Dr. Greene, do you have any more tips for vacationing with babies and toddlers? I loved your article about how to keep kids on their schedules and how to anticipate their needs, but I have two very young children, and our last trip was still exhausting. We are headed to the beach next week.
Dr. Greene’s Answer:
When my youngest son, Austin, was just a toddler, we took him on a winter vacation with my extended family. We purchased and packed winter clothes. We scrambled to buy snow chains (that we later found out didn’t fit!). We struggled to shove everything into the car. And finally, we were off. Of course we weren’t able to get on the road until late, so by the time we arrived, everyone was tired. Some vacation!
The next morning, the whole family played in the snow. We built a snowman, and my father “shared” his hat and scarf with Mr. Snowman for the family pictures. We slid down our very own hill to giggles of delight. It was great fun – until we got soaking wet and cold. So we all bundled up and went for a scenic drive. Of course a scenic drive on winding mountain roads doesn’t make every tummy happy. Need I say more?
By the time we got back to our cabin, it was late. Dinner still wasn’t ready – not a great thing for over-tired kids. Is this really a vacation???
Our room wasn’t heated properly so we all had to sleep in our clothes that night — all our clothes – except for the ones that were still wet from the snow. And I must say, “sleep” is an exaggeration.
But then morning came. Snowflakes gently floated to earth in one of those rare moments when you wonder if you are inside a snow globe. It was Austin’s first snowfall! I’ll never forget the look on his face as I held him in my arms and he experienced SNOW. The sparkle in his eyes was a reflection of the wonder all around us, and at that moment, we had a vacation.
We packed up and left a short time later. We tried to beat the storm and the crowds back to the city, but we were too late. What had been a four-hour drive on the way up became a grueling nine-hour return trip. And then came unpacking, and drying everything out, and cleaning the car, and trying to get ready for work the next day.
Vacation?! Yes! But not in the adult sense of the word. Not a time for relaxation and pampering. Not a time to look forward to and back on as a break from work. No, a vacation with kids is a whole different experience. It’s a time to share new experiences. It’s a time to introduce our children to sights and sounds and tastes that they can’t get at home. It’s a time to build family memories. It’s a time just to be together.
So, tips for surviving family vacations with babies in the mix? Change your own expectations of what a vacation is. Don’t get uptight when the schedule doesn’t work. Don’t worry if everyone isn’t happy (after all, it’s nearly impossible to make three kids happy all the time no matter what you do!). And when those moments of “vacation” happen – when your children toddle into the surf and touch their toes in the cold water for the first time; when one child pours a bucket of sand over her head and giggles at the feeling of sand in her clothes; when dad pretends to sleep on the beach and the whole family buries him in the sand, and then stands back to exclaim that they have out-smarted dad — at those moments, remember that you are building a life-time of memories for your children. You are truly on vacation!