OK people! The clock is ticking. School is almost out, and it’s that time of year when you pack up your little people and hit the road for Family Vacation. You’re either counting the days or dreading it (or more likely a little of both). Personally I LOVE having my kids to myself for a bit over the summer, as I have to share them with school, friends, and endless activities for the rest of the year. I am excited to be their buddy, their teacher and their exploration co-captain for a little bit before they get back on the growing up train.
Honestly though let’s all agree – there are inevitable complications when everyone is out of their element, jet-lagged, trying to settle in to unfamiliar beds, sampling “interesting” foods, stretching their comfort zones, and adjusting to unaccustomed oodles of “togetherness.”
People always marvel when we tell them how much we travel with our kids, but I need you to know that even on the BEST TRIP EVER usually at least one person in our family loses it at least once a day. There are glares and huffs and tears and meltdowns and irrational proclamations and cringy behavior, and not just from the kids. It’s part of the deal, along with grand adventures, fabulous photo ops, beautiful moments of revelation, and once-in-a-lifetime memories. Like a lot of our parenting low moments we tend to edit them out of our trip stories and even our recollections. But they happen regularly. I think if you know this going in to your voyage, you’re more likely to take those bumps in stride. I also believe the more you travel with your kids, the more you amortize those en-route hiccups and realize the greater enjoyment of venturing out across the world together overall.
I also know from experience that preparation is essential. And also food. A lot of food. I cannot emphasize this enough. Snack early – snack often. You too grumpy grownups!!!
Here are some tips for family travel that we have amassed over the years:
FAMILY TRAVEL JOURNAL
Creating a travel journal is super fun for journeys large or small. You can collaborate on one as a family or have each kid dream up their own. This is a free-form project so give them the tools and a nudge and let them get creative! Here are some ideas to get started:
- Get a blank notebook (unruled if you can) at Moleskine, Muji, or check your local office supply store for mini sized three-ring binders with blank paper inserts.
- Stock a zippered pencil bag with glue stick, glue dots, multi-colored pens, watercolors, kids scissors, stickers, mini post-its.
- Bring a re-sealable plastic bag or manila envelope.
- Throughout the trip, have your kids collect plane tickets, cards from restaurants, hotel keys, postcards, museum ticket stubs, paper menus, pretty leaves, tooth picks, tiny shells or whatever little 2D knick knacks they find along the way. Glue them into the journal as you go!
- Leave space to draw, make notes, and record funny or interesting things that happened.
- Bring your journal to a museum and sketch your favorite artwork.
- Buy postcards and glue on one side, sketch your own version onto the other.
- Create funny commentary with thought bubble stickers
- Use a Polaroid Snap Instant Digital Camera to instantly print mini-pics you can stick right in your journal.
- Have fun decorating the cover with stickers, photos or pictures of the trip.
My daughter is a huge fan of the Travel Watercolor Kit, and it has become a trip essential for her. Use the postcards or stationary from your hotel room to paint watercolors in down time before bed. Bring along a pack of blank watercolor postcards and your kids can create their own postcards to send home.
Put a kid-friendly digital camera on a lanyard and let your kids go snap crazy. We adults seem to be always caught up with our check list of sights and monuments and tall buildings when we are traveling. Kids notice the most interesting, poignant little things along their paths. It is amazing to literally see the world through their eyes in a way they may never be able to tell us with their words.
Celebrate their unique impressions in a dedicated photo flip book at Shutterfly – 20 pages for about $20.
If you can upload them while you are traveling, kids can also use their photos to make instant postcards with customized messages that can be ordered online and sent directly from the road!!
The camera doesn’t have to break the bank!! Here are a couple of good reviews of cameras for kids. I recommend finding the smallest most portable one you can that takes semi-decent pictures. The bigger ones are durable but too heavy/clumsy for kids to really keep track of all the time (read: Mom can you carry this?):
I usually have an arsenal of small surprises that I pack in my kids’ carry-on bag and/or dole out throughout the trip. Every journey has inevitable doldrums, layovers, long waits at a restaurant or the train station. A little surprise always breaks the tension when kids get antsy, and my kids now really look forward to these little pick me ups!!
- MadLibs are always a crowd pleaser…
- Coloring books – you can find “Zen” coloring books just about anywhere now and they come in small travel sizes great for the car, restaurant or airplane. If you’re headed to a major city, chances are there’s one themed for your destination like Paris, London or New York.
- Unveil a new book to read. Do a little research before you leave and find a book themed for your destination. There are usually picture books for younger kids, maybe a Magic Treehouse title for your young grade schooler, or local legends/mythology/history for older readers. If you are up for it – get something you can read together that will inspire conversation about your experiences.
- Magnetic backgammon/checkers
- Story cubes – I am a big fan of these little cubes – super portable, creative, engaging and endlessly entertaining for all ages. Roll the dice and use the pictures to craft creative stories on the fly.
- I also love Eeboo’s “Tell Me a Story” cards.
- Rubik’s Cube – it’s still around for a reason…
- Mini dominoes – dominoes are super fun and you can create an easy game for youngsters or get a good competition going with the older set.
- Brush up on your juvenile humor with joke books like National Geographic Kids Just Joking: 300 Hilarious Jokes, Tricky Tongue Twisters, and Ridiculous Riddles or Laugh-Out-Loud Jokes for Kids.
- NEVER forget a deck of cards! From Memory to Solitaire to Go Fish to Hearts, there is nothing easier to bring or enjoy.
OK parents – you’re OFF!!
Happy trails, keep it in perspective, stretch yourselves, be present, breathe, enjoy the unforgettable moments, bear with it through the rough spots, don’t forget to eat, and I hope this summer holds wonderful experiences near and far for your family.