Is a Vacation With Kids Really a Vacation?

Vacations are all about relaxing and having fun. The reality of life with kids, however, is that even a trip to the playground down the street involves the logistics of a military operation. A vacation with kids comes with its own unique “baggage” and you may well wonder, is a vacation with kids really a vacation?

With a little bit of resourcefulness and a paradigm shift it is possible for vacations with kids to be somewhat fun and relaxing. Here are my tips for doing just that:

1. Set Realistic Expectations
Holiday brochures show young kids playing nicely at the resort pool while the parents leisurely sip cocktails on a recliner nearby. Parents know all too well how this will go down. Your days of meandering through museums full of Faberge Eggs and Ming Vases are over, nor will your kids enjoy it. You know your kids best of all – their quirks and their struggles. Avoid putting them in situations which are going to make life stressful for everyone. Find the sweet spot that gives you an experience that you can all enjoy.

kids family travel hotel stay

2. Keep it Simple, aka Less Is More
It behooves us all to emancipate ourselves from the culture of busyness that befells our modern life. The great thing about kids is that they find joy in the little things. Whatever you are thinking about doing, tone it down and simplify:

  • Skip the gruelling multi-day itinerary and instead choose just a couple of places of interest interspaced with some down-time at a playground or beach. 
  • Avoid excessive travel and/or flying and find a similar attraction closer to home such as a theme park within driving distance rather than flying to a high profile theme park. A few of my favorites within a couple of hours of New York include: Land of Make Believe, The Funplex, and the various Poconos family resorts.
  • Skip the stress of waiting to be served at a busy restaurant during peak holiday season and instead bring takeaway to the playground or get room service in your hotel. It’s okay for dinner to be a Vegemite sandwich and a bowl of cereal.
  • If there’s two of you, divide and conquer. One parent takes the kids for an outing, while the other parent enjoys a solo adult-friendly attraction, and the next day you switch. Or split the kids across age groups or personality types – you and your bookish older child can spend the afternoon reading in a cruisy cafe, whilst the other parent takes feisty little sibling to a playground.

3. Embrace the Daycation
Cousin of the popular staycation, a daycation offers you the adventure of visiting somewhere new without the emotional labor that flights and hotel stays entails. Instead, pack the car the night before, set your alarm, and head out early. The kids can even stay in their jammies until you reach your destination. Be sure to pack some breakfast on the go (New York bagels are perfect for this) and a travel mug of coffee for yourself. There’s no shortage of interesting and family-friendly destinations within a couple of hours of New York.

4. Road Trip Tips
It’s not a family road trip unless there’s a little person calling out “Mum I need to go the bathroom!” five minutes after you get on the highway. So you may as well embrace the chance for a leg stretch:

  • Plan ahead and locate suitable rest stops on the way: playgrounds, Ikea stores (for the Swedish meatballs, ball pit and power walking), highway rest stops (the US does a stellar job at this), plus every parent’s fallback: McDonald’s playgrounds (just skip the food – your stomach will thank you)
  • My kids inherited my fascination with maps, so we print one out, charting our journey for them to study en route. They enjoy taking ownership of the journey and checking signs against the map.
  • Pack plenty of car-friendly, healthy snacks in single-serve portions. 
  • For a change, skip the DVD player or i-pad. It’s ok for kids to be bored and you’ll all be more tuned to those quirky things you see whilst travelling.
family car road trip kids parents

5. Use Drop in Childcare
As the name suggests, drop in childcare refers to play places where your child will be supervised for a few hours, so that you and your partner can have a mini-date. I’ve found them common in other states, New York not so much.

6. Choose Accommodation Wisely
Life in New York means we are all used to living in closed, cramped quarters. When you’re choosing your home away from home, there are a few things to consider:

  • Tempting as it may be to save money by staying with friends or family, consider the benefits of having a place to call your own while you’re travelling. Having to remind your kids to use their inside voice and avoid touching your hosts’ tchotchkes isn’t fun for anyone. And there are those times when you just want to loll around in your jammies. 
  • Although AirBnB can be more budget friendly than a hotel, there’s also a greater sense of responsibility to avoid against damage to what is somebody’s home, compared with a chain hotels which tend to be more minimally furnished. 
  • When staying in a hotel, pay a little extra for a kitchenette. Especially for longer stays, it’s relaxing to be able to cook a simple meal in the comfort of your own suite.  
  • Ditto getting a suite with a separate bedroom. Talking in hushed whispers with your partner after the kids are asleep gets old very quickly.

7. Get Creative about Meeting Adult Friends
Trips often mean visiting friends and family in faraway places. But what if your friends without kids live in a luxury appointed designer digs with loads of white fluffy rugs or grandparents have recently downsized to a small unit? Find a park or playground and organise a potluck picnic. Pick up pre-prepared food from the local supermarket (or stop by a local Panera Bread). In inclement weather, find a local indoor play cafe.

When my oldest son was a toddler, he was constantly on the move. I’m forever grateful for family members who power walked alongside me, as I shadowed him as he roamed laps around the Chapel Hill Community Park. (And a big thank you Aunt Berta, Uncle Lane and Cousins Marcy and Dianne.)

family kids vacation travel parents

8. Make Time For Self Care
The point of holidays after all is to relax and refresh. Be sure to carve out daily time to recharge your batteries. If you are holidaying with your partner/spouse, tag team with them so that you can regularly clock off from parenting duties. Take a walk, hit the hotel gym or just find a quiet corner to read. 

Let’s face it, vacations with kids are not going to resemble those carefree trips you took earlier in your life. But by being flexible and going with the flow, you can create those “remember the time when we” moments. When your kids look back on family vacations, they will only remember the fun and the time you spent together. Chances are, down the track, you’ll feel the same way too.

Author: Angela Tohl

Born in Adelaide but calls Brisbane her home, Angela came to New York City in 2007 in search of an adventure. Her free time is spent eating poppy seed bagels, learning guitar and chasing her 2 little kids around NYC.

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