Does anyone else remember your first vacation as new parents? The anticipation, planning the activities, and imagining how wonderful and magical it will be experiencing your first vacation as a family of three. Then, reality hits.
Your child refuses to sleep in a new and different environment. Your child does not want to be quiet in the restaurant you were excited to try. You are left beyond exhausted and bewildered wondering where this amazing trip you planned went wrong.
Having high hopes and expectations met with a differing reality as a new parent can be disappointing to say the least. But once you shift your mindset, prepare differently, and change your lens to find all the good that children do bring to traveling, you can have a much better outcome. Our kids are six and four now, and we have had our fair share of reality checks traveling as new parents.
Here are a few things we have found that help us have a successful and relaxing vacation with young children:
1. We always book a hotel or townhouse that has two separate sleeping areas plus a full kitchen.
Having our own private room that we can enjoy after the kids go to sleep is key. In the beginning, we’d try to save a few dollars and all squeeze into one room. We found that to be miserable. If the baby went to sleep at 8pm, we were stuck whispering and tiptoeing around in the dark which is not fun. So now we splurge and get two bedrooms or at least a separate sleeping area with a pullout couch.
We also make a detailed meal plan and grocery list during the drive. As soon as we arrive, my husband goes to the grocery store so our kitchen is fully stocked for the next morning. We find getting ready and going to restaurants three times a day to be exhausting with young children, not to mention expensive. We plan simple meals that don’t require a lot of work and can have leftovers. It’s so much more enjoyable for everyone to be able to make sandwiches and grab snacks right out of our room whenever we are hungry.
2. Find a resort that offers several things for kids to do on the property.
We have two places that we’ve gone to since becoming parents and we never have to leave the resort after arriving if we don’t want to. I hesitate to use the word resort, because that sounds fancy and super pricey. I assure you that the places we have found are actually very reasonable and affordable for the average family. The resorts we like best have sidewalks all around the property so our boys can scooter, ponds where we can feed the ducks, multiple playgrounds, outdoor barbecue areas, pools, splash pads, putt putt, and an indoor kids’ activity center that offers child centered art projects for a minimal fee.
The first year we went with our second son as a newborn, we realized what a game changer these resorts were for us. If the baby was napping, my husband and I would take turns taking our toddler to the pool or an art class, while the other parent stayed in the room with the baby. It was amazing. No more arranging outings around nap schedules and meal times. We had so many options we could do that we could walk to from our room.
3. My husband and I give each other part of a day to go do something we enjoy.
We don’t like to miss quality family time all together, but find that spending a few hours alone doing something we enjoy really recharges us as individuals. On his day, he might play golf, find a local bookstore to browse, or see a movie. On my day, I might go shopping, schedule a pedicure, or find a fun local coffee shop with a good book. We love this and look forward to it every year. Our kids love it too because they get special one on one time with us hanging around the resort.
4. We choose a local restaurant we’d like to try and order takeout after the kids go to bed.
We plan a fun show we want to watch together or will sit on our patio and enjoy a yummy restaurant meal together as a date night in, without the fuss of keeping small kids entertained in a restaurant. We also always plan a pizza night with the kids where we order a local pizza to our room.
5. I prepare two special surprise bags for each of our children.
One of these bags is for the road trip and the other is for when we arrive at our destination. The bag for the car includes a few new activities and special snacks I normally do not buy. The bag for the resort usually includes some pool toys and new pajamas. These are not fancy, and I buy most of the items from Dollar Tree (anyone else loves the Dollar Tree?).
These are just a few things we have found that work for our family. We enjoy a simple vacation relaxing by the pool, going on bike rides or to the beach. We are on the go in our normal routine at home, that on vacation we don’t want to have to constantly be going places. As our kids have gotten older, we have gotten braver and certain things are getting easier. The main thing is to adjust your expectations. Meltdowns can still happen, things may not go as planned, and that’s OK. Accept that things will not go as perfectly as you envision in your mind and remember that it is just a season of life.
The best part of traveling as a family is that you have more freedom to simply enjoy each other and your destination. You can enjoy true quality time together which is my favorite part. Watching your kids experience a new place is its own kind of magic and as most things with children, it’s worth it.