Summer Vacationing with Kids

Guest post by Dawn Fong at My Daily Road Trip

I arrived home exhausted and disappointed. I was impatient with my kids, my husband, and quite frankly, I didn’t even like being around myself because of my own crabbiness. Where had I been, you ask? Actually, our family (me, my husband, our 1 1/2 year-old daughter and our 3 year-old son) had just returned from our summer “vacation!” Sound familiar? Have you ever embarked on what you thought would be a restful and fun time of meaningful connection for your family only to come home and wonder what happened? It’s possible that you may have gone at your vacation with wrong attitudes and/or wrong expectations.

When I discussed the aforementioned vacation with a friend, she said, “Actually, if your kids are with, it’s not really a “vacation.” It’s a family “trip.”‘ Ah, yes! Now it all made sense. I realize that people vacation in very different ways. Some pack their days full with activities and events, while others (like myself) prefer to choose a few activities for the entire vacation, while also taking time just to sleep, read, head to a coffee shop, or enjoy deep conversation with others.

However, no matter your vacationing preference, the fact is that things look different when children are involved. Now that you know my vacationing preference, is it any surprise that I returned home from our “family vacation” disappointed, exhausted, and frustrated? Since then, I’ve come up with a few tips that help me and will hopefully help you enjoy that trip your family may be taking this summer.

1. Examine Your Expectations

Before you leave, examine your expectations for the trip. Be realistic. If your entire family is sleeping in one hotel room or tent and your expectation is to get full, restful nights of sleep, you are bound to be frustrated.

If you are packing 7 days full of activities and expect angelic behavior of your kids even though they are exhausted, you are not being realistic. Because your kids are with, your responsibilities as a mom do not get to go on vacation. Accept that and move on.

Try to get a bit of meaningful time with your husband during the trip, but accept that this may happen during travel time in the car. Be ok if your children are not on their all-time best behavior (because how can you really plan that for your trip?!) and your time away isn’t as “special” or “meaningful” as you had hoped. Just enjoy being together, whatever that may bring.

2. Simplify Your Trip

Depending on the ages of your kids, simplifying your trip may allow you to keep your sanity. This may involve being gone for shorter periods of time. Our family took 2 main family trips last summer, each of which lasted about 4 days total. We also chose to stay within 4-5 hours of our home as to minimize the car time for our small ones.

Choose several activities to do and then be content doing the simple, everyday things together. For example, one of our long weekend trips was our “urban trip.” in which we stayed in a motel a few nights, went to the city’s aquarium, and enjoyed one meal out. Beyond that, we went to a local park, enjoyed swimming in the motel pool, and just hung out.

During our weekend trip (our “mountain get-away”), we set up camp at a beautiful campground and didn’t leave for 2-3 days. However, we had a grand time as we went on hikes, explored the campground, and enjoyed time around the campfire. Those times were still special because we were away from home doing things we don’t usually get to do together.

3. Seek to Bless Your Family Members

Seek to bless the others in your family and don’t just think about what YOU would like to get out of the trip. Pack a few special new toys you know will especially bless your kids. After you begin your driving shift, stop at a nearby coffee-shop and grab your husband his favorite coffee drink. Seek to serve others rather than demand to be served just because you are away on a family trip.

4. Enjoy the Journey!

Enjoy the journey and not just the destination – even in the literal sense! Thankfully (because it does not come easily to me), my husband lives out the attitude that life is more about the process and journey of life than the destination, no matter how messy it gets.

Embrace this attitude on your trip, even during the car or plane time you have. Instead of viewing it as the necessary evil to reaching your end destination, view it as part of the trip. And overall, try to go with the flow despite things possibly not going how you were hoping.

Yes, I realize the above things are difficult to carry out, but your adventure will go more smoothly if they are. Now, go and enjoy making memories during that family trip, whatever it may bring!

What tips can you share for cultivating peaceful family vacations with little ones?

Dawn Fong resides in beautiful Colorado where she lives out the adventure of loving her husband, 2 kiddos, and those around her. She enjoys creative communication, deep conversation, iced coffee, hiking, and being part of the process in which other people become more fully who God created them to be. You can find more of her thoughts on life at My Daily Road Trip.

About Lindsay

Lindsay Edmonds is first a lover of Jesus, wife, mother of four, homemaker, and writer. She loves inspiring women around the world toward simple, natural, and intentional living for the glory of God.

19 Responses to Summer Vacationing with Kids

  1. Dawn July 20, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

    Thanks to all who read the post and commented! May we all take a deep breath and look at family “trips” in a new light … and ENJOY. :)

  2. Lindsey July 14, 2012 at 8:49 am #

    What a nice post, thank you. I don’t have children yet, but can relate to the pitfalls of having expectations for a vacation! If I let the expectations go, I always have a much better experience. (Whether on vacation or not, actually!)

  3. Janice Lilly July 12, 2012 at 12:16 pm #

    Thank you so much for this article! My husband and I haven’t started our family yet, but we’ve been to places where people are clearly not being realistic with their young children. Last weekend a trip to Washington DC was filled with listening to other people’s kids screaming because it was 102 degrees and they were obviously exhausted. I try to tell myself to give them a break because parenting is hard but I wonder if they really thought the trip through ahead of time. We are planing a big camping trip out west for this summer because we aren’t willing to travel that far with young children so this will be our last chance for a while.

    I hope many parents will read this article and think twice before taking their little ones on trips that they may not be ready for yet.

  4. Leah July 10, 2012 at 11:19 pm #

    I don’t have kiddos yet, but my husband and I go camping with our two dogs on long weekends for our vacations. We both work full time. For me, it ends up being a lot of pre planning and packing before the trip, a lot of cooking and cleaning during the trip, and a lot of unpacking and laundry after the trip, sandwiched between the end of one workweek and the beginning of another. The last trip we took, I committed to the Lord that I was going to die to self and to have a servant’s heart. The trip was NOT about me and my expectations. And we had a great time! It wasn’t perfect but I just refused to have a bad attitude and get all stressed out, which enabled both of us enjoy ourselves and each other’s company. So I definitely think prayer and having the right heart makes a huge difference.

  5. mary July 10, 2012 at 10:29 pm #

    @resentfulbride – I feel bad for you. Have you talked to your husband about this? Maybe you can gently remind him that marriage is about LEAVING and cleaving. Pray about it and I know that God will help you!! Can someone at your church help you out? Your spouse is supposed to be more important than the parents or even kids. I think it’s God, spouse, and then family. Maybe you guys could just visit the in-laws once every few years and instead do lots of skype calls? Could the in-laws and relatives come visit you instead? Maybe Lindsay or someone else here has some good advice for you?

    @Lauren – have fun flying with breastmilk, I heard that it can be a nightmare and don’t let them x-ray your milk in the States, it can be hand examined. Maybe or someone else has some more advice about plane rides with little ones?

  6. Lauren July 10, 2012 at 8:26 pm #

    Any recommendations for international flights with babies? I have an 8 month old (who will be just about 12 months around the time we leave) and we will be visiting home from Japan. It’s a 3 hour flight, then an 11 hour flight and lastly a 4 hour flight. I still plan to be nursing her since I’ve heard that helps, but she’s not nursing quite as often anymore. She’s VERY active, but happy taking car rides so I honestly don’t know what to expect. I’ve been praying for months already, even though we still have many more to go, because I am so nervous being cooped up for so long!

    • Tamara Sz July 11, 2012 at 11:16 am #

      We’ve traveled internationally quite a bit (from Europe to the US). I’ll be honest with you, I think the hardest time to travel is when they are a year old, because they just don’t want to sit still. They are too little for movies ( though you could try one on your ipod, if you have one). We often spend much of our trip in the back walking back and forth or in the aisles.

      I do have a few tips. 1) pack at least 2 extra outfits for baby and one for yourself and hubby in your carry-on (trust me on this one!) 2) bring less toys than you think you need and more snacks. You can make a toy out of anything, really, but they seem to go through snacks like crazy (probably because they are bored). My kids like raisins and crackers/cookies. The raisins are nice to chew on when the plane is ascending and descending to help with ear popping. 3) Ask for bulk-head seating or an extra seat if you didn’t buy a seat for your baby. Often, if there are extra seats on the plane, they will give them to families traveling with babies. 4) Don’t forget their favorite stuffed animal or lovey. It may make all the difference in them falling asleep on the plane. 5) For the airport, you may want to invest in one of these if you don’t have one: It is expensive but well-worth it if you travel a lot.

      6) We also love using a carrier (we have the Ergo). It is a lightweight way to carry baby in the airport hands-free. You probably won’t be allowed to wear baby in it on the plane but could be a lifesaver in the airport.

      Most of all, relax and try not to stress. Remember, it is one day. I try to really keep that perspective and it seems to help!

      God bless and have a great trip!

      • Lauren July 11, 2012 at 5:18 pm #

        Thank you so much for all the helpful advice! I had seen those travel mates before, but was hesitant to spend so much money on something I wasn’t sure was worth it or not.

        Part of me really wants to wait to make travel ever so slightly easier, but our friends and family have never met our daughter. She was born within months of our arrival and many of them are overwhelmingly excited to meet her so we wanted to bring her over just in time for her first birthday. She may have been planned, but the unexpected orders to a foreign country were not!

      • Dawn July 20, 2012 at 1:19 pm #

        These are great – I will keep these tips in mind for the future international trips we dream about taking. :) (and have them as a resource to pass onto others). Thanks!

  7. Resentful Bride July 10, 2012 at 8:04 pm #

    I’ve logged over 400 hours in a car with kids and have had plenty of rough times (no A/C, babies and kids screaming, noisy toys going off over every bump, throwing up with morning sickness, etc.) One thing that helps me is to see the trip as a typical homeschooling day. When I plan activities and read to the kids and do little crafts or games with them, they do so much better than if I am wrapped up in my own mp3 player or DVD player and see the kids as a terrible annoyance and the trip as a horrible, never-ending time. Driving through the night has been a blessing at times but leaves us feeling completely drained the next day when we arrive at the relatives’. I usually pack a box of really fun snacks, which are fancier than the ones we have at home. I also pack an activity bag and a little sack of special new toys from yard sales or the dollar store. When things get rough and everyone is longing for a stop but we have another hour or so to go, I whip one of those out and they help immensely! We usually only end up showing 1-2 movies to the kids on their portable DVD player during an 18 hour trip to Grandma’s. My biggest battle is fighting the resentment that comes with spending our only vacation days a year, which are few indeed, visiting my in-laws. Lack of sleep, long hours in the car, cranky kids, rude in-laws, and a way jam-packed schedule of trying to see every person under the sun whom we’re related to during our trips to my hubby’s “home” state makes for a very un-restful vacation. I find myself wishing we could use some of our limited vacation time each year to actually rest instead of hauling 4 little kids so far. This is something that I didn’t realize would be a huge sacrifice in marrying an “out-of-stater.” I wish there was a way around it, but there doesn’t seem to be, so for the rest of my life my “vacations” will be spent in a state I don’t like with people I don’t like instead of truly resting.

    • Allegra July 11, 2012 at 10:07 am #

      @Resentful Bride my heart goes out to you. I agree with Mary. Def pray and then talk to your hubby about this. And I will be praying that you guys can spend some time together on your vacations and maybe do fam every other year or fam can visit you guys.

      I would like to add that if for some reason it doesn’t work out (meaning he still wants to use his few vacay days to visit fam) then try to get someone from church to help you out- at least once a month so that you can relax. Try to look for little ways to keep yourself refreshed on a regular basis so that you don’t end up bitter. I have a baby with some health and developmental challenges. Nothing too serious, but on top of being a baby, she is A LOT of work. And we eat very healthy in my home so at times I feel swamped with work. In the past, I really wanted my hubby to help out more. After praying, changing my attitude, and talking to him about it he seemed happier to help out. But still it’s not enough- but he works hard so I can’t expect any more out of him. So I prioritize- some things I just let go (for ex living room is always clean, but our office is a jungle!) I only do things that need to be done. I don’t have fam out here so I got some friends to help with babysitting. And I treat myself to small pleasures once a week- like coffee, or lunch. This way, I am more pleasant to be around. I find that when I do little things for myself it’s a lot easier for me to just deal with the fact that I have a difficult child and a lot of work to do around the house. It’s ok to take breaks and to rest. So in your sitiation, are you findng ways to keep yourself resfreshed on a regular basis? Then maybe you will be able to deal better with the once a year family trips if hubby still wants to go.

  8. Allegra July 10, 2012 at 6:52 pm #

    oh great… something else for me to work on! :)

    We have a 15 month old. We haven’t even went on a real family trip with her yet. But even on short day trips… like to the beach, or a hike, or even a long drive to my parent’s house, I often get crabby! I feel like, “Oh poor me! I have to get everything cleaned and pack all the food, and all the baby stuff, and get myself ready… etc etc” I know I need to change my attitude if I am to survive a proper family trip. Thanks for these tips!! I want to be a blessing to my husband and kids.

  9. Naomi July 10, 2012 at 5:55 pm #

    Vacations terrify me! Thanks for the reminders to be realistic…maybe we’ll try one sometime afterall.

  10. Madalyn July 10, 2012 at 4:39 pm #

    I am reading this as I am on our family summer vacation with our 12,9,2 and 1 year old. Think I will change my perspective now that I have read this. Thank you!

    • Dawn July 20, 2012 at 1:20 pm #

      Madalyn, I hope your vacation was a sweet time of being together as a family. :)

  11. Ashley Ditto July 10, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

    Amazing tips!!!

  12. natasha July 10, 2012 at 10:38 am #

    Our little family of 4 (me, husband, 2 1/2 son, 10 month old son) desire time together but trips aggravate that thoughtfully planned and anticipated time. Not to mention, my husband has a busy and stressful vocation which leaves him little time for taking days away from work. As a result, my family is BLESSED when we take vacations at home. In other words, enjoying novel and restful time together at home, doing things that we just simply don’t have time for during the busy weekends, has been a wonderful alternative for us. For example, my husband can take a Thursday and Friday off of work and spend it at home building forts with the 2 1/2 year old, we sleep in, make a big breakfast, go for walks, maybe we indulge in a special outing to the zoo or some other novel and close destination, transform our living room into a theatre and have a special movie night all in our pajamas, etc, etc. During this season of our life, taking time away from our regular vocational responsibilities to enjoy being home together has been a sweet blessing.

    • Dawn July 20, 2012 at 1:24 pm #

      Natasha, I loved what you shared. It’s so easy to think that we have to LEAVE in order to get time together as a family … but why do we feel that pressure? Admittedly, I would have to gear up for a staycation by being ok with my house in whatever state it was in (and not feeling like a slave to the normal, everyday tasks that are reality when you have a home – but that’s another issue/story … ;) ), etc. However, I really appreciate you and your husband realizing that doing the ‘going away’ vacation is not what’s best for your family right now and then adjust accordingly. It’s good to read about looking at special family time in a different light. Thanks for that.

  13. Jaimi July 10, 2012 at 9:36 am #

    Great tips to lower our overall expectations of the minor details and items out of our control, and raise our expectations of what we can offer to our family in order to not make our mood dependent on what we get out of the “trip.” I too end up frustrated b/c a ‘vacation’ does not happen since I am a SAHM. I am with my kids at home and when on a trip, so it is work in a new location. But, with your tips, in those moments of stress, I can stop, breath, pray, and move forward. Learning from experience, I know that I need to pack simple open-ended activities that I can rotate often, and engage my kids in the car before they melt down from boredom. Simplifying is such a needed experience these days! Thank you for sharing this list.