Remember the good old days when you could throw a few things into an overnight bag and run off for a quick weekend escape? If you’re a parent, your answer is probably, “No. No, I don’t!” Having kids means an end to spontaneity and impetuousness, but you know what? That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It also doesn’t mean you can’t travel. I promise you, you can! You just have to put a little bit more effort into the planning. Here are some things to remember before you head out on your next family vacation.
The best way to keep a carload of kids—or even just one—happy is plenty of distractions. Pack up plenty of their favorite car-friendly toys and books to keep the little ones occupied. But experienced parents will probably tell you, don’t be above bribery to inspire some good behavior. A trick that worked for my parents, and now works for me, is the “special prize”. A long stretch of being well behaved in the car can win the lucky child a special toy that you’ve brought along.
You’ll also want to make frequent stops to give the kids a chance to stretch. My parents always liked to find quirky, odd spots to pull off along the highway to give us a chance to have some fun seeing oddities like “The World’s Largest Frying Pan” while we got a respite from the monotony of the car. Roadside America is a great resource for finding roadside attractions.
Whether you’re traveling by air, train, or car, remember that a well-fed kid is a happy kid. Make certain to pack healthy finger foods for the journey. It’s also a good idea to actually stop for meals as much as possible while en route rather than scarfing down fast food in the car/on the plane or train. You want to keep in the same kind of routine that you have at home to avoid in unnecessary crankiness. That might mean getting to the airport a bit early or planning for picnics or sit-down restaurant stops along the way. Try to keep sugary snacks to a minimum to avoid the sugar rush/crash cycle.
One thing that always inspired good behavior from my siblings and I was the promise of a swimming pool. If you can find a place that has one, and your kids are old enough for it, never underestimate the joy it can bring little ones. Not only that, but the more you can get your children to exercise while outside of the car, the better they’ll behave while driving. You’ll also want to request a room that is in a quieter part of the hotel. If you’re going to be sleeping in separate rooms, make certain that there’s an interior door between the spaces so that the kids will sleep easier knowing you’re right on the other side of it. Finally, make certain that you bring along anything that will help your kids sleep a little easier like a favorite blanket, pillow, or stuffed animal. You want them to feel like the hotel is a home away from home—with a pool!
When my family took vacations, we were always on a pretty tight budget. Yet, we’d also visit lots of places that had cool souvenirs and the like. To keep us kids from whining and begging for every cool toy we saw, my parents used the Trip Allowance Strategy once we were around five years old. Each day of the trip we’d be allotted a small amount of money. What we did with it was our choice. We could blow it all on candy or we could save it up and buy something bigger later. Regardless, once it was spent it was spent. We quickly learned that it was a firm rule with no exceptions. It was a great way to teach us about the value of money. Not only that, but we appreciated the souvenirs that we bought a bit more because we’d actually had to save up for them.
On top of our allowances, they also let each child choose one special thing to do on the trip. It could be something like an inexpensive water park, go-karts, miniature golf or the like. We called it our “special event”. It let each of us feel as if we had a stake in the vacation and also added to our enjoyment. We would spend a lot of time in the car talking about our different options and trying to figure out which thing would be the most fun.
While it’s not quite the same as a spontaneous getaway, traveling with your kids can be just as fun, as long as you put a little bit of effort into the planning.
Rob Toledo loves traveling, road tripping, picking people up from the airport and virtually anything else that has to do with adventure. He recommends using Travelex currency exchange when heading abroad and researching rates using their handy currency converter.
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Earnest Parenting: help for parents who want to travel pleasantly.