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Moms Talk: All About Vacations

What does family vacation look like in your family?

OK, it's true. I'm an impostor when it comes to the Moms Talk column. Unless you count the 45-pound dog sleeping on my feet as I write this, I'm not a mom. This week's topic, however, is one I wanted to tackle, so please bear with me and then correct me when I'm wrong.

Family vacations. I know the topic makes some people seize up with thoughts of sand-crusted floor mats, "Are we there yets?" and entire days spent in the company of a man-sized mouse (nothing against Mickey, you understand). And these are only concerns once the who, what, when and where of the trip have been determined.

In spite of all the planning and complications that surround family vacations, what I remember now, across the board, is that some of my fondest childhood memories are tied to those vacations when my family just spent a few days enjoying one another's company. That's not to say there weren't disagreements or grumblings, but, looking back, it was always worth it.

At the time, I begged to take a friend with me, but that never happened. We never vacationed in a situation where the kids were each allowed to invite a friend, and ... my brother and I both survived. I can also say that we didn't often get to choose the specifics of where we went. We were asked to weigh in, but ultimately, the decision was up to Mom and Dad. Again, we survived, and, as I remember, were never disappointed.

So I guess here's the crux: Family vacations for me were generally immediate family affairs that Mom and Dad planned. And now I'm glad they did. In fact, I still love traveling with my family (I'm currently looking forward to an upcoming cruise with the same group I've been traveling with for years ... plus the addition of my and my brother's respective spouses).

I know, however, that other people have very different ways of approaching family vacation, and I'm wondering what works for you.

  • Do the kids get a vote in where you go?
  • Where do you go?
  • Any tips for saving a bit of money on the trip?
  • Do you travel with other families and friends?
  • Are your kids bringing a friend along for the ride?
  • What are some of the best vacations you've taken as a family?
  • Any tricks for long car trips?

The vacation season is rapidly approaching. Let's help one another out with all the tips and tricks we've got. It's supposed to be a vacation, not a battle, after all.

Amy Simmons March 09, 2011 at 07:36 PM
In our family we don’t really give our kids a vote in vacations, but we DO choose someplace that is already family-friendly or that we can make family-friendly for their ages. We often rent a condo or vacation home instead of staying in a hotel to give us more room--we sleep better, and we have the option of having meals at “home” if it’s been a long day. We have vacationed with friends AND family, we have driven a 30-hour round-trip vacation to Ohio and back, we’ve done the requisite trips to Disney (but mostly because it’s one of MY favorite places on earth), and we’ve flown cross-country with two small children. Our three vacations this year will be a week in Oregon (anyone have any advice on red eye flights with kids?!), a week on the Cape in a rental house, and April vacation in Washington, D.C.. I think it is most important to be realistic and flexible—can your young child enjoy D.C.? Sure, but not if you make them walk for eight hours through museums each day. Can your child behave on a flight? Yes, but choose a time of day friendly to their schedules, bring plenty of activities and snacks, and minimize layovers. When we take our red eyes to and from Oregon, we built in two full days on both ends to recover. Will you vacation well with friends? You can't really tell until you actually try, but laying out expectations (meals, groceries, activities, who pays for what, group vs individual time, etc.) will help everything go more smoothly.
Amy Simmons March 09, 2011 at 07:43 PM
As for travel tips, if we are doing travel that requires booking--airfare, hotel, rental car, etc., I always keep an eye on travel sites for a few weeks to track prices, first, if time allows. Bing is a GREAT website that not only compares airfare for you, but lets you know if you should buy or wait. I followed their advice on when to book and saved over $200 per ticket on our flights to Oregon this summer. I love Disney, although it's a vacation that you need a vacation from, but for anyone considering anything Disney, I would really recommend taking some time on MouseSavers.com. It's a non-Disney site that has AMAZING amounts of advice--everything from a packing list to rundowns of all area hotels, and beats any guidebook I've ever tried. For long road trips, I hate to say it, but those travel DVD players are INDISPENSABLE. We upgraded for our 30-hour road trip last summer to two separate units--one for each child to watch what they want. They were from Target and CAN be joined together to watch the same movie or can be used with plug-n-play games, as well. It is worth it to buy a couple of new movies as treats in addition to bringing favorites. Each child also gets some sort of mint gum or candy (eases motion sickness), and I pack PLENTY of light snacks (fruit, crackers, SMALL drinks, and a few treats). And when you make the inevitable restroom stop, make the kids run around for five minutes. It's worth it!
Jenny Harding March 10, 2011 at 01:20 AM
Uugghh! Talking about vacation in March when we have no plans to do so is brutal! Ha ha! But we have taken our share already this year so I will stop my complaining now. We drove 16 hours down to NC in June with family. We rented a house with 17 other family members. At the end of September we flew to Disney with our 5 and 6 year olds and met some friends there. We stayed at a hotel with adjoining rooms. Both trips were succesfull and have not scared us away from traveling together. We are looking forward to a 22 hour drive to MN this summer! Our vacation destinations have not been decided by the kids but have been influenced by them. When they are much older we will probably ask for more of their input when it comes to where they want to go. Looking back at our family vacations growing up, I don't know how we traveled for days in the station wagon without DVD players! It is the key to a happy trip, plane or car! When we have a long trip planned I usually buy something for the kids and keep it as a surprise until the "right time". This would be that time when the kids start kicking the seats in front of them, whining, and punching their brother. Guess what kids, it's movie time and we have a new movie, or new Leapster Game, or new Lego magazine. I think Amy's idea of bringing a favorite toy or movie and a new one is brilliant.
Jenny Harding March 10, 2011 at 01:33 AM
I also have to add a "do not do what we did" item. If you are traveling by plane with a little one, people might suggest you give them Benadryl to knock them out for the flight. I never thought I would be one of those parents! However, 6 months pregnant, late night flight with a one year old, and pleading by the husband to try it... and I jumped on board. What the helpful "others" failed to mention was that not all people have the same reaction to Benadryl. Most people get sleepy but some get hyper. Our one year old was and still is a very calm kid. He is laid back and goes with the flow. Thirty minutes after taking Benadryl however, he was thrusting himself out of our arms refusing to let us touch him, then lay on his back on the ground kicking the seats and screaming bloody murder. If he had been able to talk he would have been screaming, "I am a monster on Benadryl!" On behalf of all the other passengers on our flight and the future passengers on your flights, please try out Benadryl before using it to "knock out your child" on a plane. Happy travels!
Stefanie Janoff March 10, 2011 at 02:12 AM
First 10 Things that pop into my mind about travelling 1- Feed your baby on take off/landing 2- Book a window and aisle, the likelyhood of the middle seat being booked is slim and you can always switch seats with that traveler. Don't forget to bring your carseat to strap them in. Also, remember the crying bothers you more than the other passengers. 3- Travel during nap/bedtime. 4- If doing Disney, if possible, try not to do it all in one trip and allot time to just hang by the pool. 5- Travelling by car: Audio books, music, books, etch a sketch, doodle pads, snacks, and the infamous DVD player (though we we didn't get one until this year). 6- Enjoy traveling off peak when the kids are young, b/c once you start traveling during school vacations, you find you go less often b/c of crowds, availablity and price. 7- If your child gets car sick; open the window, bring mints, ginger cookies and a bucket :) 8- If traveling during potty training, bring the portable potty in the car. 9- Break all your normal rules when on vacation (i.e. bedtime, routines, treats, nap schedule, etc). 10- Plan the trip where You want to go. The kids are just happy to be with you. Safe Travels.
Jenifer Apazidis March 10, 2011 at 02:40 AM
Jenny, I am with you. We have no plans for a Spring vacation, so this is painful! Haha! One of the greatest lessons I have learned when traveling with family is not to plan to much and do not over pack! The latter I am still working on, I can say that one of our most memorable vacations for the entire family was the one where I planned nothing! We travel to Greece to visit families some summers and are usually there for 3+ weeks. The last trip we took, I planned 10 days on a remote beach that gets a lot of Greeks, but not a lot of tourists. There are no planned activities, almost no amenities, and not many that speak English. Every morning we slept late, then the kids ran off with new friends. After a relaxing morning we went to the beach and just hung out until dark. Now as the kids are getting older, I dread places like Disney! I feel like, although memorable in their own way, those vacations can be so stressful on the whole family. So my three tips are: 1. Make a plan without making a plan. I know that my kids like to have an idea of what we are doing, however by just giving them a rough outline of the days/weeks events I don't set expectations that will stress the adults out! If we are happy, they are happy. 2. Pack light! My goal is the next family trip we go on, I bring one big suitcase for everyone combined! I always let the kids pack a small carry on with their items. 3. Meet the needs of everyone. Vacations are short, everyone should have fun!
Robin Jones March 10, 2011 at 02:46 AM
Growing up we never went on vacations (single mom raising four kids). I always envied my friends who went away with their families. I love to travel and we definitely do our fair share with our kids. However, I have to say, there is something to be said for the STAYcation. As exciting and wonderful as it is to go away, sometimes the stress of getting a family of five packed and organized is almost too much. It's great to be home when no one else is around. Do family house projects and day trips. Now, it does entail a little more creativity so the kids are not bored and feel like they have something exciting to talk about back at school. We really believe in down time for the kids on vacation, no matter where we are. We decide where we are going and then surprise the kids with the news. We do let the kids have a say and vote over the activities of the day. They have become great little travelers. Each kid gets their "vacation backpack" for the car or plane ride, filled with various books, Mad Libs, Yes and No pads, wicky sticks, deck of cards. Each pack is put together by me and each trip the items are different. This mkes the travel piece easier and fun. The best part of our vacation is the uninterrupted quality time we get with each other, the inside jokes we create and the great laughs, the kids are always sad to have our family time end. Inevitably they all get teary at the end of our vacations, whether it be at home or away, which tells me it was a huge success!!

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