We took our spring break a little early this year, which entailed a car trip to Florida from Wisconsin with 5 kids in a minivan. That’s right…2 days there and 2 days back in a minivan with my nearest and dearest and all their STUFF. So because I have blazed a little trail, I will pass along my expertise to you before you hit the road. You’re welcome.
The 4 Things You Must Bring When Traveling With Kids
1. An Extra Dollop of Patience
Just being a parent you need this 24/7, but on vacation you need to bring a little extra. I actually started using this one the week before we left when my 5 year-old started waking every morning asking if we leaving for Florida. I needed it again when we were in the car for only an hour and he started asking, “Is the Florida?”. Yup, we had 23 hours and 2 overnights left to go. It wasn’t pretty. The extra patience also comes in handy when breaking up the multiple arguments about who was touching who in the car, if someone had actually spotted a Hawaii license plate, if Big Boy actually had the best burgers and, of course, when your child has to go the bathroom RIGHT NOW 15 minutes after you have pulled back on the highway after stopping.
Once we arrived at our destination, just walking from place to place required a little extra patience as traveling in our pack was like orchestrating a troop of monkeys. I busted out that extra dollop again when I finally laid on that beach chair yet again a kiddo needed me to walk them back to the bathroom. If your trip involves any kind of theme park experience it goes without saying that patience is key. Take a deep breath, get to know the people in line with you for It’s a Small World (is there even a line for that one?), play tic-tac-toe in the air, tell stories. You and your people are together and you are not doing laundry. That’s so awesome.
2. Realistic Expectations
You look at the websites. You dream of being that family walking down the beach, hand in hand as the sun sets. Or you dream of the moment your child gets chosen for the Jedi fight at Disney. Or you dream of the awesome hike you will have in whatever mountain you are on (not sure about this one as I prefer sitting above walking a long way on purpose but I know some of you do outdoorsy things like this). But in real life your kids might both find the same sand dollar at the same time on that dreamy beach and a fight will surely ensue. Your cutie pie might burst into tears at the sight once they are holding that light saber. And the bugs on your hike might eat you alive.
You see, vacation is also mixed in with a healthy dose of real life because you bring yourselves with you. So adjust those expectations and enjoy the fact that you can distract the sand dollar fight with a race to the hotel pool and that is a nice alternative to giving a time out. Walk away from the Star Wars attraction and embrace the fact that the penny pressing machine might be the highlight of your trip. Spray the troop down with bug spray and keep on hiking. Let your dream vacation float away and enjoy the real experience with the people right there in front of you wherever you are because vacation isn’t just about the place, it’s about the fact that you don’t care where they drop their socks this week and no one is expecting you to make dinner.
It’s important to adopt a “roll with it” attitude on your break. It’s all chill man…whatevs. If things go wrong, flexibility is especially key. So they shut down Space Mountain the week you are finally there. Take a second to be disappointed and then remember there is still fun to be had in the Teacups. Find yourself bundled up in coats on the beach? No worries, you can still find shells and walk barefoot. Your child forgets their iPhone at the Cracker Barrel and you have to drive back over an hour to get it? A great time to show how mom and dad are easily still more mature than the kids.
And being flexible can make your vacation even better than you dreamed. There is a nature center that is super awesome but stopping at it might throw you 3 hours off schedule? Make that stop and make your kids smile. It might just be the best part of your trip. And when your Gone With the Wind fan wife sees that it’s just a quick stop off of the highway to see the Margaret Mitchell home, she will love your forever for pulling over (and she will love you even more when you encourage her to go on the hour long guided tour). Some of the best things are those that we allow to come into our lives by embracing the unexpected.
4. Your Sense of Humor
There are usually a few ways to see a situation, and if you choose the one that makes you laugh you will always come out ahead. Looking behind me in the van and seeing one kid screaming about being touched, another crazily licking himself and another making up crazy songs and singing at the top of his lungs (OK, the one singing was my husband) could either drive me insane or make me laugh. I choose the laughter. The look on my kids faces as they all were gagging at the idea of once again eating “free hotel breakfast waffles” on the last day of the trip, the smell of our minivan when a kiddo left a live shell in it for 3 days and the fact that we all got a wicked sunburn the first day of vacation were all occasions that I chose to chuckle at rather than despair. Life is just too short not to laugh.
No matter what happens you are making memories that will last a lifetime. My sisters and I still have fun recounting the time we all got the stomach flu in the middle of a trip to Cedar Point or the time we got separated from the friends we were travelling with when road tripping to Florida (this was the age before cell phones, but we inexplicably had a CB and that was some seriously cool fun). I am guessing that neither of these things were either advertised on any website or were planned by my parents. With any luck your kids will say to you what I say to my parents, “Thanks for the fun mom and dad!” and those words are always music to our ears.
So, safe travels my friends! Enjoy your people and your trip and your adventures. Getting away from the day to day living with those we love is such a precious gift, and like most precious gifts it will not follow our exact plans or dreams but yet may turn out even better than anything we could have imagined.
BONUS: Check the website below for fun printables that made our van ride more bearable!