Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ideal family vacation

This post is part of my special HAVE KIDS, WILL TRAVEL series to give you advice and wisdom on traveling with kids.

A couple years ago, we were traveling with 20-month-old Mikko and I mused on what would be the best type of family trip. I was aiming for low stress and high enjoyment for grown-ups and children alike.

These were my ideas at the time for the perfect family vacation:
    dad and boy in door of teepee while tipi camping on Vashon Island Mikko m1yo
  • You pick a destination within a few hours of your home.
  • It should be somewhere with easy, walking access to nature, such as a beach or forest, but also some day-trip options, such as a nearby museum or shops.
  • You travel there the first day, by car or train or boat, thereby avoiding the stress of air travel.
  • Then you check into one hotel or campsite for the whole week. If your family likes camping, that could be a good, thrifty option. If you're like us and camping's apt to make you more stressed, then hotel it is. Unpack your bags, and make the place feel homey.
  • Each morning, you wake up and have a small breakfast, then take off for that day's single adventure. Maybe it's a tourist attraction or museum or outlet shopping.
  • After a few hours, you return to the place you're staying and your littlest ones have a settled, real-live nap time.
  • Anyone too old for a nap spends a quiet time reading, playing low-key games, watching the hotel's cable channels, etc.
  • After the nap is a small, leisurely lunch.
  • The afternoon is spent in the adjacent nature area, with everyone goofing off as is considered pleasant. The parents might be able to get their kids playing and then settle in with a book to relax.
  • The evening gives time for a leisurely dinner. Lunch and dinner can either be supermarket-bought picnic-style or enjoyed at a local restaurant.
  • Then everyone returns to the sleeping location and winds down for bed. If the kids fall asleep early, the parents have time to relax some more.
  • To add another element of help with the little ones and enjoyment for the adults, make the trip with another compatible family or two, preferably with a mix of ages. On the above-referenced road trip, we found that a 13-year-old cousin loved to take walks with Mikko while we enjoyed some undistracted conversations, and my mother and aunt also enjoyed taking charge of him for periods of time.

I still think these are sound ideas. It's a shame I haven't done this yet.

We live pretty far away from family, and we're air-travel-averse with our particular kids, so any rare vacation nowadays is usually spent flying across the country or, conversely, receiving visitors here, and doesn't look like the above at all.

I want to change a couple things on my list, though, now that I have two kids and have experienced a vacation with my niece (eight years old at the time) as well.

The main thing that I've discovered with two kids is that everything takes four times as long. So the idea of breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and a daily adventure, and naptime, and nature time, and there's still time to wind down before bed? Um, yeah. Am I the only one who would find that too ambitious with more than one (young) child?

So I'm thinking many of the elements should be more throughout-the-week rather than daily. One day could be going out for a few hours in the afternoon after a lounging-about morning, and then the next day could be spent all at the beach or pond or whatever the nature area is, with breaks for naps and meals.

Speaking of food, maybe there should be just two meals per day plus a snack or two, depending on hunger levels and whether eating out is involved (since restaurant meals tend to be more substantial).

I'm assuming a summer trip, or at least decent weather. I could see this being adapted to a skiing vacation, but I know from experience that beach vacations are greatly challenged by a straight week of rain.

I was clearly writing this list from the perspective of having a 20-month-old, as well. Mikko was still napping at that age (oh, how I miss it), and it was hard for him to sleep in the car or catch cat naps here and there. A newborn could sleep in a wrap or sling, though, and if you had only older children, there might be no need for naps at all — though I still think having down time for all ages is a good element of any vacation: time to daydream in a hammock or catch up on your reading … or all those other things I can never do anymore as a parent. Ha ha. That's where that last element comes in, of having other families and ages along, so you can pass the childcare off to someone else every once in awhile and get your own little break!

What would you add or alter? What have been your vacation triumphs and tribulations, either as a kid or as an adult?


Momma Jorje said...

I totally agree on limiting activities on any single given day. I like having the *option* of an extra activity, except it might lead to unrealistic expectations. Heck, we don't like to do more than one big thing per day even at home.

I'd REALLY like to go camping, but am terribly intimidated by the idea. I'd love to go with a more experienced family... but feel it should maybe be someone with similarly aged kids... of which I know none locally. Perhaps I should look for folks with differently aged children.

Patti @ Jazzy Mama said...

On the spur of the moment my family of six accepted an invitation to a resort in Quebec. (My children are 7yrs, 5.5yrs, 3.5yrs and 13 months). It's a six-hour drive, but it took us 8 hours to get there because we stopped a lot. Once we arrived, we were busy swimming and boating and hiking from sun up to sun down.

The trip home took 11 hours because we stopped at a major tourist attraction.

Overall, I would say that the trip was totally successful (except for a couple instances of puking in the ditch). Normally I'm a serious planner and I would have tried to consider and mitigate every imaginable problem in advance. Instead, I took a laissez-faire attitude and the trip was fantastic.

Sometimes trips just work out! The most amazing part was how my children (especially the older 2 girls) were able to 'rise to the occasion' and enjoy the car-ride.

I Thought I Knew Mama said...

My husband and I discuss this all the time, and we basically could have written your list of requirements ourselves word for word. Your post makes me realize that the dream trip may need to be revised over time ;-)

Michelle said...

Great list! My favorite place we've ever gone with the kids is Great Wolf Lodge, 1 hour from my house. We never leave the building, stay for just a couple days, and don't have to worry about the weather. Actually relaxing with 2 small children!

Sonja said...

Funny to read this today because we just booked our FIRST holiday with our 7month old and it sounds like we did well with the choice. 7 days on a quiet Dutch island in the North Sea... with nothing to do but ride bikes and take walks. Thanks for your tips!

The Lazy Mama said...

I couldn't agree more. I only have 1 kid at the moment but the time it takes for any activity is already too much compared to having no kids. Time is always of the essence. I would suggest choosing the activities that you like the best and that everyone can enjoy.

Evin said...

We went to the coast for 5 days and after the first miserable day spending ALL DAY on the beach, we settled into a good routine. We got up early, made sandwiches and went to play on the beach and eat our breakfast there. Around 11 am we came back to our condo for lunch, baths, and naps. For EVERYBODY. Then we watched a movie or had an adventure (the aquarium was a hit!) indoors during the hottest part of the day. Dinner and then we watched the sun go down on the beach every night. More baths and then bed. Worked perfectly!

Lydia said...

Amen to having others along to help with kids. My boys are now 2 1/2 years and 8 months, and since the 1st was tiny, I don't consider it a vacation unless there is at least one grandmother along to help with entertaining/diapering/pottying. If I have that, I can have a vacation in my own house! But going to a cabin in the mountains or etc is a plus.

Erica @ ChildOrganics said...

We recently took a vacation to Destin, FL and it was the best vacation we had in quite some time. Just the right amount of rest & play. Your list was pretty spot on. It took us a few years of trial and error to reach this happy vacation place. My husband tends to plan too much, then that leaves me and the kiddos EXHAUSTED. That's just not fun.

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