapbook/photo album from a trip to Berlin and Prague last December. Our “Top 5 Favorites” list is priceless now!
6. Pack light and everyone has to help with luggage. My son and I are firm believers that if it doesn’t fit in one rolling carry on, we don’t want it! Even for long trips to the shore, the mountains, the Grand Canyon, South America, Europe, Africa. You can always rinse out undies, shirts, socks and keep wearing the same shorts or jeans, especially if you’re going city to city and meeting new people. I’m not trying to win any fashion contests on vacation, so we pack basics and don’t think twice about it. It leaves more room for souvenirs too!
And I have a few thoughts to add to Eileen’s list:
A. Let each child pick out a special souvenir within a certain price range. I usually give Jake a maximum per trip and I let him decide if he wants one pricey item or a lot of small goodies. I also make him wait until the end of our stay if it’s a bulky object. He wanted wooden shoes in Amsterdam. I didn’t feel like lugging them for 8 days and crowding our luggage, so we bought them the last day. Having a price limit not only helps teach your child to budget, but it minimizes the whining and asking for presents everywhere you stop on vacation.
B. Besides the restaurant and event that your child gets to individually pick, let them make a few other fun decisions too. Should you swim in the morning or afternoon, then hit the rides? Do you want to play 3 games of mini-golf this week and forego the biking? Should your family rent a surrey or bicycle built for two instead of individual bicycles? Movies or karaoke? It helps kids feel like it was “their” vacation too.
C. End the activity 15 minutes before your children are ready…especially before meals and bedtime. I always try to anticipate the “burn-out” and since kids can’t regulate their own body clocks and emotional ups-and-downs as well as grown-ups hopefully can, you’ll prevent lots of meltdowns that way. Little ones always want just one more ride, one more stop at a candy store, just one more chance to jump the waves. And although I love to indulge my boys, I always keep the “big” picture in mind…they will soon be starving, grumpy, exhausted, need a bath and we might still have to drive or walk home. There’s nothing worse than upset children who are overwrought when you’re nowhere near your room/home.
Have some great summer fun and keep it simple!