Vacations Can Be Restful
Earlier this spring, my husband and I took our seven- year old daughter and three-year old son on their first trip to Disney World. Harper Lee had flown once before and had proven herself a pleasant traveling companion. Her brother, however, was unknown territory, and we were filled with both excitement and dread. Isaac and Harper Lee, like their mother, are creatures of habit. I never realized what a schedule oriented person I am until I had children.
That’s why travel often creates anxiety for me and never more than this trip to Disney, which included a five-night stay for all four of us in a very nice but very small hotel room. How would we get them to settle down in such close quarters? How could Rob and I relax and enjoy our evenings while our children, hopefully, slept only three feet away? What if they got too tired? My mind was spinning with the possibilities.
That’s when my husband stepped in with his foolproof plan. “Relax,” he said.
I realize that many families feel compelled to see and do as much as humanly possible when they are traveling, and when the trip is costly, we feel that cramming everything in is imperative to creating the best vacation ever. With kids, however, things change. In order to create the best vacation, everyone must have fun, and to have fun, at least in my family, everyone has to be well rested and well fed. That may mean fewer attractions, but I’ve found that it makes the activities you do choose that much more rewarding.
Here are some simple steps to creating a more relaxed and kid-friendly travel experience:
1. If you are traveling to an amusement or theme park, arrive early. The kids are most likely up and ready to go as soon as the sun rises anyway so you may as well get a head start on the day.
2. Eat a healthy breakfast. Travel often leads to poor eating habits and junk food that may not be part of your child’s regular diet. Aside from digestive problems, this may also lead to irritability. Try to offer them healthy options, preferably with protein and very little sugar, to avoid the midday crash and subsequent crankiness.
3. Plan on leaving the park, if that’s an option, in the early afternoon. This is not only the hottest part of the day but lines are often longer in the hours following lunch. This may also be your child’s regular naptime. Stick to the regularly scheduled nap as much as you can while traveling. Even children who do not normally nap may take advantage of an afternoon siesta after a morning of high excitement and activity. Older children can enjoy the hotel pool and rest in a cool, air-conditioned room before dinner.
4. Return to the park or other sightseeing in the early evening. This is a good time for a relaxed family dinner. By resting in the afternoon, younger kids are better able to handle restaurant situations. We chose to take Isaac and Harper Lee to a really nice restaurant and give them a rare fine-dining experience. The nap in the afternoon made dinner much easier, and I think this is one of their favorite experiences from the trip.
5. Return to the hotel at a reasonable hour. An occasional late night is probably not going to hurt anyone, but stick to your regular bedtime as much as possible. Remember to bring special blankets and stuffed animals with you as you travel. My kids often bring their own pillows as well. These few familiar items often make settling down much easier.
6. If your children are not used to sleeping with others, practice this at home before leaving on your trip. My kids have their own rooms, but on weekends, they often “camp out” together and share a bed. This is something special that they look forward to, and when the time comes that they must share a room, they are already familiar with the routine and have much less trouble falling asleep.
7. Get some rest yourself. My husband and I had wondered what we would do with ourselves during the hours between our children’s bedtime and ours; we needn’t have worried. After a full day in a theme park, we were both ready for bed ourselves. We went to bed each night at 8:00 and had no trouble falling asleep. In fact, the extra sleep helped us maintain a positive attitude as well. Kids aren’t the only ones who get impatient and cranky.
Above all, it is important to stay relaxed. While sticking to a relatively normal schedule, remember that what your children will remember about the trip is often far from what we might expect. You can pack your days and nights with non-stop activities and risk meltdown or you can remember the number one lesson in child rearing: enjoy the moment. We didn’t ride every ride, we didn’t see every show, and we didn’t even get to every park, but we had fun, and I got more sleep than I do at home. Isn’t that the point of vacation?
Stacey Libbert is a writer, teacher, runner and mother of two living in Elkin, N.C.