There can be nothing better than a vacation with your kids! By the same token, without smart planning, there maybe nothing worse! I’ve had everything under the sun go wrong in my 20 plus years of traveling with children and am happy to share the wisdom that came from those experiences. Consider my “tried and true” tips for making sure your next family vacation is fantastic.
Do your homework. One year I was beyond busy, and so spring break sneaked up on me. I found myself with three kids out of school and zero plans. I found a cruise to Mexico online that was so inexpensive that I booked it without doing my homework. We wound up in two tiny rooms that were nowhere near each other, which we tried to avoid being in as much as possible. Unfortunately, the activities and land excursions weren’t really well suited for children (think hairy chest contests and time spent among drunken spring breakers on a public beach where scantily clad coeds took shots and ran obstacle courses). If only I’d done my due diligence, I would have known that particular cruise from that particular cruise line wasn’t going to be a good fit for our family. Lesson learned: If something seems too good to be true, it probably is, and sometimes saving money can cost you. Before you book, ask advice from friends and family, and check travel sites like TripAdvisor.com and FamilyVacationPlan.com.
Perfect your packing skills. Packing last minute may be fine when traveling solo. It doesn’t work out well when you’re packing for your entire family. I know first hand that while some items are easy to replace (toothbrushes), others are not (asthma inhalers). Best thing to do is to make a list and check it not twice, but five or six times, several days ahead of the trip. That way, when you’re packing, you’ll be far less likely to leave something important behind . . . like shoes or underwear (been there, done that). Also good to remember: Checked baggage must weigh no more than 50 lbs. (you can pick up an inexpensive suitcase scale at any store that sells luggage—I even found one at TJMaxx) and don’t forget the TSA’s 3-1-1 rule for carry-ons: “Liquids, gels, aerosols, creams and pastes must be 3.4 ounces (100 ml) or less per container; must be in 1 quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-top bag; 1 bag per passenger placed in screening bin. The bag limits the total liquid volume each traveler can bring.” (Information care of www.tsa.gov.)
Bring a bag of tricks. You know what’s worse than enduring a long layover or unexpected delay? Enduring a long layover or unexpected delay with bored and exhausted kids. If you pack a little “bag of tricks” you will be ready for anything. Items to include: healthy snacks (do NOT give kids a sugar high unless you’re prepared to handle the crash), playing cards, coloring books and crayons, a couple of kid-friendly DVDs (or downloaded movies ready to watch), a change of clothes, and a travel sized version of a favorite board game. If you’ve got teens, swap out the coloring books for magazines and make sure you have chargers for their assorted electronics, headphones, and a splitter (great if two want to watch a movie or listen to music together).
Be present. As much as possible, leave work behind when you’re on vacation. I know how difficult this can be. I am guilty of missing out on hours with my family during vacations in order to meet deadlines for articles or videos that ended up not even being published or posted. Now unless something is both absolutely urgent and guaranteed to be printed or posted, I opt out while on vacation. As much as your work will allow, turn off your cell phone and tune in to your family instead. Ask your older kids to do the same. If you can’t go completely off-grid, try to keep the answering of emails and texts to a minimum. You can set up an auto response email to let people know you are on vacation and that you’ll be getting back to them when you return to the office. Fact: At life’s end, no one wishes they’d worked more, but many regret not having spent more quality time with their loved ones.
Lifestyle expert, author and on-air personality Susan Campbell Cross, is a wife and mom living with her family in Hidden Hills. Her latest book is the FabYOUList: List It, Live It, Love Your Life. She has also written for SHAPE, OK! and Star magazines, as well as websites like The Daily Muse, Huff Post Women, Forbes Woman and Yahoo Shine. For more, visit www.susancampbellcross.com.
Reprinted with permission from Hidden Hills Magazine www.hiddenhillsmagazine.com.