Vacations are wonderful. But vacations with young kids can be–exhausting!

Yesterday was the official Canada Day holiday here in Canada, and tomorrow is July 4 in the U.S. (well, it’s July 4 everywhere, but I hope you all know what I mean!). So we’re in the throes of holidays here in North America. And so I thought it was time to talk about holidays with kids!

I’m taking a few days off right now, but Lucy Rycroft from DesertMum sent me this just awesome post I have to share about how to make vacations with kids easier. Here’s Lucy:

Awesome ideas for family vacations and practical tips for traveling with young kids!

Last summer I read Sheila’s post about how amazing family vacations can be. It was wonderful, confirming everything I’d ever hoped would be true for the vacations my family would take together.

Except.

My kids are young. When I read Sheila’s post, they were 7, 5, 2 and 2 – and we had just returned from a fairly stressful trip. I longed for the kind of vacation Sheila described – but the reality was full of non-stop childcare: mealtimes, snacktimes, changing, bathing, sleepless nights. It seemed we could kiss goodbye to any notion of reading a novel or visiting places of interest.

Here’s the thing: it is possible to have vacations which are restful, life-enhancing and bonding, even when our kids are small – but they look a bit different, and take some planning. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Don’t Blow the Budget when Vacationing with Kids

That exotic trip to Bali might sound appealing, but when all your time is spent finding a toilet for your 4 year old, or constantly heading back to the hotel so your baby can nap – not so much.

The more money you spend on a holiday, the more pressure you will feel under to enjoy yourself. Your children’s needs come first, and if the meeting of their needs prevents you from being able to truly make the most of your holiday, then you could return home unrested and with a big dent in your bank balance.

Is it worth it? Your children really just want you, regardless of location. So plan a holiday where you can simply enjoy being together, with no pressure of finances or a long journey. Save the luxury cruise for when everyone’s a bit older and will enjoy it more – and you’ll be taking away the pressure that comes from an expensive holiday.

Our family has done some house-swaps in recent years. You do need to be careful, making sure you trust whoever you’re swapping with (friends-of-friends come in handy here) – but it’s a wonderful way to bring the cost of a holiday right down.

2. Having said that, Be Realistic about What You Need from a Holiday

My ability to enjoy a holiday doesn’t rely on the weather – which is a good thing, since we live in the UK where it is entirely unpredictable. But if you’re someone who won’t truly relax unless you’re on a beach with guaranteed sun, don’t book a week in Wales.

My husband isn’t a camper. He’s building up to it, as he’s realised the benefits of camping once our kids get a bit older – but camping with preschoolers is one step too far for him. So we don’t (yet) camp.

Be realistic about what you (and your family) need, but bear in mind my point about it being low-stress. Find a balance which works for you.

3. Get Organised with Packing

Packing is one of my worst things. I hate, hate, HATE it! But do you know what? Last time we were packing to go away, our computer broke, which meant I couldn’t access any of my packing lists. I was lost!

I realised that, much as I hate packing, it’s actually very do-able if you have a list. So: make a list! Save it on your computer and you’ll have it to hand whenever you’re going away. (Although maybe have a back-up copy too…)

If you really want to ace your packing, order the list according to which room everything can be found in. List all the bathroom stuff together in one place, then everything you’ll find in each of your kids’ rooms, then your room, the kitchen, and so on. It’ll save time and stress the night before your holidays.

Also, from the time they can read, give your kids their own packing lists. It’ll give them important ownership over things like what they want to wear on holiday – and save you time!

(If all this is a new idea to you, why not sign up to my mailing list, and I’ll ping you over some packing list templates!)

4. If You Can, Vacation with Others

The main reason of course is FREE CHILDCARE!!!

I mean – ahem – the oportunity to spend valuable time with extended family or friends.

But also – FREE CHILDCARE!!!

Every year, my parents-in-law generously rent a big house for a week’s holiday with our wider family. It isn’t all about childcare! It genuinely is a lovely time to spend together, getting to know each other better and creating memories which become much-told anecdotes at future mealtimes.

But it does also makes things easier with the kids. It means my husband and I can go out to dinner, or take the older kids to the cinema. It means we don’t have to do the bulk of the cooking or sorting out, which is a huge help.

It’s also the primary reason our kids have such good relationships with their grandparents, and I love how excited they are each year to go away with the Rycrofts.

I don’t imagine it’s a very relaxing week for my long-suffering in-laws – but for us, we genuinely come home properly de-stressed. Not everyone would feel the same after a week with family – but going on holiday with some friends, especially another family with kids, can also be great fun, and very relaxing as you can share out the cooking and babysit for each other.

5. Give Each Other Lie-Ins

An absolute must for us on holiday is to get some time to sleep in! And even if we can’t sleep much beyond 7.30am (hello, parent body-clock), it’s nice just to have that time to read or pray or think. We alternate whose turn it is to get up with the kids, and it works well.

6. Make the Most of your Evenings

I’m a big believer in enjoying every stage of parenting – and one of the great advantages of having young children is their early bedtime. Hooray!

Holidays are great for building all the relationships within a family – and that includes your marriage – so use your evenings well.

Bring some games to play or things to chat about. Get a takeaway, buy a luxury ready-meal, crack open a bottle of wine or indulge in some special chocolates. Whatever floats your boat, do it! This is your holiday too, and your chance to de-stress from whatever’s been going on for you this year.

7. Plan for Some Great Sex

Well now, I couldn’t blog for Sheila without mentioning sex, right?! She practically makes it a compulsory element of a guest blog.

We all like the idea of spontaneity – and spontaneous sex can be great! But I think we also know that sometimes you have to schedule things – even fun things – to make sure that they happen, and happen well. (Sheila’s written a great post on that here!)

Holidays are a great time to intentionally develop your sex life, because many of the pressures which hold us back are not there. You’re off work, without your usual commitments, and hopefully catching up on sleep.

So – plan wisely! Pack some nice lingerie and a luxury bubble bath. Buy Sheila’s “31 Days to Great Sex” to read together, or take The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex to read on your own (and then summarise for your spouse!). Go to bed early. Try the Deck of Dares or the Sock Monkey Kama Sutra. Whatever you and your spouse enjoy: plan to make it happen!

8. Plan Realistic Activities

Much as it sounds fun, that ceramics factory tour might not be as enjoyable if you’re taking your two year old who likes to smash things. And a boat trip would be awesome, but if you’re outnumbered by children who don’t swim, then perhaps the safety risk isn’t going to help you to relax.

I’m not saying you should spend every day of your holiday in a play centre – I am saying that if your children are happy, then you will be happier and more relaxed too. You can always return to the same place in a few years’ time to explore the places you couldn’t get to this time around.

By all means, introduce your children to your passions though! Take them to museums and art galleries, stately homes and gardens – speak with them about what you’re experiencing. Take advantage of any activity which has been laid on for children, even if that means you spend an entire afternoon decorating animal masks.

9. Loosen up your Usual Schedule

Unless it will negatively affect your children’s well-being, be prepared to do things a bit differently on holiday.

When our eldest was one, we holidayed with some friends who also had a one-year-old. We ended up going out most mornings, and driving back after lunch, when both kids would fall asleep in the car. The difference was that their daughter would transfer to the cot when we got back to our cottage – and they could then enjoy an hour or two of reading and general relaxation – but our son woke up and wouldn’t be put down again.

It really stressed me out – but what I should have done was accept the different routine, relax and enjoy the special downtime with our son. If my husband and I had been on the ball, we could have taken it in turns to watch our son at this time, meaning the other one could have some time to themselves.

10. Lose the Guilt over Screentime

When we’re on holiday, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we must provide non-stop, ‘wholesome’ entertainment for our children. But even on holiday, they need downtime. After all, we adults look at our phones or watch TV to relax – so why shouldn’t our kids be allowed some screentime too?

Don’t feel guilty if you switch the TV on to make mornings easier, or to wind down at the end of a busy day sightseeing. It’s your holiday too and you need some time to rest. It can even be a good opportunity to sit and watch with your children. Despite my pre-parenthood intentions of always watching what my children were watching, life gets too busy to be able to do this consistently. A vacation is the perfect opportunity to enjoy a show together.

LucyRycroft - 10 Ways to Enjoy Awesome Vacations--Even with Young KidsLucy Rycroft, blogger at Desertmum, freelance writer and stay-at-home mama.
Lucy has a degree in Music from Oxford University and spent several years teaching teenagers in schools, and then teaching teachers! Since starting her family nine years ago, she's stayed at home with no regrets. Besides being the PTA chair at her children's school, helping with worship and kids' work at church, and leading a weekly Parents' Bible Study, she blogs at Desertmum, and writes frequently on adoption for Home for Good. Lucy lives in York, England, with her pastor husband and four kids.
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