As a mom of two kids, and eventually a mom in a blended family with five kids, as well as the former editor-in-chief of two highly publicized family travel websites, I have learned a thing or two about traveling with little ones. My daughter was 6 months old when I took her on her first trip (and she developed a fever, so it did not go smoothly!), and a single mom while my kids were 4 to 12, and finally, I have five teenagers to travel with (that’s them, above), so I’ve seen and done it all. Here are some tried and true tips that have worked for me:
• Stick to a schedule. Until kids are teens, they rely on schedules, and maintaining a schedule is the No. 1 secret to staying sane when traveling with kids. If your child takes a morning or afternoon nap at home, return to the hotel for a morning or afternoon nap. Give your kids snacks at the same time they are used to having a snack. And, definitely, put your kids to bed at the same time as they do at home. The breakdowns and tantrums you see on the road are children who are overtired, overstimulated and hungry.
• Understand this is a different vacation. You may have been a couple who loved to travel and see absolutely everything you could possibly see when visiting a new place, but with kids, you need to change your travel ways. Kids can’t keep up with a whirlwind vacation, and they don’t want to. You may enjoy spending hours at a museum but your kids would be happier just spending time with you on a beach or at a park. When traveling with kids, be sure to relax and go with the flow. Although I just told you to stick to a schedule, don’t stick exactly to an itinerary. If something catches your child’s eye, go do it! And if your child just wants to splash in the hotel pool instead of standing in line at the amusement park, give in (and save yourself the cash).
• Utilize kids’ clubs and babysitting services. My first trip to a resort with a kids’ club was an eye-opener. I put my kids into a morning club so I could enjoy the spa. And the entire time I was getting my massage I felt guilty. What type of mom leaves her kids to get a hot stone treatment? As soon as it was over, I beelined to the kids’ club to take them out and spend time with them. They saw my face and instead of running into my arms, ran the other way yelling, “NO! We made friends! We want to stay!” I couldn’t believe it. They were actually having a ball. So I let them stay for the afternoon and found myself free to go for a quiet bike ride and sit by the adult pool. We each got what we wanted and came back together for dinner and discussed our day. If you’re a couple, definitely take advantage of services that allow you to have a romantic dinner at a nice restaurant at least one night during your trip. Happy kids make happy parents, and vice versa.
• Get a place with space. When kids are going to bed at 8, you don’t have to go to sleep, as well. Book a suite that provides separate sleeping and living space so you can pop open a bottle of wine and talk while the kids sleep. If a hotel doesn’t have suites, look for hotels with connecting rooms. More and more hotels are offering family rooms to you have room to spread out, which also comes in handy if a toddler needs a nap or you, like me, are traveling with five teens.