Hey, if you have a family, I know you’re busy. This is a long article, but worth your time. If you have kids, you’ll
probably get distracted part way through it.
You can fill out the form above to make sure you don’t miss any tips that make your next family vacation amazing.
Or you can just re-read the story I tell about the time I flew with my triplet toddlers on an airplane, to feel better when you’re having a bad day…
Growing up as a child with divorced parents, I looked forward to the day that I would be able to have the kind of family vacation I always wanted.
More than spending a lot of money, or traveling to an exotic location, I wanted to experience a vacation with a mom and dad that loved each other. I wanted to feel connected to my kids. I wanted to experience the kind of family bonding that I had seen on movies growing up.
I remember sobbing to my husband on the lounge chair while my boys napped in the other room, that I would never be able to have a happy vacation again since I became a mother.
The problem is that none of my daydreams of ideal family vacations included messes, kids having melt downs, or me yelling.
After we had triplets, pretty much anything that I thought would be “normal” during the traveling I enjoyed in my single days or with my husband Craig, went out the window.
Though I don’t think our family vacations are like the childhood movies, unless I count the Griswold family, I have learned to love family vacations, and appreciate them.
I even think that they are amazing most of the time.
If you like to travel, you can still do it with a lot of kids. You can enjoy a family vacation, because I have learned to, I think anyone can.
Your kids may be gifted. You might have all boys. You might have sensory issues or have children who do. You’re probably on a budget. It’s okay. You can still have an amazing family vacation.
I think part of becoming a more mature adult has made me realize that the amazing family vacation I always wanted was possible, it just took some time to figure out what worked best for our family.
I’ve driven with a preschooler screaming for 48 minutes, because the Winnie the Pooh CD had a scratch, and we couldn’t listen. I’ve wanted to hide in embarrassment as I’ve had a son kicking and screaming on the ground in a fancy restaurants, airports, grandparents homes, and museums.*
*Not to brag, but, We’ve also had at least one member of our family puke in every one of those places, too.
Every member of my family usually ends up in tears at least once per vacation.
Okay, so my husband doesn’t usually cry, but I make up for it double.
Here’s what’s worked for me.
Put your own oxygen mask on first
Just like the flight attendant’s warning about securing your own oxygen mask before your child’s, you need to take care of yourself first, to have a good vacation.
Take a hot bath after everyone is asleep. Get up earlier than your tribe for yoga, meditation, exercise, reading, a Triple grande 2 pump vanilla, extra foamy, non-fat latte from Starbucks, prayer, or scripture study.
It doesn’t matter what it takes to help you have a better day, but it’s important that you, as a parent start your day right on a family vacation. It is especially important if you aren’t a morning person. (I’m not either, so I feel ya.)
Last summer, to put on my oxygen mask first, I was done running by 6:30 am to shower, and get ready during our California vacation.
I don’t usually equate getting up early with vacations, but the vacation days went so much better because I had a morning run. Especially for Disneyland, which is especially challenging when you’re dealing with sensory issues as a parent, and have kids with them as well.
Taking care of myself first, gave me the reservoir of patience to draw from when I needed it through out an especially overwhelming day.
Plan. Plan, and Plan, but be flexible.
Plan for Why you are doing an activity on your vacation.
Just because everyone else says you have to do_____ when you visit ______ doesn’t mean your family needs to.
In fact, sometimes you’re better off not doing it at all. It is easy to get caught up in trying to make everything special, or cram a ton of activities into your schedule. Sometimes, your sanity/ patience/ time is worth more than the “perfect photo-op”.
Honestly, my kids were fine not sitting through an hour long lecture at the Ranger’s station in Yosemite to get a Jr. Ranger badge.
They had a great time just climbing on rocks looking for the adorable Marmoots that liked to hide in the rocks. I used to think that I needed to have them read every sign aloud at a park or museum, and absorb all the learning possible, as gifted kids.
That’s not important to them.
I like to learn all the information, but they don’t really care to know every detail of the same things I enjoy. I still read every single sign myself, because I live to learn. I just don’t expect my kids to do it anymore.
Some of the most educational experiences we had traveling last summer were not in the museums. They were sharing our family beliefs, values, and experiencing new things.
We live in a 98% Caucasian, rural Idaho mountain resort town. Spending time in the city of Los Angles where often times we were in the minority as white people, led to a lot of great conversations about diversity with my boys.
How to have your best family vacation ever Click To TweetI like to repeat the mantra I am doing this to make memories not for Instagram.
That reminds me when my children refuse to pose or smile for the picture, it’s okay.
Our Campbell Clan likes to keep it real.
Plan for What you are doing.
This is the easy part if you have spent a lot of time and energy before the vacation. Spontaneous doesn’t work well for me, or for Boy One. Maybe it’s that whole rigid thinking with gifted people? Or just our personalities?
I like to have everything clearly outlined ahead of time to know what to expect when I travel. I have numerous excel spreadsheets on my laptop, packing checklists, and to do before we go lists.
I have found fun, free, things by checking the local Chamber of Commerce, city, and local library websites for upcoming events. We’ve attended a free community pancake breakfast, watched a bagpipe parade, and found the perfect picnic spot with a fun playground for the kids for lunch on the road.
Plan for How to implement the activity.
This is the part where you think of all the worst case scenarios and how you will handle them, or what could make the situation better. This is my favorite part of planning, because then, I make sure I am prepared. When stuff goes wrong on your family vacation, and it will, even with all the planning, it will be okay, and so will you.
Sometimes, to cope, I pretend like I am watching my life like it’s a reality TV show. That way, the mishaps or shenanigans of my boys become entertaining, and are less likely to make me cry.
Like the time my triplets were about 18 months, and 2 different boys projectile vomited all over me, themselves, the airplane isle and a flight attendant.
She was probably wishing she never offered to hold my kid before our descent into Atlanta. I can see her eyes wide with alarm and her navy blue outfit covered in puke even years later.
This story is totally entertaining because it’s not you. Am I right?
When we descended into the Atlanta airport. I was prepared though. I knew my boys had acid reflux, and puked often.
I took a spit bath with baby wipes, and changed into a spare shirt for me, changed the boys into the back up outfits, after I wiped them down too.
I sealed the ziploc bag with the stinky clothes until we made it to the grandparents after our connecting flight. I had 1 clean out fit to spare, because I had already planned for the worst.
Build downtime/ down days into your vacation
Most gifted people, especially my 3 introverted sons, need time away from people, crowds, and noise. I have learned the hard way, it is a better vacation when I plan downtime.
We usually stay somewhere with a laundry room so we can bring half as many clothes.
Part way through the trip, we have a relaxing day, catch up on laundry, watch TV, and don’t do any big activities.
If we’re feeling really motivated, we lounge by the pool.
Preserve your memories
Last summer, before a month long road trip, I bought mini journals for my boys to record their vacation memories. I surprised the boys with the journals on our first night in a hotel.
On quiet mornings, when we didn’t have to go right away, they would record the activities for the day before. Sometimes, they would journal in the time between an activity and dinner, or before bed. Each small journal fit in a zippered pencil pouch, and I included a pack of skinny markers, 1 pen, 1 mechanical pencil, a glue stick, and small scissors for each boy. (I color code everything per kid, and labeled them with names so there’s no fighting.) We collected free brochures when we went places to add to the journal. They also drew pictures, and added ticket stubs.
Build a time buffer into your vacation
I like to hold the mail early and a day late at the post office, and wait to return work calls, and emails. Sometimes, we even tell people we’re coming back home a day later so we can extend our vacation and ease back into our routines.
Bring comfort items with you
If you’re planning to road trip with your family, versus flying somewhere, you have more flexibility with what you can bring/ cram into the vehicle.
I made these repurposed fabric pillowcases for a long road trip a couple of years ago. For the red one, I used a polo shirt I had from before I lost 100 pounds.
One was made from an old baby blanket.
One used leftover fabric from a Halloween costume.
I’m not fantastic at sewing. Don’t look closely, or you’ll see how crooked things turned out. My kids don’t care, and love these.
The pockets I added were perfect for the boys to bring their favorite toy/ stuffed animal.
They were able to carry their own pillows, and be more comfortable for the long drive as well. It also hid dirt, spills, and gave them something soft to snuggle. Don’t sew?
That’s okay. Bust out the hot glue gun, and glue one together. It will work.
We also travel with 1 light weight fleece blanket per boy. It helps them sleep better in the car, avoids airplane germs, and comes in handy since there’s usually not enough blankets for everyone in the hotel rooms.
Have an exit strategy
Your kid has a melt down at the reunion? Or a hard time at dinner in a restaurant? Are they running like a banshee through the quiet museum? Know in advance when you can bail, and how you will handle it, especially if you’re traveling with extended family or other people.
As someone who has taken a ton of trips with my in-laws, it’s important to have a united front as a couple, or code word or expression so you can back each other up if a melt down occurs.
At the very least, you should know how to handle transportation so not everyone has to leave if only 1 person is melting down . A untied front as a couple can also stifle unwanted opinions about your parenting, or how you’re handling a kid’s meltdown.
Surprise and delight them
You guys, when I am Vacation Mom, I am awesome.
I get to be fun, and break some of the ordinary Mom rules. I make vacations memorable by having ice cream for dinner one night. I might pack new Lego mini figures in the suitcase.
I’ve created matching shirts for the whole family, including grandparents. I have had airplane bags full of vacation themed activities and, special snacks. I sometimes pack new pjs for the boys.
As vacation Mom, I let my kids each have their own pack of gum, and chew as many pieces as they want to. (even though other people chewing gum drives me nuts with my misophonia.)
I’ve brought bubbles and stickers to break out waiting in line at theme park, or packed new games from the dollar store in the suitcase to play in our room.
What you do doesn’t have to be big, Pinterest worthy, or expensive, just make it memorable, or something that is different than the “normal” mom or dad stuff.
Bring the essentials. Even though it’s a hassle.
Bring the kid’s Lovey/ special doll. Fill ALL of your prescriptions. Some prescriptions can’t easily be filled in a another state if you’re traveling. (Like pain medications and most ADD meds)
Pack the c-pap or nebulizer for breathing treatments. Bring insurance cards, identification, the allergy meds, pepto, epi pen, aloe vera gel, mole skin for blisters, your usual shampoo/ body wash, and any other medicine your family has used in the past 6 months. I usually carry travel sizes in my carry on when I fly as well. It has saved us from buying overpriced, single use items on the road, and helped when one (or all of us) get sick on vacation.
I’ve hyperlinked some of my must have products in this next section to my affiliate links to make your job a little bit easier. If you buy anything through my links, supposedly Amazon will make it rain, and give me a nickel or something.
The government wants me to tell you that, because they think that blogging will make me rich. Even though I’ve been doing this for two years and am still waiting for that rain, or even a drizzle. And honestly, I have yet to make my first nickel.
A word about bathrooms
We used to carry a frog potty in our minivan when the triplets were potty training.
Public restrooms are not fun for most people, but especially toddlers with sensory issues, it can be terrifying. I carried sticky notes in my purse to cover the auto flush sensors for my kids.
I also stock hand gel, liquid soap, paper towels, baby wipes, garbage bags, assorted sized ziploc freezer bags, sunscreen, bug spray, (Bullfrog is 2 in one, and amazing) and a first aid kit year round in my passenger door pocket of my minivan. I don’t want to tell you how many times I have used that first aid kit with 4 boys. But, we used up almost everything and had to buy a second one.
As a frequent road tripper, so many public restrooms aren’t well stocked, especially at parks. It’s good to have what you need to kill germs… especially if your kids are sensitive to soaps.
Ship stuff ahead if possible
When our boys were younger, we had so much gear that went with them. It was easier to ship stuff ahead to be held at the resort, or grandparent’s house for our vacation. We love Amazon Prime free shipping. If you don’t have a membership already, you can get a free trial by clicking the link below.
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I’ve shipped sunscreen, swimsuits, flip flops, formula, baby food, diapers, pop up crib tents, and beach tents to our final destinations.
It frees up room and saves money flying with checked baggage at least one way.
Last summer, I knew that we were spending a couple of weeks at my mom’s house with our 4 boys. 16 days is a long time to be in a sleeping bag on the floor.
For less than the price of 2 nights in a hotel room, my mom bought these super comfy self- inflatable beds, eye masks, fans for white noise, sheets, for all four boys. They store easily in the closet, since we only visit once or twice a year.
Her other grandsons have been able to use them when they visit as well.
Somethings are worth buying no matter how much they cost
Vacations are expensive. We don’t have a lot of money, and I get stressed out thinking about spending money for something that’s not a need. Just do it anyway. There will be at least one point when you wonder if you should get that thing on your vacation that wasn’t in your budget. If it makes you or your kid happy, do it.
We left a snow pile in May for 95 degree weather in Disney World. Spending $24.95 on a misting fan on a lanyard was not in the budget. It was worth every penny to keep my kids and I cool.
Night One Go Bag
Whether we fly or drive, on a vacation, it is helpful to have a bag with everyone’s PJs, toothbrush, and change of clothes in it. It helps to not lug in a ton of suitcases when you reach your destination.
When your kid doesn’t like sand or the beach
We have a travel kite for the kid to fly who doesn’t like the beach.
We make sure there are sunglasses for sensitive eyes. Our boys also love the long sleeved hooded rash guard shirts from Lands End. It has built in spf and the added benefit of not having sand on the skin for sensory issues.
We found caps with flip down sunglasses, because our kids have glasses.
Your own space and time is important, even if you’re vacationing with extended family
Nearly every vacation that we have had as a family has included extended family members. It has been wonderful, but it can be tricky too.
I highly recommend you plan at least one activity, meal, or day with just you, your partner, if you have one, and your kids. Some of my favorite family vacation moments with extended family, are of just Craig, the boys and I together.
Make sure that you communicate with the extended family so there are no hurt feelings though.
When you have a lot of people there are a lot of opinions
I have 4 gifted boys, and three even share a birthday, but it still surprises me how different they are from each other.
Before a trip, I tell them about where we are going, and a couple of things that I think they would like to do there. I make sure that there is at least one activity per boy that they will enjoy during the trip. That way, the kid who hates swimming, and the beach still gets his activity that he enjoys.
Have them help, depending on ability level
I have given my boys lists of what to bring, and had them give me the stuff to put in their suitcase. When they were younger, I dressed my boys in matching or coordinating outfits when I knew we were going some place busy, or crowded on vacation. It was also easier to count them.
Organize like a pro
It has saved time, and morning chaos rifling through the suitcase to have Ziploc bags labeled with each kids name, and Day 1, Day 2, etc with outfits for each day.
Make 1:1 Time
Because we had 3 kids at once, it is always a challenge to find time for one on one time with my boys. Vacations are a great way to make individual memories if you have more than one kid.
We had the grandparents take us to Disney World, each adult had a kid assigned to them for the day as their buddy. We met up for lunch at a designated time and place. It was wonderful to spend a day with each of my boys with out their siblings to develop a better relationship with them.
The nice thing about vacations with extended family is that there are people you know and trust to watch your kids. It has been wonderful to enjoy time with my husband away from the rest of the group, for a romantic dinner, or walk on the beach.
If we are just alone with the boys, or some quiet time on the deck or patio after our kids are asleep is wonderful.
Sometimes, Craig and I are too exhausted to even have a conversation, but just sharing a beautiful moment together is one of my favorite things to do as a couple.
If you take a lot of trips, or have a lot of children like we do, it is easy to collect a bunch of stuff we don’t need or use.
Instead of a bunch of random stuff, we collect smashed pennies on vacation. It is something inexpensive, and doesn’t take up a lot of space.
Plus, it’s repurposed so, I love that.
I make sure to have a lot of quarters in my wallet, and shiny pennies on hand for our trips. The boys get to choose their own designs. Plus, cranking those handles adds a gross motor skill work out.
Get a good night’s rest the night before
I procrastinate, and spent so many vacation prep nights up too late before an early morning flight, or road trip departure. Get a good night’s sleep the night before you leave (and your family too.) It’s hard if you’re sleeping in a different bed, with new sounds. You will have more patience if you are well rested. (At least I do.)
It is also safe to be well rested before traveling so you don’t have an accident if you’re driving, or get sick if you are flying. Fatigue weakens your immune system.
Also, even if you plan to leave to drive out of town, and you leave 5 hours later, it’s okay. You might get to where you want to go later than you intended, but you’ll be okay.
Set expectations about behavior and rules
“In our family we….” That’s how I start most of the conversations. I prep my boys for interactions with cousins who might have different rules in their family to ward off any bad behavior. We also talk about making eye contact, smiling, using please, and thanking people for things.
“Campbell boys are polite,” is another favorite phrase of mine.
4th graders get free National Park passes, and your whole family can get in free with them. They have Jr. Ranger programs, and activities for families. If you have older extended family members you’re traveling with, they have annual park discounts. If you have lifetime pass holders with you, it can save money.
Disconnect from social media during your trip
Or at least cut way back. Aside from announcing to people you’re away from home, an an easy target for crime, it can help you be present and experience the small, priceless moments with your family.
I get hangry. And so do my boys. And then there is the whole puking issue I mentioned earlier. Rich and processed foods are hard for us to handle. I save money and pack our favorite snacks.
Kind bars, nuts, buy fresh fruit. I encourage soda versus water by bringing water bottles.
Plan ahead meals
We usually stay some place with a kitchen and cook quick and easy dinners one or 2 nights, and pack sack lunches for the day adventures. I plan the meals and grocery list ahead of time. I try to plan meals that the ingredients can be used for more than one thing so there is less waste. For example, we might have egg tacos for breakfast to use left over tortillas, beans, and salsa from a taco dinner,
If we are driving, I usually bring pantry items like aluminum foil, canola oil, dry cereal, and snacks with me.
I’ve also emailed my mom or in-laws with a grocery list of items that my kids like to make it easier when we arrive to meet them tired, and hungry. I’m specific about brands, because my boys are.
Our children’s Museum has agreements with other major museums. We’ve saved hundreds of dollars through free admission, and seen amazing exhibits while traveling by knowing this ahead of time.
I could write more about this, but it’s already been a super long article. If you’re looking for more tips on traveling with gifted kids?
Click the link or graphic below.
Wow. I’m exhausted just reading this, but it’s the good kind of exhaustion, after a great day on a great trip. I don’t have kids, but a lot of this is still great advice for anyone, and I’m sure it only gets more valuable once small people are in the mix — like the disconnecting from social media. There are resorts where you can pay them for the privilege of having your smartphone locked up away from you while you’re there!
This is what I’m taking away above all: “Plan. Plan, and Plan, but be flexible.” Yes! It’s easy to do one or the other of those, but doing them at the same time? That takes a master.
Also: Your boys look like they’re having a blast!
Right? I didn’t even include some of the stuff that I wanted to. I loved looking through pictures of vacations past. I couldn’t find the one of us with the triplets in the triple decker stroller in Times Square. I can’t believe what we were crazy enough to try. This is the longest post I’ve ever written. Thanks for being hardcore, and enduring to the end!
I love this so much! From sticky notes to Krave beef jerky (seriously, it’s the best for travel!) you’ve covered everything! I never thought about self care on family vacation, but you’re right- it’s so important! My self care is so lame- I go to bed early. I know, shame on me, but looking back I always make sure I go to sleep soon after my kid so that I’m well rested. I need more sleep than he does! But I never have the opportunity to do that at home because of laundry, dishes etc.
And everyone knows the Griswolds have the best family vacations!!