3 Undervalued Tips for Surviving Family Vacations

From a crazy mom who traveled across the U.S. by herself with 3 kids

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Photo credit: Kayla Butler at Ivory Mix

A few summers ago, I did the unthinkable….

…at least, that’s what I’ve been told.

Everyone thought I was crazy. But I didn’t care. Driving across six states in three days with three kids ages one, five and eight by myself, I’ll admit, sounded exhausting, but not impossible.

I knew what I was getting myself into. (Gulp…)

But a trip like that involved much more than just packing our bags and hitting the road. Are you kidding me? I wish it were that easy! 

I actually spent weeks planning our trip. And thanks to my obsession with planning, our trip was flawless.

So, in case you want to go crazy this summer and take a very long road trip with your crew (or even a much shorter one), read the following tips for how to make your family trip one where everyone comes back in one piece.

3 Tips for Surviving Family Vacations

1) Don’t over-commit.

Tourist destinations are always packed with many attractions and things for families to do, but that doesn’t mean you have to do them all. With young kids, there are only so many things you can do in a single day. Don’t over schedule your day!

Sure, visiting iconic landmarks such as the Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore will create once in a lifetime memories for your family, but those memories won’t be great ones if everyone is sleep deprived or exhausted from the increased amount of walking (aka aerobic workout).

My advice:

Plan an outing in the early AM hours and take a few hours break before another outing in the afternoon. Young children who are used to napping mid-day will behave so much better and you’ll deal with less whining and complaining.

If possible, plan to extend your stay for more than one day, such as when visiting National Parks or Disney World. With all the outdoor walking involved, you’ll (and they’ll) feel more tired than you’d expect.

Growing up in Florida, I’m well aware of what a few hours in the sunshine does to my energy level. Your kids are no exception. Pushing yourself (or your kids) for the sake of seeing as much as possible could backfire and cause unnecessary stress for you and your kids. I thought you wanted a vacation. Why invite stress when you don’t have to?

2) Be prepared to entertain your kids.

Whether you want to go the technology route or not is totally up to you, but be prepared to have plenty of activities for your kids to do during long car rides or flights.

Here is a list of things my family typically uses during long trips:

  • Coloring books and crayons (I’m terrified of marker stains!)
  • Portable DVD player and a few DVDs
  • Books (including audio books)
  • Toys
  • Writing notebook
  • Music CDs or MP3 player
  • Kids tablet and learning device
  • Word search book
  • UNO cards

During our summer trip that year, we only brought along five DVDs and I predetermined the order in which they would be played before the trip. I even determined how much time there would be between DVDs. I explained to the kids that the rules were non-negotiable. I knew that if I didn’t take a stand up-front I would have to referee arguments later. Honestly, I’m surprised this approach worked. Not once did any of them complain about it. Not once!

My advice:

Stay one step ahead of the activities and always know what the next one will be. Kids need to know when and what, so I always explained how long an activity would last and what the next activity would be. This reduced the level of complaints when it was time to end an activity. It also reduced how often my kids would complain about being bored.

Providing a bit of structure similar to that of a school day helped the children feel less like they were just driving in a car all day and more like their day was broken up into tiny segments of activities. I especially made sure we took a long enough break outside of the car during lunch, usually 45 minutes to an hour.

3) Have fun, laugh, and play.

It can be so easy to get caught up in making it to your destination or realizing that each time you stop to go pee you’re losing precious road time that you might forget that you’re on a family vacation! Your kids, depending on their ages, may or may not remember where you went and what all you did, but they will always remember how they felt.

My advice:

Set the tone for fun and lightheartedness. If you must hurry your children back into the car after a pee break, have fun with it. Make it a game. Ask them to count how many giants steps it takes to reach the car.

If one of them starts showing signs of a, err, less then positive mood, say something silly to them. Tell them you saw a purple cow in the pasture you just drove past. When they call out your bluff, admit it, but then ask them to count the cows out loud. Tell them you want to see how long it takes for them to see 10, 20, or 30 cows.

By redirecting and refocusing their attention, you’ll avoid a potential crisis – boredom. If any of mine said the “b” word, I would mock them and say something like, “I’m bored, too. Can you drive for me instead?” That would make them laugh and point out that they have no idea how to drive and we’d end up having a conversation about driving and how old they have to be until they can learn to drive.

Bonus Tip:

What is the most undervalued piece of advice needed for surviving your next family vacation? Keep a positive attitude. 

Yes, keep a positive attitude!

Don’t let the traffic bother you.

Or the spilled apple juice and Teddy Graham’s.

Or the fact that you’ll have to stop to use the restroom far more times than you feel is necessary.

During that summer trip, I was committed to having a peaceful, uneventful road-trip. For weeks leading up to it, I didn’t allow anyone to tell me otherwise. I intended the kids would be well-behaved and I expected nothing less than good behavior.

Had I expected a disaster, I probably would have had one.

Family trips are full of adventure, companionship, and lessons in patience. With proper planning and the wisdom I’ve laid out here, your next one can be stress-free and enjoyable.

And don’t let anyone call you crazy for attempting the possible. 

If I can do it, so can you!

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