I love vacations, holidays, and travelling. The excitement of new places, the planning, the relaxing and sightseeing, and even the coming home to your own cosy house when it’s all over.
And then I had kids.
But I was determined to help them develop into resilient, hardy travellers with whom I would enjoy vacationing. Call it naive or call it a work in progress. Along the way, I came up with five real-life travel tips for families to make travelling just a bit easier. (No advice here about alerting your credit card company before you go on vacation. Maybe because I always forget.) These ideas may not turn your holiday into an enchanting wonderland, but sometimes, my friends, good enough is all we aim for. Even a vacation that falls far south of a good time can redeem itself with hilarious memories later. (Sometimes years later.) Parenthood is funny that way.
1.) Carry Water
Maybe not everyone agrees, but this is the truth. Water is life. Water is the difference between meltdowns and a decent day. (Well, water and candy, but that’s a different tip.) A bottle of water has averted nasty words from many a cantankerous family member. I might be speaking of the adults.
Even small children can carry a bag with a water bottle. Carry it to the amusement park, the playground, and the mountain hikes. Put a large jug of water in your vehicle. You’ll stay hydrated and save money!
I must admit one downfall: bathroom stops. Everyone will be healthier and happier, but your trips could take (a lot) longer. But instead of an obstacle, think of it as an opportunity to visit all the small towns in Canada, because your child has to pee RIGHT NOW.
On one such trip, we encountered the Shell gas station restroom in Valleyview, Alberta, voted the best bathroom in Canada in 2013. (Google it, I’ll wait…) We made an exploratory stop. It had a chandelier. And to think, I could have missed it.
2.) Carry Candy
That’s right, you heard me; don’t get me in trouble over this one. No health tips here because we just want to survive the holidays. A carefully-timed lollipop can work miracles for the last mile (of a forced march, as my children would like to tell you). A piece of dark chocolate can revive an exhausted parent as they sit quietly in the dark of a shared hotel room.
But candy holds the most possibilities for long drives. When the backseat starts bickering, as surely as gas prices rise, candy is on your team. Buy a large bag of unwrapped candy. Show it to your kids and tell them it’s all theirs when you arrive at your destination. Every time a fight erupts, open the window and throw a large handful of candy out. Say nothing. Silence is golden.
3.) Carry Your Own Stuff
Everyone carries their own stuff. All of it. Doesn’t fit in your bag? Then it’s not coming on vacation. You might have to do a little vacation laundry (or have dirty kids, so pick your own poison), but this is absolutely freeing. There is less stress in changing locations every couple days, keeping track of all the things, or running to catch a plane after being stuck in the Toronto customs line for the best part of your life.
This tip is best for school-age kids, of course. If you have babies or toddlers, then they can carry your stuff. I’m sure you spent enough money on that stroller!
4.) To Plan Or Not To Plan? The answer is Yes!
This tip is more of a life mindset and works in any situation involving a child, or anyone else. A family has two kinds of travellers: planners and free spirits. You know who you are, and yes, you can be both. All I’m saying is this: travelling can be stressful, so cut everyone some slack. Good advice, right?!
Sometimes, you need to plan. Know what things cost, check the weather, and buy travel insurance if that’s your gig. Pack snacks. Don’t forget to plan for stops – there is that jug of water in the car. Book some things ahead of time. Don’t expect to waltz into the only hotel for miles when there’s a rodeo in town. Know what you’re up against.
But maybe, once in a while, don’t plan. Do it for the free spirits in your family and that tiny free spirit in you that got squashed by parenthood. Time and money will be essential here. (Really, time and money make the decisions in most areas of my life, but I digress.) Take a week and leave town. Flip a coin for what parks to visit, ask each kid to pick the day’s activity, or drive until you find a sour green apple Slurpee. Who cares why you go, just go! Stop when you’re interested in something or just want a break. You might learn something new about yourself and make your greatest family memories.
5.) Cherish the Memories
Okay, so maybe this one isn’t so much a tip as advice I always have to remind myself.
Getting away with your family will help slow time down and help us cherish our parenting years. (This is actually scientific: sometimes known as the “holiday paradox,” studies show that we perceive time differently when we break our routine.) Take some pictures, of course, but don’t vacation through a lens.
Sometimes the best moments happen spontaneously. They’re not always expected or expensive. We’ve all seen that kid melting down in the Happiest Place on Earth as the family is running to their next FastPass. Splash in a creek on a hot day. Park near the runway of a large airport and feel the jets’ thunder. Hold a springboard competition at the pool. Find “free” gum under the bench at the zoo . . . it’s all in the eye of the beholder.
So much of what kids love is not what we have carefully planned but the moments that happen when we’re together. And that’s the best part.