22 ways to enjoy vacation with small kids even more

Martha's Vineyard with small kidsLet’s face it, once you have children, vacation changes drastically. What was a time of couple fun and relaxation in years gone by, can become hectic and challenging with the addition of little people whose schedule has been thrown out the window.

We by no means have vacation with kids completely figured out (our oldest is 7 and we only have 2, after all), but there are some things that we have done over the last couple years that have made family vacations much more memorable and enjoyable. I thought I would share. Of course, every family is unique and what works for one may not work for the other. Feel free to pick and choose!

Leave plenty of wiggle-room in the schedule. 

We have found that allowing some room in the schedule with kids is a must. Trying to squeeze in too many activities or not having time to just rest makes for a less happy group. Let’s face it, things just take longer when you have kids. Embrace the slower schedule and it will be a blessing.

Plan a picnic at a memorable location. 

We did this for the first time during our recent trip to Martha’s Vineyard and it was so much fun. We packed a picnic lunch and took it to a lighthouse. It was refreshing to eat in the beautiful outdoors while taking in a scenic historic location. Afterwards Brance and I chatted while the girls ran around on the lawn. This simple picnic ended up being one of the highlights from our trip!

Martha's Vineyard CliffsScale back activities. 

Don’t omit activities like a hiking, museums, sight-seeing etc. all together. Just make them kid-friendly. You might not be able to hike for miles or spend hours exploring ancient ruins or wandering through a museum, but you can still enjoy those activities as a family in a different way. Since we aren’t likely to make it very far on a hike, we love to observe birds, plants, and animals, something we often missed before kids. There are advantages to slowing down.

Keep plenty of snacks and water on hand. 

It never fails that one of my kids is hungry between meals. Rather than spending your time looking for snacks or eating meals before the rest of the group is ready, having snacks on hand is a life-saver. We often think of snacks being just for kids, but we grownups benefit as well. Especially if we have healthy snack options that keep us from buying yet another ice-cream cone. Water goes without saying.

Include the kids in some of the decision-making. 

Our kids’ eyes light up any time we give them several options for the next activity or restaurant. Kids enjoy their vacation more and are more pleasant if they have a voice. Letting them choose some of the activities will make the vacation more fun for everyone. In fact, my daughter told me this was, by far, my best tip ;).

Spell each other. 

If hiring help is not an option for you or something you are interested in, giving each other time off is wonderful. For us it is a must. Brance usually takes his time early in the morning. He’ll get up before the rest of us, dress, and then spend time reading in the hotel lobby or restaurant or exploring something close to the hotel. I work mine in later in the day. If you have younger kids, nap times are a great time for one of you to get some much needed alone time.

Bring something for them to do. 

Bring coloring books, notebooks, matchbox cars, dolls, an Etch A Sketch, or whatever your kids are into. It’s so helpful. We always have something to occupy our kids while traveling – whether on a plane, in the car, or in a hotel room. We try and fit it into one small bag that we can easily keep up with. And I  oversee what goes in the bag. The few times they have been allowed to pack their own bag have resulted in us lugging randomness (bits of string, broken pencils, filled notebooks etc.)

Child eating a donutChoose kid-friendly activities and restaurants. 

While certain activities can be scaled back and enjoyed with children, others probably should be avoided all together. While Brance and I would love to take in the late-night music scenes in every city we visit, we know that we wouldn’t enjoy it one bit with tired kids and then the next day we would be one grumpy, sleep deprived family. So when family vacationing we omit. Also, we try and pick restaurants where we can relax and kids can be kids (within reason :).

Have a plan for bathrooms. 

If you’re staying hydrated with water like you should, and even if you’re not, chances are with children, you are going to have to make plenty of bathroom stops. It never fails. We like to know where the closest bathroom is so we are prepared when one of our littles pipes up that they “have an emergency”.

Don’t forget the favorite stuffed toy for sleeping. 

It seems like a little insignificant thing, especially now that our girls are 4 and 7. But we have found allowing them to bring their favorite stuffed toy makes bedtime easier. That little bit of comfort from home helps them as they try and sleep in an unfamiliar room/bed.

Avoid layovers, if at all possible. 

Unfortunately I have learned this one the hard way. Layovers are unpleasant for grownups traveling solo, but they are miserable for grownups traveling with small kids. Especially when alone and/or juggling carry-on luggage. Pure misery. Trust me.

playing_at_oceanFind a park or beach and spend time there. 

We have learned that you don’t have to spend money to entertain kids. Ours could spend hours running around in the great outdoors. If you are wanting time where your kids need little supervision find a local park or beach and let them run loose (where they can be seen, of course), prop up your feet, and relax.

Get a suite, if in your budget, or…

Get creative for “alone time”. 

People act like romantic time is less fun and likely once you have kids. We have found that it can be just the opposite. There is something exciting about making love in the hotel bathroom with the door locked and shower running (of course kids should be asleep or engaged in a safe activity). Or if you have heavy sleepers, you might be able to work “alone time” in under the covers after the kids are out. If that bothers you, remember that people have found ways for millennium in one room homes!

Make sure they get the sleep they need (and you too). 

It’s easy to let sleep become less of a priority when traveling. But we have found the amount of sleep we get can make or break our vacation. We try to make sure that our girls are getting in bed plenty early enough and that we also get adequate sleep. Our kids no longer take naps, but when they did, getting those in made for a much more pleasant vacation.

Take a book to read aloud as a family. 

This one is so, so fun. Our last trip we actually bought a book while on the trip to read together (The Trumpet of the Swan). The kids just love it when they get to help decide. If you are afraid of what they might pick, you can always offer several options for them to choose from. This is great for the time when you are stuck in the hotel room (it helps us depend less on tv), or when you have some downtime in your schedule (just make sure to have it with you in a backpack, purse etc.)

Bring a portable potty. 

This was very helpful especially when the girls were potty training, as potty training kids are pretty unpredictable. We kept one in our car when traveling, always available.  I am totally shocked at how very small and light they are these days. If your child is finicky or scared, a portable potty may help them stay on track even in your hotel room.

Bring your first-aid kit. 

It never fails that someone ends up getting a “boo-boo” when we travel, or Brance and I will end up with a headache etc. Having that stocked first-aid kit can save you valuable time hunting for bandaids and aspirin while vacationing.

harbor_view_roomChildproof your hotel room. 

This one isn’t just for toddlers. Childproofing is good for slightly older kids too. For us, it means finding the ink pens and putting them away before our children accidentally mark on white bedding (I missed this last time, ugh. Thankfully I was able to get the mark out!). With small children you’ll want to plug outlets and make sure cords, wires etc. are out of reach.

Use room service. 

Sometimes, especially with small kids, it is just easier to call in dinner. Enough said.

Bring bags for car sickness. 

This is a huge one for our motion sickness prone family. It never fails that one of our kids will throw up while traveling. Once if we are lucky. I can’t even tell you how many times we have had to clean throw up off car seats. Yuck. Finally we got smart and began traveling with bags. A gallon-sized ziplock works wonderfully well and makes clean up so much easier.

Travel with music and books on tape.

Audio can be incredibly helpful on long car trips and even on an airplane when loaded on a mp3 player. We have found that occupying our time in this way while traveling keeps sibling bickering at a minimum and it helps pass the time. It can also be enjoyable for mom and dad as well. All reasons to spend time selecting some good audio before your next trip.

Buy something special to remember your trip by. 

This will give your family a fun little assignment during your vacation. It doesn’t necessarily have to be souvenir”ish”. We like to buy a Christmas tree ornament to remember our trips by. The ornament doesn’t have to say anything about the location of our vacation. Although, we like to make a note of that so that we remember. We started this tradition unintentionally when we bought an ornament on our honeymoon. We’ve been at it ever since!

These are my tips for enjoying vacation with small kids, but I would love to hear yours! Please share any ideas you have in the comments.