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Vacation Parenting – An Extreme Sport

family vacation as an extreme sport

Ahhhhh, vacation. Just the word makes me want to relax. Some of my best memories as a kid are vacations at my grandparents’ house in Florida and weekends in the Catskills. You get to put your “regular life” aside and have some fun adventures and see new places. As I got older, vacations evolved. In college, it was the Bahamas with my girlfriends, then when I got married, there were so many fun trips, both with friends and just my husband and me.

I always assumed when we had children, we would travel just as much and take our awesome and super well-behaved kids (remember, these were my thoughts BEFORE I actually created real live children) all over. And then, the actual kids showed up.

When we had my first daughter, we waited until she was two-years-old for her first plane ride. She did great! We mostly traveled to different areas of Florida (quick flights, good weather), and we also made local weekend trips as well. I thought I did a pretty good job adapting our surroundings to her needs, and we tailored our way of travel ever so slightly to accommodate our new little plus one. We always rented a car so we could run to a store at a moment’s notice if needed, and we always stayed at hotels that had cribs, preferably on the other side of a small divider or some other way to give us some space. It was challenging, for sure, but minor adaptations and our travel quests continued.

I definitely wish someone had told smug, traveling mother of the year, that it wouldn’t always be so easy. Once we added a second child, I didn’t think much would change. Except, everything did.

Interrupting dinner to quickly change a diaper turned into interrupting dinner to change one diaper, sit back down, take the older child to the bathroom, sit back down, one of the kids wanders away, grab them, and sit back down. And then on your final sit down, the waiter has already cleared your dinner…that you weren’t done eating. Of course, this is the moment you ask why their father isn’t shouldering some of this load, and trust me it would be so easy to turn this into a “moms do everything, dads do nothing” post, but the truth is, when it comes to certain things, kids pick a favorite. Lucky me – bathroom trips are my albatross.

One interesting thing I find when vacationing with kids is your everyday parenting issues don’t disappear, they become magnified. That daily fight to get some healthy food in them? Nearly impossible when they get to look at a menu three times a day where the side dish is ALWAYS French Fries. That bath they happily play in for hours at home? Not on vacation. Scary bathtub, yucky soap, scratchy towels. It’s like you’ve been picked up and put in this lovely place, but your kids are still looking for the comforts of home.

I sometimes feel like I’m in a video game, dodging too many sugary treats, noisy hotel neighbors, the “wrong” kind of every food imaginable, but you still need to keep them well-fed, clean, and well-rested to enjoy this trip that you’ve been planning for months!

Believe me, it’s not all bad. As the kids get older, they start to see the beauty in the adventures, and it makes all of the hurdles worth it, but I’ll never take for granted the “vacation magic again my parents must have done behind the scenes to make sure I was comfortable and happy on our trips. And also, I think I need a vacation after my vacation!

To make YOUR vacation memories more of a dream than a nightmare, here are 5 tips I find helpful:

  • 1. Try to bring or buy familiar snacks from home. Vacation food may be different, and if they don’t like it and won’t eat, they get “hangry,” and no one likes a “hangry” kid. (Hangry = hungry and angry, an affliction I suffer from about once a week).
  • 2. Bring a comfort from home. While kids may be excited about new surroundings at first, I find with my own kids that when they get tired and need to rest, they look for the familiar, whether it be a favorite stuffed animal or even just a movie or TV show they watch at home.
  • 3. Keep some semblance of a routine. They’re probably going to get up earlier, they might stay up later, baths may be skipped, but it will make everyone’s lives easier if they stick to their general rhythms. Their little bodies don’t know they’re on vacation, so they’re probably still going to need that 2 p.m. nap (and if they’re more active than usual, it may come earlier!).
  • 4. Limit junk food. Hear me out on this one. I enjoy nothing more than going on vacation and eating to my heart’s content. That being said, I know that my stomach will not thank me for it. Sugary drinks and snacks everywhere and your kids will want it all. Don’t do it! Nothing kills your vacation vibe more than a little kid with a tummy ache.
  • 5. Let your kids help create the itinerary. I’m a planner, and on vacation, I’m always trying to wow my kids with fun adventures and activities when truthfully, they just want to stay in the pool. Sprinkle in something new to them, they’ll thank you for it later, but also let them tell you what they want to do. You’ll all be happier for it.

The bottom line is – you CAN vacation with your kids, and it WILL be fun, but it won’t be 22-year-old you in Cancun with your girlfriends fun. Relax, adapt, and hopefully, these little tricks could make your vacation a little smoother.

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