Last month my husband and I took our first big vacation (i.e. a vacation involving air travel) as parents of three. While we’ve taken quite a few trips with our kids and flown with them plenty, we took a bit of a break after baby #3 was born. With her first birthday approaching, it seemed like a good time to test the waters. We went to an all-inclusive resort in Cancun, which was pretty perfect with young kids, but even though we had a good time, we were definitely reminded that traveling with kids is not always as magical as you envision. Despite our best intentions and plans, things don’t always go as expected when it comes to vacations with little ones. Here are a few truths bout traveling with kids.
1. Whining and tantrums will still happen
I’m not sure why, but I always envision vacations being this magical break in the space time continuum where child drama simply cannot occur. Of course I know this is nothing more than a pipe dream, but somehow I always end up frustrated when the drama unfolds. I learned long ago that kids will (unfortunately) still whine and tantrum in the most beautiful locations.
2.Whatever carefully chosen travel time table you choose will have drawbacks
If you google search “tips and tricks for traveling with kids”, you will inevitably find the suggestions about exactly when to fly with kids. Some will suggest traveling during your kids’ happiest time of day while others will suggest flying at night so they can just sleep on the plane. Unfortunately, the truth is that there really is no perfect time. When my oldest was a baby I would painstakingly choose (and often pay extra for) flight times that coincided with her nap times and bed times and opt for the times that I thought she would travel best, but without fail something would always go askew. Like the times she wouldn’t nap, or when our flight got delayed by three hours. Since then I’ve learned to just go with the flow and honestly, haven’t noticed much of a difference when I schedule flights for “ideal times” V.S. the less ideal times. Flying with young kids can be challenging at any time of day.
3. Something will eventually happen that you can’t control
You know that saying “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”? Well, never was it truer than when traveling with kids. You can pack all the snacks and distractions you like, but sometimes things just don’t go according to plan, because kids are unpredictable. On our recent trip we had a series of challenges that fell outside of our control. My oldest who is usually a great traveller had a ton of ear pain with pressure changes and went completely ballistic upon decent. My son who sometimes has night terrors ended up having four (yes, FOUR) of them during one of our flights and screamed bloody murder for 15 minutes at a time, while we could do nothing to calm him since he wasn’t coherent/awake. On top of that our flight had a ton of turbulence, which meant that I couldn’t move around with my incredibly wiggly lap infant – a recipe for grumpy disaster. Basically hope for the best, plan for the worst and let the rest of it go.
4. You will probably overpack
The younger your kids, the more you will pack. Of course some of you may be minimalists, but most parents I know tend to overpack, because “you just never know”. Between trollers and baby carriers and car seats and diapers and snacks (SO many snacks), you’ll be lucky if you get any room in the suitcase for yourself.
5. You will still have to do many of the same parenting tasks
I often tell people that a vacation with kids is just a trip, because while it’s nice to get away, a good chunk of vacationing with little people is simply doing the same tasks you do at home in a different location. Diaper changes and cleaning up messes and breaking up sibling fights will still happen…even on vacation.
6. Your sleep schedule will go out the window
Keeping a routine when you’re traveling can be challenging even for the staunchest of schedule followers. No matter how hard you try, sleep is going to get thrown off – especially if you’re traveling to a different time zone. If you are super into sleep schedules, then you may just want to avoid traveling until your kids have moved beyond the nap time years.
7. Your healthy eating habits will probably also go out the window
Being in a new environment – and sometimes a completely different culture – and eating out for most meals, can make it difficult to enforce the healthy eating you do at home. One thing that we’ve found to be helpful is ordering off of the adult menu for our young kids. The kids menu options are often limited to mac & cheese or burgers and fries and while these are fine on occasion, it’s not ideal for every meal all week long. Instead, we’ll suggest items from the adult menu and let our kids decide on something they can split. It’s often cheaper and their meals are more balanced. In the end though, remember that it’s not the end of the world and that one vacation will not derail all the good habits you’ve created at home.
8. You will experience moments of regret
Inevitably (usually on day one or two of our trip), there are moments of regret where we wonder, “Why did we ever think traveling with our kids was a good idea?!” Take heart in knowing that we’ve all been there as parents and that it usually gets better after the first day or two once you’re settled into your new surroundings.
9. You’ll need a vacation from your vacation
As wonderful as it is to be able to have new experiences with our kids, it is also incredibly exhausting. Unlike those pre-kid vacation days when you came back home feeling refreshed and relaxed, you will probably just come home feeling tired and in desperate need of a kid-free night out. Maybe just have your babysitter on speed dial.
10. You’ll forget all about the negatives within a few months and start planning your next trip
The good news about vacationing with kids is that no matter how challenging it is, time is the great healer. It happens with child birth and with vacations – we forget the bad and focus on the good and a lot of the time we find ourselves crazy enough to do it all over again.