Forget a melt-down or a kicking rage attack on holiday. Here is a medley of best practices on how to spend your family holidays peacefully without having to handle a crisis or get a nervous break-down, kids and parents included. Are you ready to bring home great memories as well as the desire to explore more together?
Build routine into your vacation
Kids love exploring new sights, but they also need a routine to help them cope with novelty and feel safe. Build into the daily schedule some activities you do every day, like breakfast at the same time with similar ingredients or an afternoon calm-down moment together reading a book. Dr Laura Markham, founder of Aha!Parenting and author of many parenting books, also recommends keeping the kids on a regular schedule as much as possible during holidays.
Make sure your kids get their food and sleep when they need them
Plan your travel and daily programme so that your kids never get extremely hungry or way too tired. Catching a flight in the middle of the night or skipping lunch or dinner may easily lead to a melt-down and planning too many activities for one day will only leave everyone exhausted. Naptime for toddlers is crucial and should not be overrun by tiring walks, late meals or other activities, according to Sleep.org, that stresses the importance of a proper sleep routine, also on holidays.
If you don’t have the opportunity to cook homemade food, but need to rely on restaurants for most meals, stop by the closest supermarket on a few mornings and make healthy sandwiches for lunch. Buy some fruit and nuts and lots of water to keep everyone hydrated, especially if the weather is hot. Having nutritious food with you will avoid anyone getting cranky or starving.
Pack some basic meds to keep doctors away and lots of healthy snacks
It’s a good idea to bring some basic medicine with you when you travel; well, wet-wipes and band-aids, too. When you have them handy, the likelihood of your children getting hurt or ill will diminish. We’ve always travelled with anti-fever and anti-cold medicine and have often avoided a doctor’s visit that can become expensive and cumbersome in a foreign country.
We also carry healthy, non-messy snacks like nuts, nutrition bars and dried and pureed fruit in our backpack – the best traveller’s bag that leaves your hands free and does not feel so heavy to carry. Don’t let your kids overload with sugar as that will only make them hyperactive for an hour and then cranky afterwards as they are craving for more sweets.
Bring games and activities for the kids
When your children are occupied in interesting activities they are less likely to get bored or start acting up: bring books and games so that your kids can sit still while flying, especially on longer journeys. The same works for train and car ride as well. When it comes to packing for kids, remember that less is more. Take only what you really need!
Diane H., 45, mom of two boys, from Wales, suggests: “We have a bag of small games to play on flights. Dobble, a pack of cards, a story cube, pen and paper that can all be played while sitting and waiting at airports, planes and airport lounges). I never leave without that bag!”. While Kristen P., 42, mom of two boys from Malawi swears on books: “Now that both our sons are readers, we revived two old Kindles (the black/white no-frills kind) and loaded them up with books. The boys like the novelty of reading books on a screen, we like that they are quiet and occupied on long trips and not overdoing movies or video games.”
Choose kid-friendly holiday destinations
Book holiday destinations that have attractions your children will cherish. We have visited a zoo or an aquarium and toy-museums and Lego-shops in most European capitals as well as in America, Australia and New Zealand. Jewel W., mom of two girls from the US says: “We keep our kids happy on our trips by connecting them with kids through activities – we enrol them in camps or sports lessons so they can make friends.” Johanna K., mom of two boys from Finland suggests: “When the kids were under 10 we chose hotels with lots of kids’ activities. Our kids also like international kids’ clubs.”
You can also negotiate and fit into the daily schedule some activities for the kids and some for the adults, as Heli M., 45, mom of two boys, from Finland proposes: “When going for a city holiday, we do “trading”; each day we’ll do something for the kids (maybe a visit to a Lego store) and something for the adults (a visit to a museum or some serious shopping).”
Another idea might be to try a cruise. We have been on two and our boys truly loved the experience. There are dozens of daily activities organized for children, from kids’ clubs to movies, sports, climbing and kid-friendly excursions. Here are some comparisons on different cruises you can check out.
If you can, fit some swimming into the vacation. Most children love water and could spend an entire day splashing in the pool or the waves. Beaches, lakes and rivers are great at summer, spas and swimming pools in the winter time. Jumping in the water will help your kids release their energy and fall asleep easily and peacefully in the evening.
Involve your kids in the travel planning
You can take it even a step further and get your children involved in the vacation planning. Kids become comfortable using the Internet even before they start school, and are able to google hotels, apartments, sights and museums they are interested in. The more they know about what’s to expect, the happier they will be about the vacation. Seth Kugel’s story of his nephew Leo planning a family vacation is a real-life example of what a 12-year-old is capable of. A 2015 survey for HomeAway also proves children can become true travel agents when needed. Search for bike rentals places, aquariums and activities to include in almost every vacation. As Jewel, 42, mom of two girls from the US puts it: “It’s important for our girls to know where we are going and we discuss ahead of time where we are going and what we will do once we get there.”
Reserve some daily snuggle time during which you truly connect
This aspect seems to be as important to the kids as the parents. Everyone thrives when they feel loved, connected and appreciated. So rather than running from one sight to another and trying to see as much as possible, it is crucial to stay connected and find at least half an hour every day to just lay on a bed and laugh at jokes or read a book together. As Anna H., mom of three girls from Sweden puts it: “Vacation with kids is the chance to give them the daily connecting moments that we don’t have in everyday life. It’s during vacation that I give them that “extra” of myself. That relaxed (hopefully) version of myself. And love. Lots and lots and lots of love”.
Schedule a full day at home before returning to work and school
This might not always be possible, it is great to have a day dedicated to winding down, talking about the new experiences, unpacking, doing laundry, and getting the whole family back on schedule before real life kicks in.
Last but not least
An important thing to bear in mind is that every family and child is different and what works for some, will not be ideal for everyone. As the children grow, their interests and likes also change. So it is a good idea to have a preparative meeting with the whole family before booking the next vacation. It is good to plan ahead and book accommodations and sights so that everyone knows what to expect. But it is just as well to leave some days for un-scheduled exploring and snuggling, too. And when everyone in the family has a relaxed smile on their faces you know that together you’ve hit centre.