10 Ways to Make Vacation with Kids Actually Feel Like Vacation

Ryan and I still laugh about the first “vacation” we took with one-year-old Trenton. We were shocked at how much different it was, compared to vacationing with just the two of us. I distinctly remember lying silently in bed listening to Trenton finish his bottle in the pack-n-play next to us, praying that he would just drift to sleep without crying and disturbing the other patrons in the hotel.

A few years later, I am no expert, but I do have 10 tips to share from last weekend’s trip to Lake Tahoe.

10 Ways to Make Vacation with Kids Actually Feel like Vacation, at

1. On a road trip, less is more. We drove for six hours (because my husband wanted to go out of the way to look at a dirt bike for our three-year-old!), and the boys didn’t play with a single toy. I brought snacks, they took naps, and we talked about what we were seeing out the window. We’ve found that the more we hand to our boys in the backseat, the more demanding they get, so we simply do less and their expectations follow suit.

2. Unavoidably, the question of “WHY IS THIS TAKING SO LONG?” still comes at some point. I reason with Trenton, asking questions like “Where would we sleep if we stopped right here?” Realizing on his own that stopping in the middle of nowhere doesn’t make a lot of sense is surprisingly effective with my little guy! I also use the sun visor to give my kids a visual of our progress. If Trenton asks when we’ll get there, I flip down the sun visor and use my hand to show him how far along we are. (Halfway or two-thirds or whatever it may be.)

3. Try not to sweat the small stuff. Like the pink pants and wild hat your little boy will be wearing all day, in front of 25 of your husband’s co-workers you are meeting for the first time.

4. When something you planned doesn’t go like you pictured it, make the best of it, or scrap it and ask for your money back!

On our first outdoor adventure, it took everything I had to drag 32-pound Chase, sitting on a sled, up a long, gradual hill. Then the “hill” was so slow that I actually had to drag him down! I eventually ditched the sled, picked up Chase and trudged back to the ticket counter to ask for my $40 back. They were not eager to give it to me, but I was sugary sweet and quietly held my ground while they called their manager at home. It paid off—literally. (Sometimes you catch more flies with honey than vinegar!)

5. Let others help with the kids whenever they offer, even if they don’t do it exactly the way you would.

6. Even though letting your toddlers stay up long past their bedtime goes against everything you have learned as a mother, at least they won’t protest much at bedtime because they are so exhausted!

7. If sleeping arrangements are far from typical, look for the silver lining. I treasure the memory of the nap all four of us took in a queen sized bed, and I relished sleeping next to my three-year-old each night, since it is something I never do at home.

8. Play like a kid! Thinking of yourself as a kid (or even a teenager!) will help you let go of inhibitions and actually HAVE FUN like they do!

vacation with kids at

9. Soak in the sparkle in your children’s eyes when they are experiencing something new.

10. The real key—Lower your expectations, and modify your definition of “vacation.” 

Before I had kids, “vacation” and “relaxation” were synonymous to me. I far preferred a vacation where I could sit on a beach and read for days straight to busily trying to take in the sights of a new place. With toddlers to care for, vacation is no longer relaxing, in that sense. In fact, being off our regular routines and not having the fall-backs I usually rely on (like letting them play in their baby-gated bedroom or watch PBS), vacation can be less relaxing than staying home!

Now I try to think VACATION = DIVERSION. Fewer meals to cook, more interaction with my husband or extended family. Fewer dishes to wash, more adventures in this beautiful earth God created for me. And even if vacation with kids wears me out in some ways, I somehow always come home a refreshed and invigorated wife and mom.

  • Stephanie
    March 6, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    Great post! We're taking my stepsons (11 and 13) on a cruise next week, and I'm slowly getting used to the idea that I may not get to spend every minute of the day sitting on a lounge chair reading a book.

  • Pieced Pastimes
    March 6, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    Your tips are wonderful. It is so true that our 'vacation expectations' change with children. They may not be the same as they once were, bur are just a new adventure for all.

  • Erica {let why lead}
    March 6, 2012 at 7:05 pm

    So true, Suzanne! Thanks for stopping by!

  • Erica {let why lead}
    March 6, 2012 at 7:06 pm

    Yes, that is exactly what I would choose too, if it were up to me. 🙂 I'm sure you'll do great, though, changing your expectations. Enjoy the cruise! (The food is the best part, anyway, right? 🙂

  • Kristi
    March 6, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    Such a great post!! I distinctly remember our first weekend "getaway" to Chicago with our ten month old….yikes. I love that you said, "vacation=diversion". So true. Thanks for all the great tips!!

  • Cheri
    March 7, 2012 at 12:35 am

    You are so insightful! Thanks for sharing and putting into words thoughts I might have had, too!

  • Calypso In The Country
    March 7, 2012 at 3:26 am

    You have some great tips! Vacations (and life) are so much different with kids so I think we all need to change our expectations!

  • Ashley
    March 7, 2012 at 4:02 am

    Love it! It's true- expectations are everything! It is way different when you are doing all the work! I have also learned not to overplan- I want to make sure we get our money's worth and do and see everything, but that makes for a miserable family! We havd some good ones coming up, though, and I can't wait!!!!!

  • Angie @ Many Little Blessings
    March 7, 2012 at 4:19 am

    We always end up bringing so much more than we really need, especially for keeping the kids occupied. It's gotten a little better since they're older, but it's still bad. I don't know why that is. You'd think we would learn, but we don't, apparently.

  • Jessica
    March 7, 2012 at 4:50 am

    Great tips! Vacations with kids are so much different, but in a completely fantastic way.:)

  • Erica {let why lead}
    March 7, 2012 at 4:58 am

    Thanks, Angie! We all know the feeling! Sometimes the little lessons take a while to sink in. 🙂

  • Erica {let why lead}
    March 7, 2012 at 4:59 am

    Haha – Someone sounds excited!!! 🙂

  • Sherri
    March 7, 2012 at 7:05 am

    Great tips! We found that the toys were hardly ever played with. Books were good and coloring also. But playing games with them or singing songs, were way better.

  • Colin, Jamie and Presley Kent
    March 14, 2012 at 6:27 am

    I love this post! You really are so insightful! I love C's pink pants!

  • Erica {let why lead}
    March 14, 2012 at 6:32 am

    Thanks, dear! The poor kid gets stuck with pink anytime pick & blue come in a pack – like sippy cups or pacifiers. Oh well, he's little enough not to care!

  • Alison
    April 20, 2012 at 4:19 am

    Great ideas! It is hard for me to let go of the thought of a vacation being relaxing with kids, but we all have to face reality sometime, right? 🙂

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