One year ago, when my children were two years old and six months old, my husband and I did the unthinkable: we took our family on a vacation to Disney World. When we told people, one would have thought we were telling them that we were strapping our children on our backs and climbing Mount Everest.
“Better you than me!”
“Why would you got to Disney World now? They won’t remember any of it.”
“Are you crazy?”
At first, I found all of these questions to be annoying, but then I started to wonder if everyone knew something that I didn’t. So, after questioning my own sanity, I set out on a quest to plan a great family vacation that we would remember fondly for a long, long time (even if my children couldn’t).
Tip #1: Plan a vacation that focuses on enjoying EACH OTHER not THE PLACE WHERE YOU ARE GOING.
This was, without a doubt, the best bit of advice I received before we left for our vacation. This is not about where you plan your trip, but more about your perspective going into it. Do not go on vacation determined to see every sight, right every ride, eat at every restaurant, etc. These kinds of expectations are insane and will only leave you feeling as though your trip were not good enough. Instead, focus on the fun you can have together. Maybe it is in your plan to sightsee all day long, but be okay with the fact that your toddler may have a meltdown and the best solution may be to just go back to the hotel and spend the rest of the afternoon swimming. You may have an itinerary, and that is awesome. Just be flexible enough to throw the itinerary away if you feel that it is too much.
Tip #2: Chose your method of travel wisely.
There’s no way to put this simply…traveling with young children is horrifying. When we flew to Connecticut to see family in April of 2013, we planned a flawless system for getting our stroller, two carseats, one carseat base, three suitcases and two children on the plane, through the connecting airport, and on the second plane. We had both flown dozens of times, so we really thought we had it all figured out. This was until we got to our connecting airport and discovered that, in order to get to our second flight, we had to go up and down stairs twice. With a stroller, two carseats, one carseat base, suitcase (thankfully we checked two suitcases), and two children. Then, once our plane was in the air, the pilot realized that we didn’t have enough fuel to make it to our destination. So we had to land, refuel, and fly again (which took about two and a half hours). Needless to say, all of our preparations proved to matter diddly squat. It was a miserable experience.
On the other hand, we opted to drive to Disney World. This worked so much better for us because we were able to stop every three hours (which is how often my youngest ate). We would usually find a rest stop or park to rest, so Matthew was able to run around and play with my husband while Ben nursed.
Tip #3: If you drive, find a way to make it as fun as possible.
The first time I traveled with my husband’s family, I was introduced to the envelope tradition. My mother-in-law would fill several envelopes with cash. Then every hundred miles or so, we drew envelopes. The amount ranged from five dollars to a hundred. As you could imagine, this definitely made the trip fun! I decided to adopt a similar concept for my two-year-old. We told him that Mickey had sent him lots of surprises to welcome him to Disney World and every hour, he would get to open them. These were cheap, simple, Disney-themed items that I got at dollar stores and drug stores. While they were simple, they were interesting enough to keep him happy until it was time to open another surprise.
I am not lying to you…in the fourteen hours it took to get to Disney World, my son did not whine or cry once. Hallelujah!
Do your children take a rigid afternoon nap? Does your daughter love reading a favorite book before bedtime? Does your son go to bed every night at 8:00 pm? My suggestion is that you do your very best to make your vacation destination feel as much like home as possible. Your children are already going to be completely out of their element. This usually leads to tired, overstimulated, confused, irritated, insane, whiny children. Haha.
Keeping these routines definitely requires some creativity. For example, both of my children go to bed at 7:30. Every night we put them each in their pack-and-plays, turned on their sound machine, turned out the lights, and then hid in the bathroom while they fell asleep (oh, hotel rooms). After they fell asleep, my husband would put a movie on our laptop computer, and we would watch it while listening to it on our headphones. Initially, we definitely felt as if we were missing out on some vacation time, but this crazy bedtime routine quickly became one of our favorite (and most hilarious) parts of our vacation.
*On a side note: We did attempt to forgo our nightly bedtime routines in an effort to participate in Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. If I remember correctly, this started at 7:00. The first hour was really fun. Then my children hit a wall, threw tantrums, and freaked out at the fireworks. I do think that it was well worth staying up in the long run, but I am glad that we didn’t do this every night.