Every time I post a picture on Instagram of Harry galavanting around on vacation, I get someone asking how we do it. How we vacation with Harry and still have fun. I’ve actually discussed this over at The Wise Baby before, but I’ve only focused on the beautiful vacation pictures with smiles on every face on the blog before now! So here you go people, eight of my best tips (pay special attention to number 8!).
Change your expectations. Notice I didn’t say “lower your expectations.” Your whole life had to change when you had that babe, so why wouldn’t your vacations change a little bit too? Instead of spending all day walking around a museum, you might need to throw in a few breaks to a nearby park for running and jumping. Instead of sleeping in and then regretting it when you realize you just wasted half of your vacation morning in the hotel bed, enjoy waking up early with your kid and get an early start on the day (and avoid the crowds!). Just because your vacation is going to look a little different than it did sans kids, doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. Just make sure you go into vacation realizing you’re going to have to follow your kids lead from time to time.
Push the rules, just a little bit. I am a stickler for bedtime, and a bedtime routine (bath, books, singing, bed). But on vacation, I push it a bit further than normal. Harry stays up pretty much as late as he wants to, we often skip baths, we eat waaay different than at home… basically, routines and rules are great and all that, but when you’re on vacation, it’s okay to go a little off the crazy side of the line. Just keep it a little under control for everyones sanity.
Know thy child. Seriously, there isn’t a person on this planet who knows your kid better than you do (unless maybe it’s the other parent) so read him! When Harry is having fun running around the big town square with his croissant, I let him do it. We find a quiet spot on the edge of the square and relax while he kills some energy. When I see that look in his eye, you know the one, I know we need to take it easy, probably go to a quieter spot, and distract him with something familiar (books do this wonderfully). You know when you can push your child a little outside of his comfort zone and when it’s best to pull back a little bit – just listen to yourself!
Stay somewhere cool. Hotel rooms are great, but even better are apartments with a separate bedroom (or two!) and living area. That way, when he does fall asleep at 9 PM, you are not tip toeing around the hotel room whispering and pressing your ear to the TV. You can sit out on the balcony or in the living room and be as loud as you would be at home. Airbnb and Kid & Coe are great sources for family friendly rentals (we’ve booked through Airbnb three times this year!).
Take advantage of naps. Whether that means you take a little well deserved rest too, sneak in a romantic lunch with your third wheel sleeping in his stroller, or fit in some work (homework for Jon), just don’t waste those naps. We’ve sat down for lunch or an early dinner, we’ve caught a few winks, we’ve even read and watched a movie during vacation naps. The same concept applies for bedtime – it may be a little controversial, but put that baby in his stroller at bedtime, walk around until he falls asleep, then grab a romantic dinner at a cafe that will seat two and a stroller. (Just remember to check if your nap time activity allows strollers!)
Pack smartly. Some things you can buy when you get there (diapers) so you don’t have to waste suitcase space. Some things you might not really need for a week long getaway (all the books on the shelf – three or four favorites will do). Some things you can borrow, depending on where you are going (a pack and play from your hosts, a stroller from a friend, a car seat from the rental car company). And some things are too important to forget (favorite stuffed animals, small bath toys, noise machine and/or monitor. Think about how you will be living for the next week and what will be necessary and what won’t. Only pack the essentials, because carrying that kid through the airport is already enough extra weight.
Remember it’s his vacation too. Yes, I say push it, but when you kid needs a nap in a bed, give him a nap in a bed. If he needs vegetables for dinner to counteract the sugar high from all the treats, make sure to go somewhere you can get that. Don’t eat at a fancy restaurant every night – grab a picnic dinner and head to the park. Make it fun for your kid, and it will be so much more fun for you.
And finally, just do it. Sure, it might be harder to bring your kid on vacation. But it’s so worth it. He may never remember his trip to Amsterdam but we had so much fun riding around the canals on the “green! bicycles!” with him. Seeing the world through your kids eyes is always the best, so why wouldn’t you want to see vacation through his eyes? There will be melt downs, there will be accidents, there will be exhaustion, but there will also be relaxation, laughter, and amazing memories made. Just take your kid on vacation with you – you’ll figure it all out. I promise.
PS see some more of my tips for traveling with kids (more specifically babies) here.