I’m peeking around the corner at summer and am contemplating where the year went. In a buzz of activity and growth and joy and a few tears, it came and went. And now we are dropped off at the foot of the long, sunny days of summer hoping to soak in the warmth before it’s over. But how am I going to get everything out of summer that I long for? How am I going to make this summer great for my kids?
I’m going to do my best to view it through my children’s eyes.
Chasing bubbles. Building sand castles with moats. Skipping rocks. Making wildflower bouquets. Watching butterflies flit. Playing hide and seek. Roasting marshmallows. Catching fireflies.
Kids can find joy in anything. These simple things are what put smiles on their faces and seem to seal into their memories. And I should slow down and find joy in them, too.
Though I strive daily to be present in the moment, it is a struggle to avoid wondering how I am going to get the next thing on my to-do list accomplished. Our family vacations, however, tend to be the time that I feel at ease and am able to find these joys most easily. Over the years, I have found a few things that have made our vacations more successful. When planning your next family excursion keep these things in mind to calm the frazzled nerves.
First, stop stressing about finding the perfect place to vacation. It really doesn’t matter where you go – a state park or a private tropical island – the most important part of the trip is to relax and be present in the moment. You could spend thousands flying your family to the Italian Riviera, staying in luxury hotels and eating the finest foods. But if you aren’t able to soak in the splendor and enjoy the moments as they happen, you’ve completely missed the point of traveling altogether.
At home I feel like I say no all the time. I’ve got dinner to make or the dog to walk or the garden to weed. Responsibilities seem relentless, but I am trying to say yes to my kids more often, especially on vacation. I know, I know, they can’t rule the roost, but saying yes doesn’t have to mean no rules. It means agreeing to go on the swing again or to dip our toes in the water one more time before bed or to bike the loop for the fifth time. Of course, bedtime still has to be (loosely) enforced and dinner still must be made, but try to do the minimum adult-like activities as possible.
It’s not a fun word, but overspending on vacation is even less fun. Traveling within your means equates to peace of mind that you are not coming home to bills that you can’t afford to pay. The best part is that kids don’t care how fancy a trip is. My favorite family vacations growing up were road trips to my cousins’ house. Who are you trying to impress…your neighbors, your co-workers? Your financial security is far more prevalent than others’ shallow opinions.
Make reservations ahead of time. The kids have a much lower tolerance level for spending an hour driving around looking for a vacancy than you. And it is likely that you will have to make due with something that is sub-par. Contingency planning for bad weather or a delayed plane can also make the trip go smoother. Pack away a surprise toy or game to pull out for when things aren’t going as planned.
Nothing is worse with kids than a jam-packed day. It makes for stressed parents and crabby kids. Vacations are for silly family fun and new adventures, not seeing every last tourist site.
‘How long until we get there’ is inevitably chorused by our kids while we are in transport. The answer should always give a buffer for delays. Say you are driving to grandma’s house and the drive on a good day takes 6 hours. You should plan on a variety of stops to change diapers, to empty bladders, to find a park to eat. So…8 hours for the trip minimum. We’ve learned that creating reasonable expectations – for the kids and parents – keeps the whining to a minimum.
Finally, you must face the fact that you are not going to enjoy all aspects of your family vacation. Traveling with kids is hard work. You can plan all you want and try to relax, but there will still be arguments and tears and scraped knees and screaming that gives you a headache and bedtime routines that feel like they will never end. They are children after all. But the blessing of family vacations is that the stressful moments of everyday parenthood are further apart and the time spent together will last far longer than the duration of your trip.
So, relax and enjoy your time away this summer. And try to remember to view the experience through your children’s eyes.
Sarah is a native Wisconsinite who spread her wings to Minneapolis and then New York City only to return to her Wisconsin roots. Sarah, her fun-loving husband, three kids (ages 7, 3, and 1), and goofy pug, call Middleton home. She worked full-time until the youngest was born and now loves being a stay-at-home mom. She finds peace in early morning runs, hiking and exploring new places. When Sarah isn’t tending the flock, she runs a travel company called 528 Travel Design, where she plans fabulous vacations and blogs about travel.