Family Times celebrates 20 years!

Vacation Daze: Surviving a summer trip with kids requires a healthy dose of humor

Family on the beach

By Maggie Simone

Family Times is 20! To celebrate, we will pick one article from our archive each month – including this one, which originally appeared in the July 2003 issue. View our other anniversary content here.

It’s that time of year again. Time to take off from work and relax with your family. Vacation time.

It’s amazing how the concept has changed over the years. When we are kids, vacation means no school. Period. In college, it means no school plus group trips to go crazy in places where people will never see us again. When we become grown-ups, it means spending a year planning how to spend our week off.

Then we get married and have kids. Now there are two people deciding what to do with one week off. Two people, I might add, who can’t always agree on what day it is. We have kids in different stages of abilities, interests and attention span, and come to think of it, spouses who are the same way.

Should vacation be alone or with the kids? Home or away? Water or mountain? Theme park or grandparents’ house? Home doing day trips or home cleaning the yard? Away with lots of activities or away doing nothing? Would the kids do better in an airplane, on a train, or in a car? Do we bring the dog or board him?

Vacations not only don’t relieve my stress anymore, they multiply it.

Now that I have some experience under my belt, however, I can share some ideas for various vacation options and helpful child-travel tips so when the time comes, you’ll feel more in control, a little more sane. Take your time, and take notes. Vacations are supposed to be fun, darn it, and we’re going to make them fun. I don’t care how hard it is.

The first type of vacation is The Getaway. It’s my personal favorite and features a remote island where it’s 80 degrees and sunny with only five other people around, all wearing uniforms and saying, “What can I get you”? I’ve experienced this exactly once in my life, on my honeymoon. It was exquisite. It was also before children.

Our next vacation was the “Let’s go somewhere new and spend every minute of every day doing different things so that by the time we get back to the hotel the kids will be too tired to watch a video and by the end we’ll be so tired and sick of each other that work will actually look good” vacation. I’m pretty sure I enjoyed myself; I just can’t remember any of it. When I try, my head explodes.

We’ve also experimented with option three, the Day Tripper vacation. We do one activity per day that we wouldn’t ordinarily do during the week, both with and without the children. Golf, museums, movies, the possibilities are endless, and we never get bored.

I happen to enjoy these little holidays. Of course, with no visible day job, one could argue that I could do those things any time I wanted. Well, I don’t. my daughter’s trying to potty train herself. Cut me some slack.

Then there’s the Quality Time vacation. That’s where the gainfully employed person takes a week off and stays home with the family so together they can tackle every cleaning job and home project that’s been put off for the last several years.

These are the worst for us stay-at-home people, because it’s not only not a vacation, it’s actually more work than normal. It would be like us going into our spouses’ office and saying, “Guess what! I’m going to give you more reports to do! Won’t that be fun?’ Yes, a real hoot, dear. Thanks for nothing.

After you’ve decided where to go, it takes some advance planning to make the journey, if not pleasant, bearable. (After traveling with small children by all three major modes of transportation, “bearable” seems to me like a good goal.) First and foremost, no matter how you’re traveling, remember your objectives: peace and sanity. The children will be happier if they’re occupied, and you’ll be happier if the children are occupied. “He touched me!” gets very old on a 12-hour trip. Heck, it gets old on a trip to the grocery store. So, consider these necessities:

The Bag-O-Goodies: This can be a backpack or lunchbox filled with a variety of attention-grabbing treats. Include a new box of crayons, pad of paper, coloring book, handheld games, books, lollipops, stickers, etc. make one for each child, unless you think that an enclosed space with no escape is actually a good time to teach the value of sharing.

DVD/VCR player: One of the newer electronic travel accouterments, I’ve met parents who will not travel without them. Pop in your children’s favorite movie and, voila, captive audience. Some players are equipped for video games, and they can be rented at many airports if you’re flying.

Snacks: These can include diced fruit or cheese, crackers, cookies, or anything else that can fit and stay fresh in little bags or plastic containers. From experience, I would say that chocolate is probably not a good idea.

Drinks: Water bottles are particularly handy, especially if they have a closeable spot. Sippy cups are also good, depending on the child’s age and/or propensity for throwing his drink. Juice boxes can be tricky since most parents know that with one wrong grab of the container, your child is wearing it.

Wipes: ‘Nuff said.

Accessible diapers and a change of clothes: See “Wipes.”

For car travel, I would also recommend a travel tray. Sold at many stores that carry children’s car seats and accessories, these trays give your child a built-in table on which to draw, color, eat, vomit, etc.

Also pack some sing-along music. While enough to drive a parent batty, children’s songs are a hoot to sing with your kids. Children just love them, and they serve the added purpose of teaching parents the correct words. If you choose to borrow some CDs from the local library, just be sure the due date is after you return from vacation.

Even if traveling by plane, don’t forget the car seat. You’ll need it on the other end if you plan to do any driving. It’s also a good idea to bring it on the airplane. It’s safer, of course, but it also can lull your child into thinking she’s just in a really big car and therefore will quell any desire to run up and down the aisles.

Pack some gum in your bag of goodies. It will help with the ear-popping issue, while pacifiers help the younger set deal with it. Throw in a deck of playing cards, too. With built-in trays and your child sitting next to you, cards are an easy activity in an airplane. Just don’t get upset when your child wins. Nobody likes a sore loser.

So, for starters, you’ll need backpacks, DVD player, videos, diapers, wipes, snacks, drinks, games, toys, books, Kleenex, car seats, gum, music, trays, and of course, more wipes. And then you’ve got your sunscreen, bug spray, antihistamine, Tylenol, pool and/or beach toys, clothing, favorite pillow and/or other sleep necessities, potty chair, and more wipes.

I’m going to put my feet up now and pretend I’m on that beach with nice people offering me lemonade. I have to relax.

You see, we’re on vacation next week.

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