How to Vacation with Young Kids and Not Lose Your Mind

In case you didn't know this already, vacationing with kids is an entirely different experience than without kids.  At best it's just really different.  At worst, it's REALLY hard to consider it a vacation.  So much so that many families abstain altogether.  You see, location doesn't change how much you have to do for a child.  So, changing diapers and feeding has to happen whether you are at home or in a hotel of luxury on the other side of the world.  Of course, finances, locations, and opportunities will differ, but I have a few ideas that could help you make a vacation with kids happen and not lose your mind in the process!

Look for opportunities!   Making vacations affordable is sometimes one of the biggest hurdles.  There are several different types of programs that can result in deep discounts or doable destinations, if you look ahead.  Do you use a credit card that accumulates points or miles?  Do you know your favorite destination special offer or sale time of year?  Does you or your spouse's employer offer any kind of special deal?  Even just asking around your family and friends to see if they have a time share condo or cabin somewhere that they might be willing to rent to you.  Mr. Butler is a civilian employee for the government which gives him access to a great travel office where they offer week-long condo stays around the country sometimes as cheap as $350.  We have found this to be a great option for our family because the kids get their own room, we usually have a washer and dryer on site, and a full kitchen makes eating in a breeze!

Separate Bedrooms - While typical hotels might feel like the cheaper option, we don't prefer it..  Being confined to one room with 3 kids under 8 wears on us after a while - especially when there is no yard to send them too for a while.  We have found the cheap condos to be a great option for our family because the kids get their own room and at least a back patio if not a yard area to play in.

Manage expectations - Don't let your self get sucked into an unrealistic vision of traveling with kids.  They need frequent snacks, bathroom breaks, plenty of rest and whatever else is their normal in every time zone.  If you start skipping naps or forgetting provisions, you may suffer for it.  Our favorite style of trip is where we can get to a trail within 30-40 minutes and go on a hike before or after lunch and then allowing everyone some down time before evening plans.  Whatever the natural rhythms of your family home are, try to recreate a version on your trip and keep wild expectations to a minimum  This helps to prevent meltdowns and keeps the kids on track too! ;)

Keep It Simple - It is so very tempting to try to make every trip on the level of Disney World, but it isn't necessary and in a lot of cases far more trouble than its worth.  With small children, anything that isn't home is instantly more exciting!  The miniature golf place down the road from where you are staying might be just like one at home, but since you are on a trip, it's magical!  The kids really enjoy visiting the local library where you can usually get a temporary card.  They are always excited for new books.  We try to take two trips a year, but at least one is usually very low-key with hiking being the main attraction.  National Parks are a great resource for trips like this.  Before you plan a theme park trip, just make sure it is practical for the age of your youngest child.  We expect to do a Disney World trip once the baby is 5 or 6 at least.  Just the walking alone is exhausting to adults and it can be a double burden with toddlers or those still needing a lot of care.   

Know Yourself - We've talked about what the kids need a lot, but also know what you need for something to feel like a vacation.  Being a sensitive introvert, I know I need pockets of downtime, preferably by myself.  On our latest trip to Arkansas, our condo had a small balcony with a table in chairs.  It turned out to be the perfect hideaway, especially if Mr. Butler took the kids somewhere for a while.  Whatever stresses you or wears on you, keep that in mind and don't include much of that.  Mr. Butler doesn't like excess or unnecessary clothes and luggage so we try to bring the minimum and depend on the washer and dryer that is usually on site.  Eating out a lot is hard on the budget and our health, which is a stress to both of us.  Another reason we choose the condos on our trips is the full kitchen.  With about 30 minutes of meal planning and making a grocery list, we are able to eat in for most of the trip, cutting down on expenses and sickness!

Clearly Defined Purpose - Don't forget why you took this trip in the first place.  For some, it will be about the location so seeing specific sights are important to get in.  Other trips are just about family time or feeling relaxed and rejuvenated.  Make sure how the pace and mood of your days reflects the purpose of your trip.

Above all else, find a way to take those trips together.  Like camping, it can seem like a huge waste of time the first time simply because its so much more work than you are used to.  But, trust me, it gets easier every time.  We have taken at least 4 trips since the Race Car (which means 3 kids in tow) was born and every time it got significantly easier.  It takes work, but the relationships you are building and the experiences you are having with your family are exceedingly worth it!



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