Family vacations are supposed to be fun, relaxing, and refreshing, but that can all go out the window when you're traveling with children. It's amazing how adding one little toddler to the mix means cutting the number of things you're able to do in half, doubling the difficulty of every task, and having to pack four times the luggage. But with a little bit of planning, you can actually enjoy the family vacation you were so looking forward to.
1) Take It on the Road
Once you get to your vacation destination, that doesn't mean you can't still do some travelling. Plan some road trips to show your kids areas beyond the hotel, campground, or guest house where you're staying. Look for things that are different from home, but also for things that are the same. One stressor for people traveling with children is being so far from home, but when you're in your car, it's like having a little bubble of home that you can take anywhere.
2) Bring Some Books to Read
Books are compact distractions that can keep children occupied during some of the more boring moments of traveling or waiting. For older children who can read on their own, you should have a book that was saved especially for the vacation. This helps to enrich the experience of the vacation. For younger children, you'll want to bring books they are familiar with. That way, if you want to remind them of the comforts and routines of home, all you have to do is read them their favorite story.
3) Dress Well
Pack clothes made of natural fibers, especially if you're headed someplace warm. Otherwise you risk your toddler getting an irritating heat rash that can make you both miserable. Also make sure you have plenty of hats and sunglasses (and sunscreen) for protection. Whatever your kids' daily number of clothing changes, plan on doubling it while on vacation.
4) Let Them Document the Experience
Another great way to fill lulls between vacation activities is to have your children write down what they just did in a travel journal. Encourage them to write down as much of it as they remember. If they're not old enough to write, or just aren't interested, see if they can draw it instead. A disposable camera just for them helps them think about and focus on what's important to them (just be prepared for lots of pictures of feet).
5) Communication is Key
Remind yourself that children are not usually experienced travelers, so for them they have no idea how long a "long car ride" really is. Communicate clearly ahead of time, and every step of the way. Buy a paper map that you can write on and show your progress just for the trip. More than just the trip itself though, communicate what you're doing and why it's significant. If plans fall through or don't go as expected, explain the short- and long-term effects that will have. Communication may not stave off a tantrum, but it will help to dispel your frustration and get the whole family back into the vacation that much sooner.
Regardless if you are seasoned or first-time travelers, you're bound to make a mistake here or there. The important thing is to learn from them and remember the happy moments from your family vacation. Relax, refresh, have fun, and don't sweat the small stuff.