Sunday, May 15, 2011

7 tips to make family vacations better

May 15th is the United Nation's International Day of Families. In honor of this, this blog post is all about how to make family vacations more fun and less stressful.

Going on a family vacation can be a great experience, whether you're heading far away or staying close to home. And if you're traveling somewhere with extended family, it can mean a great time for everyone and a chance to spend quality time with people you might not see all that often.

However, going on a family vacation can be stressful as well. Unexpected things will happen. Flight-delays, flat tires, sickness, tantrums, lost luggage, lost wallets, sunburn... I've experienced all of these on our trips (though thankfully not all at the same time). Just trying to keep a big group of people of various ages and with varying interests on the straight and narrow road to fun and relaxation isn't always easy or even possible.

Here are my 7 tips to make family vacations a little easier:

1. Don't over-plan
Make a list of things you want to do, sights and attractions you want to visit, and places you want to eat at (if you're food-crazy like my family). But don't plan out every day and every hour: leave room for just hanging at the beach, going for a walk, or goofing around at a playground in the park.

Also, make sure everyone gets to contribute to the "to-do" list if they're able to do so, even the youngest family members.

2. Don't pack too much into every day
This goes along with not over-planning. Try not to jam too many planned activities into one day. I know my kids would get antsy if they had to roam museums and art galleries all day. Mix a day with a museum visit with a walk in a park that has playgrounds, or a stop at the beach, and you have a day that kids and adults might enjoy a lot more.

3. Bring snacks and provide naps
Hungry, tired kids will not enjoy their vacation time, and will also make it hard for anyone else to do so. If you're traveling to a different time zone, kids (and adults) will probably be out of sorts when it comes to both meal times and bed times for some days.

Even if you haven't traveled that far away, strange places with strange beds and strange food can make kids more tired and hungry than usual. Have snacks on the ready when you're out and about, and when you have some downtime, let your kids take it easy for a bit. Even if they don't nap at home, they might need to do so when you're traveling.

4. Babies have final say
If there's a baby with you on the trip, it's a good idea to give the baby final say on a lot of things. For example, if you're at the beach and the baby is unable to sleep or eat because of sand, wind, sun or whatever else, it might be a good day to hang out at the hotel pool instead. And if the baby hasn't slept all day and it's now dinner-time, it might be a good night for some takeout.

Older kids can usually be reasoned with or you can divert them enough to get past any crankiness, but picking a fight with a baby just isn't wise: you'll usually lose! 

5. Split up sometimes
When you're traveling with a lot of different age-groups, maybe from grandparents to infants, with teenagers in the middle, and maybe mixing families with couples or people that have no kids, it's impossible to always have everyone do the same things together. Splitting up allows everyone a bit more freedom and can take some tension out of vacation-planning.

6. When driving: use a map and bring a water bottle!
If you're renting cars and driving on your vacation, make sure you know where you're going. Getting lost with kids in the car in a strange country or strange town is a recipe for major stress. Use a GPS, with an updated map, or any apps for your phone that provide the same function. Also bring a real map (and study it before you head out), because technology just is not always 100% reliable.

In cases where your travel-party is driving more than one car, it is a very good idea for everyone to study the same map before heading out. It's also a good idea to decide together before you drive off what the destination is. That way, even if you get separated in traffic, you can still find your way to the rendez-vous point.

Also: always bring water and some kid-snacks in the car with you. If you end up driving around for a long time, or if you end up at the wrong rendez-vous point, or if you get a flat tire, you'll at least have something for the kids (and adults!) to drink and snack on while things get organized.

All-in-One Travel Power Plug Adapter for US, UK, EU, AU7. Make sure  your cell-phone works
A functioning cell phone is a great help when you're traveling with family, making it possible for everyone on the trip to stay in touch. If you're traveling abroad, check with your cell-phone provider that your cell-phone will work in the new country (or even new part of the country) you're going to. Also check what the rates for text messaging and calls are so you don't get any nasty surprises when your bill arrives.

It's also a good idea to bring along any adapters and converters that make it possible for you to recharge your phone and any other electronics you're bringing.


  1. Thanks for letting me know about this day. I never heard of it before.

    Babies, definitely have final say, although my 7 year old would hate to hear that, but even he gets out ruled when it comes to our 1 year old!

    I also recommend staying at a hotel which is an experience in itself since traveling with kids you end spending more time at the hotel than if you're traveling with adults.

  2. Yea, older siblings might not exactly appreciate the power of babies! :)


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