This post is part of the 31 Days to Flourish in Motherhood series. Click here for the whole list!
Vacation. Back in the day, it meant packing up the day before jumping on a plane and heading to an exotic all-inclusive paradise. These days… it’s a bit more complicated than that. As we’ve grown into the family vacation season of life, I’m getting a lot of practice with patience, flexibility, and modified expectations. Fresh off the tarmac after a week-long trip involving four flights, 240 years of time travel, and almost 100,000 steps (thanks, FitBit), I’m sharing with you some of the wisdom that helped me (and my family!) to vacation with a flourish.
- Plan for the best; be prepared for anything.
The night before we flew out, Baby G started having his worst asthma episode yet. After a week of preparing for this big family vacation, we were faced with the possibility that we would have to change everything. There was a lot of prayer involved, and we made it there on schedule, but it was a scary night that left us all much more flustered, harried, and exhausted than we had hoped. That night cost us a lot of worry and the first day of our vacation as we had to make some time to recover. It wasn’t fun — but it would have been far less fun to re-book travel and reschedule our vacation.
- Make a plan… or plan to be without a plan.
Sunday was the worst day of our trip. We went to church in the morning, returned to the condo for lunch, put the exhausted boys down for naps (which did NOT pan out), and then… we didn’t know what we were doing. We sat in the living room, fretting over the boys’ struggle to sleep, wasting precious vacation time. Thankfully, Husband made a firm executive decision and got us out the door just in time to make it to the visitors’ center and buy our tickets for the week. We browsed around the bookstore and gift shop for a while and then took a nice walk down the streets of the colonial city in the crisp, fresh air. Our spirits were lifted, and I felt better that we had done something instead of just moping around the condo — but that night, we explored our options, discussed our goals for the week, and made plans for where to go and what programs to see for the next three days, with tentative plans for the latter part of the week.
- Do your research beforehand.
Most of what we enjoy seeing and doing in Virginia is only open until around 5:00 p.m. Because my littles nap until around 4:00, giving them naps would mean that our sightseeing for the day ended when we went back for lunch and naptime, unless we figured out something else to do in the early evening.
- Know your family.
#3 above meant that we would need to make some decisions — and our risky decision last week was to forego naps on three days. WOW. That is so not me!!! But that ended up being the best plan for us. I know that Big E can go without a nap fairly well as long as we keep him busy in the afternoon/evening… and no nap means he falls asleep more easily at night! Baby G gets tired and a bit cranky but is less reliant on a nap than Big E was at this age. It isn’t preferable, but again, on vacation, we felt it was more important to maximize our time than to stay within a rigid schedule.We were careful, though, on those no-nap days. I armed us with plenty of snacks, and we did the adult-centric programs in the morning while everyone was fresh, saving the afternoon for activities that would be really fun for the littles. The whole plan worked more beautifully than I could have hoped! We tried napping them on Monday, but it was frustrating because (again, despite their complete sleep deprivation) they both struggled to nap. We went nap-less on Tuesday and Wednesday. They napped successfully on Thursday, and when they woke up, we visited an amazing park right up the road, wearing the boys before dinner and bedtime.
On Friday, we planned to come back for naps again, but there was still so much to do that we decided, spur-of-the-moment (a big deal for me!), to stay out. It was a good last day.
- It’s the condo life for us…
My favorite way to vacation is all-inclusive, but when that isn’t an option (hello, pricey!!), a condo is the only answer for my family, for several reasons:
a. LAUNDRY. We can pack lightly and wash clothes (and cloth diapers) all week, and we go home with a suitcase full of clean clothes.
b. COOKING. Mine is darn good, and I can fix meals that my whole family will eat instead of trying to accommodate the littles at restaurants.
c. NO GUILT. We ate out a few times, grabbed snacks from the colonial bakery… no worry about the cost since it was so cheap to prepare most of our meals in the condo.
c. FREEDOM. The special deal that got us considering even going on this vacation also allowed us to get an entire condo unit: upstairs and downstairs, four rooms total. The boys each had their own room, which is the single biggest determining factor in how well everyone in our family sleeps. It allows us to live our vacation life in much the same way as we live our lives at home, going to bed and getting up without worrying about waking the sleeping littles.
- Kids vs. adults.
Helping everyone to enjoy the same vacation is a delicate balancing act. We had two main strategies: take activities for the kids to keep them busy during boring adult things (you know, like listening to Patrick Henry speak), or split up. One day, I enjoyed a concert in the Raleigh Tavern while Husband took the boys to play in the stocks. (Yes, the stocks.) Another time, my mom and I took the boys back for naps while Husband and my dad went to a lecture. We still had a good time, enjoying the town with the littles, while the kid-free adults were able to more fully focus without worrying about helping to corral the boys.
- Make it a family event.
A huge determining factor in planning this vacation was the fact that my parents agreed to go with us! The boys ADORE their grandparents, so the novelty of being with them for a week was a treat in itself. Having more adults on deck to handle everything — from all our luggage at the airport to helping with meltdowns to letting Husband and me get away for a date night — reduced our stress immensely. There are other people we would vacation with, but I really do believe grandparents are the best!
- Take home with you (kid version).
Obviously, we packed the boys’ favorite stuffies and blankets. But we also carefully considered their current favorite toys in light of what would pack neatly (and lightly!) onto the plane. Legos and a small train track were a big hit; the boys are both really into building right now. A set of nesting/stacking balls, a few Chick-Fil-A toys they hadn’t seen yet, and a bag of balloons rounded it out nicely. For the plane, we bought a sticker pad and a magnetic tin — and lollipops! They went a long way toward reducing ear pressure and keeping the boys occupied.
- Take home with you (adult version).
By now, it should come as no surprise that I like things a certain way. Some of the things I can’t bear to be without: my best Santoku knife (sheathed, in checked bags!), a silicone rubber spatula, a stack of zip-top baggies, kosher salt, a small container of coconut oil (to be used for cooking, a carrier for essential oils, or dry skin), a thin pair of slippers… I don’t take the kitchen sink, but I really like the comfort of having my favorite items with me when I’m far from home.
- Listen. Say yes when you can.
Beginning on vacation day 1, Big E started asking to ride the bus. Not an exciting bus, mind you, but the shuttle bus that runs around the revolutionary city and into the shopping district. We certainly didn’t need to utilize it; we had a very nice rental car. But from the first time he asked, I knew it was going to be a THING for him — something he was building up in his mind. He still remembers riding the El in Chicago and asks from time to time if we can “do that again.” In Williamsburg, it cost me nothing to say yes. So Big E got his chance — three times, actually, including the Yorktown trolley — he was on cloud nine!
If you don’t need these tips because you are such a roll-with-it mama who is way more cool about plans and having fun than I am… well, I’m kind of jealous of you. But if you’re a bit Type A and flourish more when there’s a plan, then I hope you find something here that helps you the next time your family takes a vacation!