The Truth About Family “Vacations” with Young Kids

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The truth about family vacations with young kids


That photo above was taken as I was setting the self-timer on my camera in an attempt to capture a family photo of the four of us on our recent El Capitan Canyon glamping trip.

Every time we tried to take a photo, someone was not looking or doing something stupid, and I got to the point where I said, “We will do this as many times as it takes to get ONE good photo of our family together on this vacation!!!!!!”

Note their enthusiastic faces. Husband included.

Which inspired this post: the truth about family “vacations” with young kids.

Yes, we had the most amazing trip overall, but there are definitely moments within a family “vacation” that are not so pleasant.

So here are my tips on how to make the most out of your family “vacation” with little ones.

First off, traveling with young kids is not a “vacation”

I think we would all be better off banning the word “vacation” when it comes to traveling with young kids. Trip, yes. Vacation, no.

When I think of a vacation, I think of relaxation. Me by a pool with a cocktail, good book and a snooze. Vacationing with small kids is anything but.

Let go of the dream

When traveling with young kids, I have found it is best to not set unrealistic expectations.

It is easy to romanticize the family vacation. You plan for it, dream about it, and envision your happy family splashing in a pool together or enjoying a theme park all day with grateful, happy children.

Now let’s talk about reality.

Traveling with  young children can cause nightmarish moments. Whining, tantrums, what have you.

This can lead to disappointment if you have a romantic family vacation vision in your head, because damnit, we are on VACATION people, you WILL have fun if it KILLS me!!!!

As fun as it might be, traveling does throw kids off their regularly scheduled program. Factor in a few hours less sleep per night, spotty naps, extra sugar and exhausting activities, and you will likely have full on CRANK-sters on your hands at times.

What is a parent to do?

First off, recognize these facts and give them a break. If someone is on meltdown mode, get them back to the room with an iPad, TV show, or anything it takes to bring them down.  Chill out time has to be factored in. It’s okay. You might need a chill out moment too.

If a kid is burnt out at the theme park – I give you permission to abort mission before hitting everything you had planned.

Pushing on when kids have hit the limit can have less than favorable results.

Laugh at the bad moments 

On this particular El Capitan trip, we got all packed up and headed down to Refugio Beach for a beach day. We get there, get unpacked, schlep up the beach to find a perfect spot, unpack our beach gear and not five minutes later my 7-year-old gets stung by a bee.

By her reaction, those on the beach might have thought she got bitten by a shark.

As I am carrying a child too big to be carried, screaming up the beach to the car, I start to laugh because it really is, funny. The vision of my trying to carry her on the beach made me crack up.

My laughter distracted her from the trauma of it all, and she asked why I am laughing. I tell her, “We will NEVER forget this beach trip.” Which makes her laugh too.

And we won’t. We will always remember the time she got stung by a bee at Refugio beach.

Don’t set yourself up for disaster

On another family trip, we found ourselves having a blast at the pool and leaving later than expected to go back to shower and get ready for dinner.

Kids swam all day. They were sun-kissed and exhausted, and even though it was 7:30pm, we thought we should head up to the hotel restaurant for dinner. I had a romantic family vacation vision of us sitting up on the beautiful outdoor patio enjoying a lovely al fresco dinner together.  Deep down I knew it would end in disaster.

Mother’s instinct is always right. Trust IT ladies!

We get to the restaurant, and it is another full hour before we get our food. My kids were a hot mess.

We should have called for a pizza or I should have sent hubby to run out to a local place for take out.

Carve out a little time for your own sanity

Family trips are a lot of together time.

And yes, we love each other so very much, but dear God, we also need a little break so I urge you to carve out an hour here and there to have to yourself.  Take a walk by yourself, go and sit and get a coffee alone somewhere, just get away for an hour if you feel you need it.

Even if working out is not your idea of vacation – well, it just might have to be on your trip! An hour at the fitness center alone or participating in a resort yoga class might be what the doctor ordered.

Don’t do yoga? Yes, you do. Fake it.

Hour on, hour off

When my kids were too young to swim on their own, my husband and I would switch hours when we were off and on kid duty. When we were on, we were responsible for watching the kids in the pool. When we were off, we could read and feel free to sit in the lounge chair and watch from the sidelines.

This gave us both a break so we could find a little relaxation.

Even better, ask your hubby to treat you to a morning at the spa and trade him for a round of golf!

High hopes

This summer my girls are 5 and 8. They are not little kids anymore, so we are taking our first family trip with older kids. Note I still do not use the word vacation just in case. We are are going away for a week, including plane ride and six nights in a hotel.

It will be my girls first time on an airplane and the first time we have gone away for more than a few nights.

I have high hopes that I might be able to use the word vacation for this upcoming trip. But that remains to be seen. Stay tuned.

Embrace the good moments

In any family trip, you will come away with moments that you will remember forever (and some you might want to forget), but, those moments you remember will be SO worth it. It just won’t be EVERY moment. Go in with that mindset, and you will be ahead of the game. Happy summer mamas!



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  1. 1
    Suzanne says:

    The first picture makes me literally laugh out LOUD!! So true…a friend once told me that it’s not VACATION with young kids, but FAMILY TIME. 🙂

  2. 2
    Melissa says:

    Perfect post and so timely. Thank you for writing what I feel and need to be reminded. Often!

  3. 3
    jen says:

    Glad you enjoyed the photo. Is that not hilarious? And don’t we all have moments like that every now and again? I wanted to share this before people departed on family TRIPS this summer!

  4. 4
    Eva says:

    LOVE LOVE LOVE this Jen!!! Exactly what I need right now as I’m about to embark on my monster trip home with my two little darlings. See you soon! xo

  5. 5
    christy says:

    OMG – LOVE this post. You are absolutely right on 🙂

  6. 6
    Helen Platt says:

    You are right on with everything. I am currently on a trip to NYC with my 5 and 8 year olds for nine days. I’ve had to tweak our activities and have snuck out just to have a moment to myself. Thank you to my husband for watching them. Traveling with kids surely not easy.

  7. 7
    Nicole says:

    SO True! Love this Jen! I’m looking forward to a vacation sometime soon…:-)

  8. 8
    Lisa says:

    Oh yes, those family “vacations.” They were the best of times. They were the worst of times. I will never forget a trip to Big Bear. Sarah was probably 2 and Stevie was a baby. Sarah had night terrors — and she had one of the worst EVER on this trip. We were all crammed in a small hotel room (with my mother-in-law) and Sarah was basically hysterical and 100% inconsolable. For hours. HOURS. And she was “asleep” so she didn’t even know who we were and did not want us to touch her or hold her or anything. But she was mobile and walking and talking complete nonsense. All while crying hysterically. I still haven’t recovered from that. And she will be 9 this year. Ha!

    • 9
      jen says:

      Lisa, “The best of times, the worst of times” quote just cracked me up. Mostly because it is SO TRUE!

  9. 10
    Mark says:

    Our kids have always traveled well, but most of our vacations were spent at a hotel on a beach. However, one particular trip that was not well planned which comes to mind was a road trip. The boys were 2 and 6 so not only could they not help much, they needed to be watched, a lot!! We went from OC to Yosemite, then to Monterrey, then to Morrow Bay, then on to Santa Barbara/Ventura then home. While we had a great time with so many things to see, but as the dad, I spent most of the trip driving, unpacking the car then packing the car. And since we stayed in motels along the way, every place was at least a staircase away from the car. Hence the boys needed to be watched, so my wife was not able to assist. I was never so exhausted after a trip than that one. Now that the kids are almost 10 and 14, they get to do most of the Sherpa work. In hindsight we should have saved that trip for a few years until the kids were a bit older.

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