Who is ready for spring break? Are you dreaming of a tropical beach vacation? How about a cruise? Are you brave enough to take the kids to Disney World? As a mom with 5 kids, and a lover of all things vacation, I would like to share my favorite tips and tricks to make your trip actually feel like a real vacation.
1. Packing in Zip Lock Bags
This is my number one tip for all parents. Organize your kids clothes by day, and pack them in gallon size zip lock bags with the child's name (we use numbers!). I learned the hard way that kids can't keep suitcases organized. Letting a toddler dig though a suitcase for swim trunks or a pair of flip flops is a recipe for disaster. As my kids got a little older the problem became going through 3 outfits in a single day since they would reach for a new shirt each time they changed out of swim clothes. The worst part would be at the end of the week, when we would be down to a few random pieces that didn't even match. The zip lock bag system solves all of these problems! And because you can squeeze out the air, it helps with fitting everything in the bag too!
2. Packing Check List
In my opinion the worst part about traveling is packing and then hoping that you don't forget anything. But...I do love check lists. Here at the office we use an online check list app to keep us on track. Why not use a check list to streamline the packing process? Using a check list to pack with help you make sure you have everything you need. And as the kids get older, you can even give them their own list so that they can start packing for themselves. Once my boys were old enough to pack for themselves, vacation actually starting feeling more like a vacation again!
3. Explain the Trip & Have the Kids Help You Plan
The fear of the unknown can cause stress and anxiety for anyone, especially young kids. In our family, we love to plan our vacations as a family. Usually I pick the destination and make a rough outline of what we might do. Then over the next few weeks, we brainstorm ideas for activities and excursions. It is so interesting to me to hear from them what they liked (or didn't like) from past experiences. And often times some of the best ideas come from my kids! Oh, the places I have found myself!!
4. Do a Test Run
Instead of heading out on a week long adventure to Disney or the the beach, start with a shorter trip instead. This is a good way to see how well your kids travel, and it can give you lots of clues to things you might need to pack that you may not have thought of. A popular weekend destination with my kids is Great Wolf Lodge. It is a nice mix of water park rides (suitable for babies, toddler, and preteens), with some other dry activities thrown in like mini golf, video games, and indoor playgrounds. Hint - If you kids are older, you might try Kalahari instead.
5. Hotel or Rental?
When it was just the 2 of us, a stay in a luxurious hotel with room service and fresh linens every day was our definition of vacation. But now with kids, my idea of vacation is NOT having to eat out every meal. For the past few years, our favorite vacations have been house rentals on the beach in South Carolina, or loading up the RV and heading across the country. We bring our own groceries, cook our own meals (or just graze all day), and most importantly, we spread out. As the kids get older, it is more important to consider the need for some personal space. My girls still love to bunk in with us on vacation, but my 3 teenage boys like to make themselves scarce after dinner. Most importantly to us, a vacation rental usually means we can bring the family dog. We have even added the grandparents a few times. I know this isn't right for everyone, but lately we are just loving the house rental for vacations.
6. Pre-Book & Plan Ahead
We once waited in line for 3 hours to buy tickets for the boat at Niagara Falls. It was well worth it, however... I later learned that I could have bought pre-sale tickets and walked straight to the gate. :( Whenever possible, it is always a good idea to plan ahead and buy pre-sale tickets. Before we had kids, our vacations were more "free-style." If the mood struck, we did something. But now that we are traveling large group style, I have found vacation to be much less stressful when activities are planned in advance, and when tickets are in hand. And a side benefit of this is that it can help you with budgeting. You don't want to be the parent that suggests a fun activity to your kids only to find out that the ticket price is outside your price range and you have to tell an excited kid that plans have changed.
7. Spend Money (and Space ) on Good Gear
Whether it is a baby sling, bike helmets, a stroller, or good walking shoes, it always pays to have the right gear. There is nothing worse than aching feet at the end of a day of walking, or trying to push a cheap umbrella stroller over a bumpy path. Sometimes it may cost more, but the price can be worth it for vacation happiness.
Disney (or any other amusement park) Tip: Rent the in-park strollers if you are not bringing your own, or if you only have a small stroller with you. My youngest is already 9, but even on our last trip to Disney 3 months ago, we still rented the park's double stroller. She is a lot shorter than the rest of us, and can never keep us with us long legged folks. The stroller is her "happiness" at Disney! Park strollers are made for the terrain of the place. They move easily, you can load them up with coolers and backpacks (and even big sisters), and they provide great shade. The $20 we spend to rent a stroller is more than paid back in child happiness and food savings since we push all of our lunch, drinks, and snacks around in the stroller for the day!
8. Have the Proper Documents
Whether it is checking in at the airport or driving over the border into Canada, plan ahead and make sure you know what types of travel documents you will need. When your kids are young, and you are traveling with both parents, chances are you don't need anything specific to board an airplane to travel across the country. But as your kids get older, or if you are leaving the country (especially with only one parent present), things are different. We are such random vacationers that I like to have up to date passports for all of my kids at the ready. You never know where we might end up, and I want to make sure we are always ready!
Tip - Kid passports (issued under the age of 16) are only good for 5 years, unlike adult passports which are good for 10. Make sure yours are up to date well in advance of you plan to vacation out of the country. It can take up to 8 weeks to get a passport renewed.
9. Snacks for the Car or Plane
I think every parent already knows this, but it is important enough to mention. Pack snacks and drinks for the ride. I know I get grumpy when my blood sugar is low, and kids can be even worse when they are hungry. Eating packed food is quicker, easier, healthier, and more budget friendly.
10. Download Movies
Did you know that you can download shows and moving from many of your favorite streaming services? If you've ever been driving through the mountains of West Virginia with no cell service, or been on a plane at 35,000 feet, then of course that is the exact time your child would love to be watching a favorite show on the iPad. If you plan in advance, and download a few episodes for times without internet, it can be a real lifesaver!
11. Don't Forget the Headphones
There is nothing worse that trying to relax on a plane, or at a restaurant, and having to listen to someone's else's kid watching cartoons at full volume on a tablet or cell phone. Don't be the parent that forgets headphones for your child! Lately my kids have been using wireless headphones, and we really love them.
12. Sunscreen Sooner Rather than Later
After a long winter spent in Ohio with the shorts days and absent sunshine, it is easy for me to forget how sensitive our skin can be to an immediate dose of vacation sun. Even if the temperature in your vacation destination doesn't feel scorching, skin that has been away from the sun for so long is going to burn. It is always best to be pro-active with sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses. A sunburn early in the week can really ruin a vacation for both you and your child.
13. Travel with Basic Medicines
No one plans to get sick on vacation, but it can happen. It is a good idea to travel with a basic arsenal of medicines for your kids. It is a lot easier to grab the liquid ibuprofen out of your bag then to try and find a CVS open at 10:00 p.m. in a strange city because your child won't swallow a pill. I speak from experience on that one.
Good items to take include: a fever reducer like Advil or Tylenol, an allergy medicine like Benedryl, a steroid itch cream, and even cough medicine for older kids. And don't forget any medications or vitamins your child might take daily, or medical equipment they might need like a nebulizer for asthma. And last but not least, pack some basic first aid items like Bandaids and antibiotic ointment.
14. Bring New Toys & Books
A brand new book or toy is a great distraction for kids, especially on a long trip, or if they are having any travel anxiety. Lately my girls have been very into invisible ink books. We bought a couple in the airport book store years ago while we were waiting on a delayed flight, and now they get really excited about flying because it is the only time we ever buy these.
Hint: Buy them before you go. You can get a great price on Amazon or at Walmart, but buying them at the airport is going to cost you!
15. Pack a Favorite Stuffed Animal or Blanket
Just as important as new distractions... old favorites! My daughter sleeps with the same blanket and pillow pet every night. They are a source of comfort to her and it is especially important to have them when she is stressed, like when traveling or going to a new place. Once we forgot to pack them for an overnight church camp trip, and I ended up on a 2 hour round trip return home to get them and drive them back. Since that day, our entire family checks to make sure "pinkie" and "uni" are safely packed in her backpack.
16. Pack Comfy Clothes
I am a yoga pants and hoodie kind of girl. I love comfortable clothes, especially on vacation. Kids are no different. While I do try to make sure my kids look nice (especially when I am obsessively taking vacation pictures), I definitely make sure they are comfy. If we are walking a lot, I make sure they have on good shoes. If it is hot and sunny out, they will need sunglasses and hats. Being comfortable means being happy, and that is how I get the best smiles for my pictures too! Sydney So Sweet has so many options for cute and comfy clothes and swimsuits whatever your vacation destination might be. Click the pictures below to shop these looks from Sydney So Sweet.
17. Use Public Transportation
With all of the vacation planning I have done over the years, I never could have imagined the joy my kids would take in trying out different modes of public transportation. As an adult, having to get on a bus or ride the subway just seems like a means to get somewhere. You can imagine my surprise when the bus or subway ride ended up being the highlight of the day. Ah... to see things from a child's perspective. Tied for favorite public transportation with my kids - the subway in Washington D.C. and the Cable Car in San Francisco, but our giant tour bus navigating the crowded streets of New York City is a close second!
18. Consider An All-Inclusive
As my kids get older, one of our favorite vacations is cruising. As a mom with 3 teenage boys (all bigger and taller than me!), one of the highlights of the all-inclusive cruise is the food. I expend a lot of energy in my regular life trying to keep everyone fed. Boys eat a lot. Buffet breakfasts, multiple lunch options, 24 hour pizza and ice cream, and 3 course dinners every night is vacation to me! Besides the food, this type of vacation has built in entertainment. After dinner, we like to go to a show in the theater or to the comedy club. Some ships even have giant outdoor movie screens for late night family movies. During the day, kids are happy at the pools, the mini golf course, or the basketball courts.
19. Don't Try to do Too Much, Schedule in Down Time
I am an obsessive planner when it comes to vacations. My husband often accuses me of trying to wring out every second of a vacation with my minute by minute plans. But the best laid plans can turn to disaster if you over do it. It is easier now to keep a schedule since my kids are older. We like to go on tours, visit historic sites and monuments, and do a lot walking. But, when my kids were younger, it was important to work in naps and other down time. We would even plan entire days where nothing was on our schedule. Over scheduling can ruin a vacation. You will get back home and feel like you need a vacation! This one is the hardest tip for me to follow.
20. Have Older Kids Keep a Travel Journal or Vlog
My oldest son loves to make YouTube videos, and 3 of my kids have cell phones now. Lately I have tasked all of them with helping me to document our vacations. The pictures I take on vacation all tend to look the same... everyone look at mom and smile. My kids have a totally different perspective on what a picture can be, and some of their photos have turned out to be my favorites. You can also enlist younger kids to help take pictures. What 5 year old doesn't love to be like mommy and take a selfie on vacation?! You could even consider getting younger kids their own camera. My older daughter recently received a Polaroid camera for her birthday and she loves to take it when we travel.
21. Be Prepared for the Unexpected
And my last tip is to be prepared for the unexpected. We all know that kids monitor our behavior to see how they should react to things. If something doesn't go your way, keep your cool and try to just go with the flow. Remember that tiny eyes are watching you and deciding how they should feel about it as well. Last summer we drove our RV into a rock slide (not on purpose!). I let out a terrible scream and possibly freaked out a bit for the next 10 minutes. It really didn't turn out to be a big deal at all, but for the rest of the drive, my 2 younger kids were terrified to be in the RV. Wish I had a do over on that one. If something goes wrong or your plans have to change, take a minute to think before you react. You might just see that it is not that big of a deal. And besides, you are on vacation, right?
Share Your Favorite Tips!
Comment below your favorite travel tips. We will pick one lucky winner to receive a $25 gift card to Sydney So Sweet!
COUPON CODE: BREAK15