When we first became parents, my husband and I knew that our travel process would change. We knew that we would have to be a bit more organized, keep our plans more flexible, be willing to travel to family friendly destinations, and buy a lot of kid gear. We knew we would have to alter some of the things we did, but we didn't think it would completely change our approach to traveling. I remember running through the airport with the car seat on my husband's back, both of our rolling suitcases in hand, a huge diaper bag backpack on my back, and pushing the stroller with the baby crying trying to catch our connecting flight. Sound familiar? Travel can already be stressful without kids, much less with kids! So, what can we do about it? Over the years I have adopted these five tips that have helped me stay sane while traveling with the family in tow (even when RVing full time across the nation with an 18 month old and 4 year old). It can be done -- here we go!
1. Adjust Your Travel Mindset
I know this sounds simple, but I feel adjusting your mindset is the most important thing you can do when traveling with kids. My husband and I had visions of taking the kids on long tent camping adventures and wanted them to become avid whitewater rafters and mountain bikers. We wanted to expose them to nature, different cultures, and get them involved in the community -- you know -- take them to experience all of the things. We were quick to realize some of our expectations needed to be a bit more realistic. We laugh now at how much we evolved. Tent camping morphed into RVing in a 35 foot Class A motorhome. Mountain biking turned into pulling a kid trailer behind us on paved trails. Hiking with the kids in a backpack worked out really well until they started wanting to hike too. So, we took the kids on shorter "kid hikes" and we went on separate hiking dates without the kids when we could. Whitewater rafting turned into flat water kayaking and paddle boarding. And guess what? We ended up loving all of those things too! It wasn't always easy to do, but we knew we had to change our mindset if we were going to enjoy ourselves.
Don't worry though. This doesn't mean you have to give up everything that you love! Everyone will have a different threshold of what they are willing to evolve out of. In fact, we know and admire some very active parents that still tent camp regularly and whitewater raft with their small children, but if you don't feel comfortable bringing your baby on a Class III river trip you can still plan to go on a trip with your adult friends. As the kids grow and change, so will your activities and the way you travel. There is always a way -- you just have to be a bit creative and enjoy the stage the kids are in. Soon, your children will be joining you on the zip lines and surpassing you on the slopes.
2. Keep Communicating
Whether you have a partner, are a single parent, or are traveling with other families, you need to communicate with your travel pod about what feels good to you. Some people might be totally good with taking a small baby to a posh restaurant in New York or letting their kids use a knife by themselves to whittle a s'mores stick, but that may not be you. Think about your kids, their needs, and your parameters. Then, communicate with those you are traveling with and agree on certain boundaries. My husband and I are intentional about planning our trips and talking about what we want to do, what we are comfortable with, how much down time we need, and what we would like the children's experience to be. We also know that we need to keep a flexible attitude and be able to "go with the flow" when needed especially when something unexpected pop up like someone cracking a tooth (yes, this just happened). Ouch!
We also love involving the kids in the planning process. They like to help choose restaurants, create a day of activities, or help us pick out a route on a map. When traveling with others, we know that it is important to have our own family time too. You do not have to spend every minute with your travel pod. It is okay to do different things, but it is also important to talk about expectations and plan out the things you want to do together and apart. When we all communicate what we need, we know what to expect and we create a foundation that allows for less stress and more fun.
3. Simplify, simplify, simplify
You have heard of the saying, keep it simple sweetie. Well, that applies to traveling with children - 100%! Streamlining what you bring with you and what you decide to do can be a game changer.
You really don't need to bring all of the kids' gadgets and gizmos, although some things like a sound machine can be a life saver. You definitely need less clothing than you think you need, but bringing extra clothes for the baby will be helpful. And don't forget -- you can always buy something on your trip if you absolutely need to.
We realized early in our parenting journey that we can sometimes get in the way of our children's fun. We create tight schedules, come up with a long list of must sees, and try to pack a ton of activities into every day. Then, we get frustrated if we aren't able to tick off all of the boxes on the itinerary. Traveling like that just ends up in an exhausted and cranky family. It is important to remember that kids do not need much to have fun. They can play for hours splashing in small creek or playing with sticks. Even older kids will come up with something if they are off of their devices and given a chance to be "bored." Our family has way more fun when we take time out of the travel schedule to just "be." Remember, you cannot see everything in one go. It is better to simplify your schedule. We like to plan for one big activity or two smaller activities a day. Then, we schedule down days in between to rest and allow for some spontaneous sidetracking. Some of our favorite moments (hanging at the beach and having a close encounter with a dolphin pod) happen on our down days.
4. Carve out Solo Time
Sometimes traveling throws us off our regular routine. We may get plenty of fresh air and exercise, but our bed may be too hard or soft, our kids may not like the food in the restaurants, or we might overdo it on a hike. Other times, the change is exactly what we need. Maybe we find a more peaceful rhythm like regular walks in the morning and more together time as a family. Vacation allows us a chance to break away from the norm and immerse ourselves in a totally different way of being, but sometimes we need a break from all of the togetherness. Be mindful of when you need a break and try to get some solo recharge time. It can be as simple as a walk by yourself or time to meditate. Do you like to read? Need spa time? How about some fishing or yoga? Whatever it is, take the time to plan it out. Your partner can have a fun day with the kids while you recharge your batteries. It ends up being a win, win for everyone!
The one thing I continue to do regularly when traveling, is meditate. When I meditate regularly for just 10 minutes in the mornings, I notice a reduction in my overall levels of stress and anxiety, I find it easier to tap into my joy and creativity, and I have more self-awareness about my feelings, behaviors, and communication. There have been times when I haven't practiced as regularly and I notice a sharp difference in my attitude. Needless to say, I am hooked on meditation and it is one thing I cannot do without. Think about the one of two things that recharge you the most and try to incorporate them into your vacation time.
5. Have Stress-Reduction Tools at the Ready
Let's get real here. Yes, vacations can be a lot of fun but they are stressful too. It is important to be ready with some tools that can help lower stress levels when needed. Some days will just not work out as intended. Some days the kids will be tired and talk back or have a tantrum. It can be frustrating when your family members (especially tween/teens) give you attitude about something you spent a lot of time and money organizing. When those anger and stress level start to rise, one simple tool that helps me is the S.T.O.P. method. It allows me to re-assess and pivot. Here is what it stands for:
S - Stop. Stop what you are doing or saying. If needed, let the person you are talking to know you need a minute to re-group and then remove yourself from the area.
T - Take. Take deep breaths for about one minute. You can extend the time if needed. It is helpful to close your eyes and breath in your nose for 4 and out your nose for 4.
O - Observe. Observe your experience just as it is in the moment. Name any thoughts, feelings, or emotions you are having. Notice how your body is feeling - are you tired, hungry, achy? Ask yourself these four questions:
Who am I? Am I reacting in a way that aligns with who I am and want I want to be?
What do I want in this moment? What do I want overall?
What is my purpose both in this moment and in general?
What am I grateful for?
P - Proceed. Proceed with something that will help you in that moment and move forward with a new state of awareness (based on the answers to the questions above).
Not only can this simple tool help during travel, it is something you can use every single day. The more you practice it, the more aware you will become and the better equipped you will be to move through your day with intention.
Finally, remember that bumps in the road are part of vacations (and life). Reframing the bumps as learning opportunities allow us to stay flexible and still enjoy our time together. Adjusting my travel mindset, keeping lines of communicating open, simplifying the travel process, taking time out for solo time, and using tools like the S.T.O.P. method have all helped me to stay sane as we get sidetracked with the kids all over the nation and world. Need some fun ideas for planning an epic family vacation? Check my post out here. Happy Travels Everyone!