Family Vacation Survival Guide

Making Memories with Less Stress

Children love vacations. Not just because they finally get to escape from school and the pressures of over-scheduling. And not because they get to go to Disney World or some other place they’ve idealized in their minds. Vacations give children something much more important: Connection with you!

Usually, parents are more relaxed, more fun, more emotionally available. It’s common for kids to say that their favorite summer memory is something simple and free of charge, like lying on a blanket looking at the stars with the family. These sweet pleasures are the golden experiences that shape rich childhood memories.

Kids also love vacations with extended family. They follow the older cousins around like puppies, and forge lifelong bonds with the kids their own age. These visits often shape their memories of grandparents and provide a sense of heritage.

But vacation can also be stressful. Kids often stay up late, get disconnected from parents, and melt down from the overload. I call it Family Vacation Stress Syndrome. (Of course, parents often experience their own version, whether from extended family tensions, grandparents judging their parenting, or logistical pressures. So the first rule for a restful vacation is to find a way to restore your own peace when you get off balance!)

Even if it’s just your own family on a vacation you’ve all looked forward to, the disrupted schedules, traveling, and the crash and burn from all the excitement can easily be a recipe for tears and tantrums.

Here are my top tips to help you manage life during vacation – so you can maximize the joy and minimize the tears.

1. Prepare Kids for Upcoming Events

Kids do better if they know what is coming up. One cool way to do this isto create a simple itinerary book with photos and drawings to show what will happen during the trip. This helps children anticipate events and reduces anxiety. For example, you can say, “On Monday, we’re flying to Grandma’s, and you’ll get to play with your cousins.” Include pictures of the airplane, Grandma’s house, and the cousins. Discuss upcoming activities like visiting relatives, so they know what to expect and can get excited about it.

2. Teach Expected Social Behavior

Kids also do better when they know what is expected of them! Role-play scenarios to help your child understand how to behave in different situations. For example:

  • “In the hotel, we use inside voices and walk, not run. Why do you think that is?” This helps them understand the importance of being considerate of other guests.
  • “When meeting Uncle Norman, if you don’t want to hug, offer a high-five instead.” This empowers them to feel comfortable with physical boundaries.
  • “What if you don’t like the dinner that’s served?” Role-play polite ways to express this, such as, “No, thank you. I don’t care for any, but I’d like more potatoes, please.”
  • “When you want my attention, what can you do?” Practice touching your arm and waiting, and also say what you will say to them, “Thanks, give me a minute to wrap up and I’ll be all ears.”

3. Let Your Child Pack Their Own Bag

Allow your child to pack a small backpack with their favorite items for the trip. This gives them a sense of control and keeps them occupied during travel. They can include a favorite toy, a book, and some snacks. This not only keeps them entertained but also makes them feel involved in the planning process.

During Travel

4. Arrive Early (but not TOO early)

If flying, arrive at the airport early to give your kids time to move around before the flight. Bring small toys, snacks, and activities to keep them entertained. For example, pack a small backpack with a new coloring book, crayons, a favorite stuffed animal, and some healthy snacks. But don’t get there too early or the kids (and yourself) will get impatient for the next leg of the trip to begin.

5. Stick to Routines

Routines give children a sense of control. Keep familiar routines as much as possible since everything else might be changing. Bring favorite books and maintain bedtime rituals to provide a sense of normalcy and security. If your child always listens to a particular bedtime story, make sure to pack it. Keeping this routine helps them feel safe and grounded, even in a new environment.

6. Plan One Activity Per Day

Travelling with kids is much different than when it was just you and your partner! You’ll have to dilute your itinirary to maximize your success. Avoid packing your schedule. Prioritize slowness and plan one major activity per day to prevent overstimulation and allow downtime. For example, if you visit the zoo in the morning, spend the afternoon relaxing at the hotel pool or having quiet time in your room. Kids get cranky with too many transitions and too much excitement.

Problem Solving on Vacation

7. Provide Quiet Time

Ensure there’s time each day for quiet activities like reading or drawing. This helps children decompress and recharge. Your whole family will fair better when their nervous system has a chance to reset.

8. Pack Blackout Curtains and White Noise Machines

This also helps with familiarity too. If your child is used to sleeping in a dark room, the curtains can help mimic their home environment. The white noise machine can drown out hotel noises, making it easier for them to fall asleep and stay asleep.

9. Monitor Food Intake

Vacation and holidays can be filled with treats – yum! – and then sugar crashes – nay. Keep an eye on their diet amidst treats and excitement. Carry healthy snacks to prevent hunger-induced meltdowns. This ensures they have nutritious options available when they get hungry, helping to avoid the sugar highs and crashes that can lead to tantrums.

10. Stay Calm

Remember, your calm presence helps your child regulate their emotions. Trade off childcare duties with other adults to ensure you get a break too. If you start feeling overwhelmed, take a few deep breaths, and remember that your child looks to you for cues on how to react. Keeping your cool can help de-escalate potential meltdowns.

BONUS: Handle Criticism Gracefully

Parenting in public is challenging, and kids might not always be on their best behavior. If friends or family criticize your parenting, stay calm, smile, and acknowledge their concern. For example, you might say, “I hear you. That screeching IS loud!” Then, address their concern calmly: “Okay, kids, let’s get our shoes on and go outside for a fun game!” Remember, this is about managing conflicting needs, not a referendum on your parenting.

Final Thoughts

To make your family vacation even smoother, we’ve created an Ultimate Travel Packing List to ensure you don’t forget anything important. From essentials to nice-to-haves, this list has got you covered. Download it now and make packing a breeze!

Download the Ultimate Travel Packing List

Happy travels!