I’m just going to say it: there’s no such thing as a “vacation” with the kids. It’s really just a trip you take together that involves a frenetic amount of planning, packing, checking and rechecking of suitcases and carry-ons, schlepping of said suitcases and carry-ons, close quarters and the inevitable left-behind stuffed animal, iPhone or can’t-live-without sweatshirt.
When you finally do reach your destination, whether it’s beach, mountain, campground or foreign metropolis, you’ll endure the same parenting indignities as you do at home. There will be whining, meltdowns and fighting. There will be general ennui and a total lack of appreciation for the beautiful scenery, exotic food and life-altering experience you’ve painstakingly organized. There will be vomit. There will be tears. There will unidentifiable bug bites that turn into festering sores.
By the end of your “vacation” you’ll wish you’d stayed home and had that root canal your dentist said you needed instead of spending 5 nights and 6 days anywhere at all with your kids. So how do you turn a trip into a vacation that works for you and the kids? Here are a few tips:
1. Lower your expectations. I mean, really lower them.
Thought your kids would be grateful to spend a week in Hawaii frolicking in the surf and sand or strolling through the adorable arrondissements of Paris? Ha. You’ll be lucky if these novelties hold their attention for more than 24 hours. Depending on the age of your kids, you can count on everyone being willing to do exactly one shared activity per day for a total of one to two hours: one museum, one hike, one educational boat ride. The less you expect from your kids, the more pleasantly surprised you’ll be. If all else fails, screen time definitely counts as an activity.
2. Use screen time all the time.
Most of us are on board with letting our kids indulge in an infinite amount of screen time during transit hours on the plane or in the car. It’s a little more difficult to condone letting them continue to stare glassy-eyed at their devices once we reach our destinations. Get over it. Kids need downtime too and these days, that means zoning out on a screen. So what if their brains turn to applesauce? At least you’ll be able to sip your cocktails in peace.
3. Know where and when your next drink will be.
When the kids bicker over whose turn it is to open the hotel room door using the magic card key, drown your desire to throttle them with a cold beer, sweating glass of chardonnay or icy shot of vodka. Last summer we were in Amsterdam with our three girls, and one of our most enjoyable afternoons happened at a local playground. Why? Because where the wood-chipped surface ended, a full-service bar began. Genius. After that, we kept our eyes peeled for other dual-opportunity venues, because catching a slight buzz in the middle of the day is its own kind of vacation.
4. Hire a sitter.
I know it’s nerve-wracking to entrust your beloved offspring to a total stranger in a strange place, but a night without the kids has a way of restoring the definition of vacation to its true meaning. When I was seven, my parents took me and my younger sister on a safari. They had no problem leaving us in a tent in the middle of Africa with a local woman who spoke only Swahili so they could enjoy dinner at the lodge. Aside from a hippo sticking its snout through the tent flap for a few seconds (true story), we were fine. Nowadays, hotels work with certified babysitting services, which is more than I can say about myself when I had my neighbor’s nanny’s cousin look after the kids that one time – after they were all asleep, of course.
5. Do not underestimate the power of bribery.
You and your spouse want to go to the Museum of Medieval Torture but the kids are begging to go to the quaint, handmade, all-wooden toy store. You say no. They start with the whining and sass. That’s when you bribe them: who wants ice cream for lunchand dinner? How about twenty bucks each and we’ll call it a day? Remember, you’re in survival mode. Do what you must.
6. Relax the rules.
Like it or not, your kids are on vacation too. Don’t get your panties in a bunch if they go to bed a little later, neglect to ingest a single vegetable all week and don’t bathe for three days in a row. They won’t die of fatigue, get scurvy or smell too awful. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent. It means you’re a smart parent, because enforcing the rules all the time is exhausting. Which is the opposite of relaxing. And aren’t you supposed to be relaxing?
Of course every vacation has its handful of happy highlights and you sure as hell better capture them in all their digital glory and post them on Facebook so that a) all your friends can be jealous and b) you can look back and remember how awesome your family vacation was, because in the end, it really was pretty awesome.