Ahh, one of my least favorite parenting topics. Why? Because I literally (dead serious here) have PTSD from a trip we took with my oldest daughter, Johanna, when she was 18 months. We decided to join our extended family on a beach trip to Florida. It was our first real “vacation” as a family of three.
Going into the trip, I knew that there would be obstacles to overcome- the flights, the time-change, coordinating beach time with nap schedules, etc. What I did not anticipate, however, was how emotionally taxing all of that would be on Adam and I.
Once we got to our destination, my daughter went on a sleep strike. This was the first problem. She refused to nap and refused to sleep at night. I spent a good 3 hours of every day, while everyone else was at the beach having fun, driving my daughter around in our rental car so that she would fall asleep and take a damn nap. (Keep in mind, we were first time parents here, so when our daughter missed a nap, we really stressed over it). Then, at night, she refused to sleep in her crib. She would scream and cry (which stressed Adam and I out because we didn’t want her to wake up the rest of the house) until Adam or I would get her out of her crib. She would then fall asleep for 30-45 minutes on our chests, and then cry again. It was miserable.
With the very little sleep that Johanna, Adam and I got, we were not exactly in the frame of mind to enjoy our time each day. Instead, everything we did was viewed through the lens of our sleepless eyes. And when we weren’t trying to get her to sleep, we were worrying about the next nap or next bedtime.
The second problem was that I went into this trip thinking it was going to be a vacation. I truly thought that the three of us were going to have a great, relaxing time at the beach. So I went into the trip with that mindset. And then, when things started going south with Johanna’s sleep schedule, I was completely disappointed. I wasn’t prepared, mentally, for all of the work that was required of me as a parent.
So, you’re probably wondering when I’m going to get to those tips for traveling with kids. I’m about to get there.
Fast forward 18 months, Adam, Johanna, my son Patrick and I decided to give the beach trip another go, as we joined our family in Florida this past summer. This time, however, I had mentally prepared myself for worst case scenario: that neither kid would nap, or sleep at night. And I went into the trip with this mindset. I had fully prepared myself to get very little sleep, and to spend the majority of my time taking care of the kids. I expected to get very little time to myself; any relaxation I would get would be a bonus.
And guess what? The trip was a great success! Especially if you consider keeping two children alive and relatively happy for a week a success. Sure, Patrick hardly napped, and cried most nights; and Johanna skipped her typical daytime nap and woke up super early each morning. But overall, everyone was happy. And, more importantly, I didn’t let their lack of sleep get to me. I did’t stress about it!
In regards to relaxation and “free time”- I dedicated 95% of my time on the trip to caring for the kids and making sure they were having a good time. The remaining 5% was when I was able to sneak away to the beach and read a book during nap time.
The primary difference between these trips was not the factor of sleep (or lack thereof), or a matter of free-time. It was my attitude adjustment.
2 Tips For Traveling With Kids
So, my tips. I have two of them for you. Please take these to heart, because they will change your mentality towards traveling with kids.
1. You’re going on a trip, not a vacation.
There is a huge difference between a trip and a vacation when you are a parent: a trip is where you transport your entire family to a different location and attempt to “do life” as normally as possible, while overcoming various obstacles; a vacation is where you get away to escape the burden of the day-to-day obstacles, typically sans kids. Too honest? Sorry. It’s the truth.
Knowing this changes your entire perspective on the trip. Sure, the goal is to have a good time, make lasting memories, and spend time with one another. But going into the trip with the mindset that you are replacing day-to-day parental responsibilities with relaxation will only set you up for disappointment. So, tell yourself that you trip is just an extension of your daily life. Then, all of the fun you have will be icing on the proverbial cake!
2. Plan, but don’t stress.
Ahh, if only I could’ve known this piece of advice going into our first beach trip. The only thing you can control is how you prepare for the trip ahead, and not what actually happens on the trip. So when things don’t go according to plan (ie: your kid gets the flu, you get a flat tire, your toddler won’t eat the food you brought), you’ll take it in stride.
In fact, I would recommend that you plan to not stress on the trip. Be intentional about your attitude going into it, because I promise, your trip will be so much more enjoyable.
I would love to hear from you all- what advice do you have for traveling with kids? Let me know in the comments below!