5 Steps to a Better Family Vacation

This will be another two-parter. Hope y’all aren’t tired of reading about travel yet!

1422485_10153811994720075_244012466_nOn our last family vacation, as we were passing time in the airport, my husband looked at me and said, ” You know, a lot of people really dread family trips. I’m so glad we can actually enjoy them.” He’s right. For many parents, the mere thought of spending 8 hours on a plane with a screaming toddler initiates a panic attack. That got me thinking…How is it that we are able to not only tolerate, but truly appreciate our family vacations? It’s not like we have one of those newfangled extra-fancy models of baby that never tantrums. We aren’t impervious to jet-lag. And we certainly aren’t immune to stress. We have, however, found a few methods of coping with the challenges of travel and of maximizing the enjoyment of it. Without further ado…

1. Share the Load. Divvy up the duties. Nap in shifts on the plane. Take turns baby-wearing. Work as a team and you’ll cut your stress in half.

2. Do your homework. Learn about your destination before you get on the plane. Check out books from the library, google it, talk to friends who have gone. Not only will you find your excitement building, but you’ll feel more prepared for potential challenges. If you’re traveling to a place where the native language isn’t English, try to learn a few basic pleasantries in the local language. You’ll love seeing people’s faces light up when you greet them in their mother tongue. It’s a great way to make friends. Trust me.

3. Lighten up…your luggage! I don’t care where you’re going, you don’t need to pack every pair of shoes that you own. Pack outfits that can do double or triple duty. Zen-ly accept the idea that you aren’t dressing to impress. Take only the essentials. Ever took a week-long trip without checking luggage? It’s freeing to travel with only a backpack! No luggage charges, no waiting at baggage claim, no lost luggage…It’s truly wonderful. And when you only pack a couple outfits, getting dressed in the morning is a snap!

4. Be choosy. Reject the notion that you have to do-see-eat-capture it all. You don’t. And if you try, you will feel like hell and turn into one of those snarling, entitled tourists we’ve all seen. Not pretty. Set small goals and you’ll feel accomplished and satisfied. For example, on our one day layover in Zurich, we set three goals: visit Fraumünster (a lovely old church), have coffee in a local cafe, and have some chocolate. We walked picturesque streets, which was a great activity in and of itself, and crossed all the things off our list in a matter of a couple hours. The whole day felt leisurely and restful. We spent plenty of time sleeping in our hotel and opted for buying groceries at a little shop instead of going out to eat. Not only was it less stressful, but it saved us a chunk of change. When we travel, we decide on very few must-sees ahead of time, and we hold all of our plans in open hands. That way, returning to the hotel for a nap and a snack doesn’t feel like an interruption, and it doesn’t cause us to resent our child’s needs.

5. Take melatonin. It’s a natural sleep aid. We don’t use it on a regular basis, but on trips…it’s brilliant. For our toddler, we crush a pill and put about a third of it in his bottle. Nathan and I also take it to help us adjust to time changes. It costs like a dollar at Wal-Mart, so there’s pretty much no reason not to get it!

And this one’s a freebie since I’m feeling generous: Vacation is not the time to introduce new discipline/sleep schedules/foods to young children. They will very likely be a little traumatized by traveling, and will need as many familiar routines as possible. Don’t be surprised if they even seem to backtrack developmentally. It’s common and totally fine for a newly weaned baby to want to breastfeed, or for an otherwise independent toddler to want to cuddle endlessly. I recommend that you bring your sling or or whatever baby carrier you prefer…and just roll with it! They’ll go back to normal (more of less) when you get home.

Hope this was helpful. Don’t be afraid to travel with small ones. It’s totally possible…and fun!

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