There’s a Tweet going around that says parents don’t go on vacation. They just take care of their kids in a different city. If you’ve been on “vacation” with little kids, you know it’s true!

But as they say, necessity is the mother of invention, and over the years, I’ve come up with a few strategies that help it feel a little more like a vacation for us parents, too. I’m thankful for any and every chance we have to get away as a family, and I want to enjoy it as much as possible. We typically go to the beach, but I hope these are helpful no matter where you’re headed!

Photo Credit: Whitney Lavoie

Before You Go

Get organized when you pack. When packing for multiple kids, I like to separate items by type in our luggage. One bag has everyone’s undergarments and pajamas. One bag has all the bathing suits, towels, goggles, etc. One bag has all the shoes. This eliminates confusion when you arrive and need a particular type of item. You already know which bag it will be in, no matter which family member it’s for. This is harder to do for a trip by air, but I always do it if we’re traveling by car.

Choose safer swim colors. Have you seen the viral Facebook post about which colors of swimsuits are most visible underwater? At a busy pool, I want to be able to see my kids at all times, and others should be able to see them, too! Check out this article for more information, and choose neon swimwear to pack when you can. On our recent trip, it was so much easier to spot my child in neon yellow than it was to see the one in pastel purple.

Pack your bag, kiddo. Kids always want to bring along a variety of (let’s be real – unnecessary) things. Since school backpacks are not otherwise in use during the summer, I tell each child to grab their bag. They can decide what to pack in it, but they also have to carry it! This helps them pick and choose what they really want to bring along. “Comfort items” like a stuffed animal or blanket go in here, too. In the past, when we’ve brought along tiny toys like a collection of cars or figurines, I take a quick photo of the collection before leaving home. That way we can check the photo before we leave and make sure we still have everything. Nothing is worse than a favorite little toy left behind in a hotel room…  

Gallon zip-top bags are your best travel companion. Buy a box of these ahead of time, and you’ll be surprised at all the uses. If you’re going to the pool or beach, they make an excellent and safe place to keep phones, wallets, and room keys. (You can even use your phone through the plastic!) It’s much easier to pull the bag of essentials out than it is to fish around for a loose phone or key. You can also use them to pack each child’s own toiletries, snacks for the pool/day bag, or wet bathing suits, and (heaven forbid) they can also be used as air/car-sick bags.

Photo Credit: Whitney Lavoie

Involve the kids in the planning, but be realistic. Before the trip, sit down with your kids and find some places they would like to visit, things they would like to eat, and fun stuff they want to do. It helps with not only expectations but also excitement! I feel like a lot of times, we grownups tend to plan the big things when kids really just want to do and enjoy the little things. I’ve learned to let it go when 95% of our vacation is spent in the pool instead of exploring. Because that’s what they want to do, and that’s what they will remember! If your kids would rather explore, that’s great, too! Just make sure everybody gets a chance to voice their opinion and to do what they really want to do.

The Surprise Bag. It’s a universal rule that children in the car or on an airplane must ask “are we there yet?” at least twice per hour. One thing I like to do to make the transit time to the destination more bearable is to make a Surprise Bag. I go to the dollar store ahead of time, buy a gift bag, and fill it with small toys and activities to pass out one by one as the trip progresses. It’s an inexpensive way to keep everyone happy and entertained, and then they have some new things to play with during the vacation, too. This is much more affordable than buying lots of souvenirs; more on that later.

While You’re There

Snacks, snacks, snacks. Yes, this is a no-brainer if you have kids. Parents know a well-timed snack can make or break a situation. We buy lots of individually wrapped, non-messy snacks ahead of time and create an official Snack Bag. (This is a great time to choose things the kids don’t normally get at home! Makes it more exciting for them.) We keep it accessible in the car and then keep a stash in the day bag when out and about on the trip. Stay ahead of meltdowns by making sure to hand out snacks regularly – even if the fun has to stop for just a few minutes. Options with protein, like peanut butter crackers or string cheese, usually save us. 

Photo Credit: Whitney Lavoie

Tell them what to expect. Vacation is a fun and exciting time, but it can also be stressful when everybody is thrown off their routine or schedule. It works well for us to stick more or less to our normal eating and resting times from home and give the kids a rundown of what to expect each day. They never want to leave the pool or beach, but it helps them to know in advance what time we will be doing so. We like to give them a heads-up about 30 minutes before we plan to leave a fun activity, then do a couple more check-ins so they can feel like they had time to finish what they wanted to do. It also helps immensely for them to know something else fun or special is coming up next. It’s a lot easier to leave the pool for naptime if you know it’s so that you can go to the playground before dinner! 

Don’t be afraid to take them out to eat. Restaurants in tourist areas are notoriously family friendly! Most of the servers know how to handle kids, and even the nicest restaurants usually have kid options. Vacation is a great time to practice their restaurant skills and enjoy a more grown-up meal than you might get to have at home! (And if things go south, you most likely won’t see any of those people again anyway…)

Do a souvenir preview. Rather than “candy shop,” the phrase should be “like a kid in an overpriced souvenir shop.” If your kids are like mine, they always find lots of things they just have to have! One thing we do to help with this is to “preview” the souvenirs early in the day or in the trip, let them know a budget, have them decide what item they want the most, then let them think about it for a bit. We return later to buy. Their focus shifts to that one great item they want to go back for! This works especially well at places like Disney World. Preview when you arrive; purchase when you leave.

Before You Head Home

Photo Credit: Whitney Lavoie

Just make the memories! Try to relax and let go of what doesn’t really matter on your trip. This is obviously easier said than done, but just try to remember that the goal is to enjoy each other and the experience of being together. You don’t have to spend a lot of money or go somewhere “impressive” to have a memorable family vacation together. Your kids will remember your time spent with them as being special no matter where you are or what you’re doing!

Do you have any vacation tips or tricks that work for your family? Share them with us!

Whitney Lavoie

Whitney Lavoie

Whitney Turner Lavoie is a Statesboro native and freelance writer/editor. She is an active volunteer with her children’s school PTO and Girl Scouts of America. Whitney previously worked in health communications...