Author Topic: How do you vacation with young kids?  (Read 3580 times)

startingout

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How do you vacation with young kids?
« on: January 02, 2024, 06:39:21 PM »
Where do you go? What kind of accommodations do you stay in? What do you eat? How do you get there?

I just got back from a long road trip with 2 young kids under 5 and it was somewhat stressful. The destination was a 10-12 hour drive each way, not accounting for stops (of which there were many). We stayed at a cheap 2-star motel, and while it was mostly okay, some corners and edges were dirty and I had to micromanage my kids so they weren't touching things like slightly chipping paint.

We ate a lot of fast food, mostly to save time. But we had a few enjoyable meals thrown in.

I couldn't help but think about how much more enjoyable the trip would have been if we had all flown there and stayed at 3 or 4 star hotels. Hotels that were clean with comfortable bedding and nice shampoo.

I've also tried Airbnb/VRBO in the past, and we had to bring our own bedding, blankets, towels, and cleaning supplies. And, of course, we had to clean everything and take out the trash before we left. Not exactly what you want to do on vacation, and it wouldn't have been possible had we flown to the destination.

What are your tips? Should I save up for the occasional nice vacation while embracing staycations more?
« Last Edit: January 02, 2024, 06:48:15 PM by startingout »

EverythingisNew

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Re: How do you vacation with young kids?
« Reply #1 on: January 02, 2024, 11:16:59 PM »
Hi. I have to start with an admission that I’ve loosened up about spending after years of being ultra-frugal. We have 3 kids and have gone on all sorts of trips!

My tips:
- Leave really early to get a day without paying for a hotel. 4am road-trips and 5am flights… it’s nice to start the trip with the kids quietly sleeping.
- we book nice hotels 3-star and up, but the cheapest room (no suites). This is a splurge for me. If we drive I bring a sleeping mat for our 5yr old so we don’t have to pay for a roll-away. I put their blanket down on the floor first so our sleeping mat never touches the floor. I usually book the hotels saying that we have only 4 people so I can see more availability.
- we only do expensive things for 1 day. Like Disney was 1 day, but a long day! We go to Great Wolf Lodge or another water park hotel once a year, but only 1 night - you can start using the water park at 10am.
- we buy the basic flights with no extra. They are legally required to seat children ages 12 and under with a parent if you purchase the tickets in advance. We never choose our seats and they put the kids with us (frequently we are in 2 groups, not all together but I don’t mind not sitting next to my husband). We also skimp on the bags. You can take a personal item (school size backpack) for free. If we need more luggage we share one checked bag. Car seats and strollers fly free. We frequently fly for $50 per person! I like Frontier, Spirit, Allegiant.
- when I book flights, I search on kayak, but book directly with the carrier because they frequently add $20 to frontier and spirit flights if you click kayaks links. I also check all the airports within 1 hr drive.

We splurge on hotels, but overall, just being strategic with decisions saves a lot of money while still letting you have a nice vacation! Visiting people and hosting friends at your house is also a cheap vacation.

Some low cost trips:
1 night at the water park resort (kid favorite)
Camping weekend
Visiting grandparents!
Visiting friends

Enjoy your vacation!! Splurge a bit, because one thing I’ve realized is that I might not want to travel when I’m old. Also vacations with kids are precious memories!
« Last Edit: January 03, 2024, 12:22:10 AM by EverythingisNew »

Jakestersquat

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Re: How do you vacation with young kids?
« Reply #2 on: January 03, 2024, 03:29:18 PM »
If these are vacations to see family that is far away a lot of the tips above are great if you are just wanting to vacation to have an adventure do stuff that is local. I just finished a book called “adventuring together with kids” by Greta eskridge. It was a good read and opened my eyes to a number of great small time local adventures. For context DW and I are doing things with 5 kids age 8-4 months.

midweststache

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Re: How do you vacation with young kids?
« Reply #3 on: January 03, 2024, 04:18:47 PM »
We don't.

Outside of visiting family, we don't really travel with our kiddos. The big caveat here? YET.

We have a 7- and 4-year-old and tried to do a long weekend in a nearby big city this summer. It was pretty low-stakes: a short, sub-3-hour drive; hotel rooms paid for with points; 1 of our 3 "activities" was free due to reciprocal visiting privileges of our local museum membership. However, the then 3-year-old was still not quite big enough to have a full day without a nap, and the kids weren't old enough to be in their own room, which meant four of us were shoved in one (3 star) hotel room working around a cranky little kid. Where we were, all the food options (save an upscale food hall attached to our downtown hotel, which was a LIFESAVER) were geared toward adults and eating with children was either an exercise in frustration or constant apologetics. We had a good time at the activities and with each other, and I think good memories were made, but it wasn't exactly a "vacation" for DH or I.

As such, we've made the decision to not do any family vacations this summer and give the kids one more year to grow up before venturing out again. We'll continue to do long weekends at drive-able distances until the kids (and us!) can handle bigger trips as a family.

sonofsven

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Re: How do you vacation with young kids?
« Reply #4 on: January 03, 2024, 04:53:01 PM »
We did car camping trips, sometimes we would stay at fairly remote campsites but tried to stay away from cliffs or fast moving rivers; danger, essentially. Pretty lakes, pretty desert, not too far from a town. On the way back we would stay at a nice private campground with a pool (sometimes), laundry, swings and stuff, lots of well mowed grass for playing, etc. Boring for the adults, but fun for kids. And it's nice to do some laundry! We were in our ex rental REI tent while everyone else was in their trailers and motorhomes, so we were a curiosity. It was funny how many older folks with really nice set-ups would tell us how they traveled like us when they were a young family: kids, dogs, coolers, tent, stuffed in a station wagon (81' Mercedes td in our case). We got a similar reaction before kids when we traveled by motorcycle, folks would tell us how they did it, too, when they were younger. When you're on a bike you're more "out in the world", not hiding in a car, so people are more comfortable striking up a conversation.

Other than that we would go to Maui every few years. When DD was very young we traveled with the diaper bag, a playpen, car seat, and old beat up three wheeled off road stroller good for the beach. The next times she did boogie boarding and snorkeling in the calm water and spent a lot of time at the pool. The latest time she was old enough to take the car and go off exploring with her step sister.

joe189man

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Re: How do you vacation with young kids?
« Reply #5 on: January 03, 2024, 05:48:32 PM »
We like hotels with a water park so the kids have some where to play
we bring some food for the kids but fast food is a thing
we try to break up longer trips into two days with a fun water park hotel where available
we also look for parks/play structures to stop at if they get crazy
we have flown with kids - its not bad but the cost is higher as you need flights and a car and hotels
ipads are a good pacifier on longer trips

Freedomin5

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Re: How do you vacation with young kids?
« Reply #6 on: January 03, 2024, 07:14:45 PM »
We’ve been traveling with DD since she was 2 months old. It was easy when she was a baby because we just wore her in a carrier and she just ate, slept, and pooped when she wanted while we did our adult things. All we needed was a diaper bag, diapers, and her formula. At the hotel, we pushed a bed against the wall, cleared it of anything that could suffocate her, and brought her baby blanket to cover her. One of us would sleep on the side that was not against the wall to prevent her from rolling off the bed.

As a toddler, we did both road trips and plane trips. On the plane, we would walk up and down the aisle with her, and give her snacks. We also packed some of her toys. Under age 2, she could fly free if she sat on our lap. We would try to fly during her nap time because she would often fall asleep for an hour or so on the flight.

On road trips, it was harder, especially once she was almost but not quite toilet trained. We made a lot of stops by the side of the road so she could pee. She had toys and snacks, and an adult would often sit beside her playing with her.

Once she was old enough (after age 1), we packed her sleep tent and would make up her bed on the hotel room floor using the hotel’s sheets and blankets to make a “mattress”. It made it easier for her to fall asleep since it was familiar to her as she slept in her sleep tent at home too. Also, the tent fits in a suitcase so it was easy to take along on trips.

We tend to stay at nicer hotels (3 star or above) or with family or friends.

For food, we packed lots of snacks or we made a stop at the local supermarket where we would buy oatmeal, fruit, granola bars, and stuff to make simple sandwiches. We don’t eat fast-food as we don’t want DD to acquire a taste for it, and eating at restaurants with a toddler is kind of a pain in the butt. If there was a cool bakery near the hotel (like we found in Korea), we would buy breakfast and eat at the hotel.

And we tend to choose destinations where there is stuff for DD to do, so places with parks, playgrounds, beaches, and other kid-friendly locations. We like waterfront cottages with sandy beaches, hiking trails, or large cities with indoor/outdoor playgrounds. Hotels with kids clubs and swimming pools are also good.

LiveLean

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Re: How do you vacation with young kids?
« Reply #7 on: January 04, 2024, 01:07:05 PM »
Get them used to long car trips early. When our kids were 7 and 5, we started taking epic, three-week, 5,000-mile trips up and down the East Coast staying with friends, family, and hotels. This was pre-smart phones, though still the era of built-in DVD players in mini-vans. One night, everything near Gettysburg, PA was booked and we rearranged the van so we all could sleep in it. They thought it was an awesome adventure.

They're 21 and 18 now and we just took a week-long holiday trip to Arizona/Utah, flying to Phoenix and driving 1,400 miles, including 650 in one day. They didn't flinch since they grew up in the car. We marveled that it was the first time the four of us rented a car together.

Our kids have friends and cousins who have never been in a car for longer than 2-3 hours because they fly everywhere. Not surprisingly, they have to be entertained every moment of vacations at resorts, luxury hotels, cruises, etc.

When you make your trips about driving, seeing stuff, pivoting to add stuff to the itinerary, and spending time together instead of jetting off, checking boxes, and posting nonsense to impress people on social media, it makes all the difference.

 

getsorted

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Re: How do you vacation with young kids?
« Reply #8 on: January 04, 2024, 01:26:19 PM »
I only have one kid, but we have done long road trips and international travel together (just the two of us).

My main advice: Six is so, so much different than three. There is absolutely no harm in waiting a couple of years until long travel is easier. Destinations close to home can be amazing, and surely everything is more amazing when you don't have to endure several hours of screaming and crying to get there.

Flying: Even if you are buying a ticket, no carryons for any kids under 5. A kid under 5 could become YOUR carry-on at any time, if they are tired enough or cranky enough.

On long road trips: Plan to stop and play in a park for 20 minutes every 2-3 hours. If you can't get where you want to go doing this, consider saving that destination for a more agreeable age. At 6, my son could do 8 hours in the car, no problem. At 3, he could do two hours in the car before he went into an absolute meltdown, and he was not a child who otherwise had meltdowns. You can't punish or train a toddler out of crying from not being able to meet their natural need for movement, and trying will only make you both miserable.

When you're in that park, run that kid as hard as you can, hahaha.

Train travel is the ultimate for kids. I was lucky enough to be in a train-centric country from ages 3-6 and it was a fucking paradise.

When kids are very small, embracing the slow is just part of it.

StarBright

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Re: How do you vacation with young kids?
« Reply #9 on: January 04, 2024, 02:01:08 PM »
Shorter trips with nicer and kid friendly accommodations is something that we found helpful at that age.

We used to take the longest and cheapest trips we could manage and I always found it stressful bringing everything along to save money and then having to be perfectly silent while we tried to get our kids down to nap or bed. I remember laying on the bathroom floor with a flashlight and a book at 8pm when my kids were toddlers trying to entertain myself while they slept.

A real gamechanger for us was doing a trip that was closer to home and staying in a nicer hotel for just a few nights. We look for hotels that had family suites and kids ate free at the restaurants. Our favorite discovery even had on-site activities and 2 hours of included childcare each day, allowing my husband and I to have a date! We only did 3 or 4 day trips when we did that because of cost, but I actually felt like I got relaxation out of it.

Mine are older now and are pretty good travelers so we are back to trying cheaper, more adventurous trips again because they can handle it now. We did multiple weeks, multiple stops in Europe this summer, mostly taking the train and one backpack each and my 10 year old handled it like an absolute champ!  FWIW - we still made sure to sprinkle in kid friendly activities almost every day because even mature kids need a break from museums and history most of the time.
« Last Edit: January 05, 2024, 12:05:11 PM by StarBright »

strongmag

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Re: How do you vacation with young kids?
« Reply #10 on: January 05, 2024, 07:47:38 AM »
Some good tips here. I have a family member in the Midwest that told me all their "vacations" with kids that age were long weekends in cities within a 6 hour drive of their house that had a good children's museum, and they always stayed at a hotel with a pool. Seems like a reasonable baseline to me.

It's always a question with travel, but even more so with young children, of "why are you travelling?" If you're seeing farther flung family and friends, that can be a good reason to put up with the many hassles and $$ of bigger trips with young kids. If you just want a break from the norm and to see some new stuff, then staycations combined with one-two night stays near close attractions works well, as some have already commented. These are good discussions to have with your partner to make sure you're on the same page with what you want from your trips.

I have done farther afield travel with my own two young children, but always in service of seeing family and friends. I have stayed in AirBnb/VRBO places that have required you to bring your own linens and clean it yourself, but also plenty that have not, so don't artificially limit yourself on that point. I almost always pick a place with a kitchen or kitchenette so we don't have to eat out as often which saves on total trip cost and sanity with young kids. We have also done extended family vacations, if you're lucky enough to have extended family you want to spend time with and they want to spend time with your kids, and a house that accommodates all lets you hang out together after the kids are asleep.

getsorted

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Re: How do you vacation with young kids?
« Reply #11 on: January 05, 2024, 08:08:20 AM »
a hotel with a pool

Honestly, this is one of the best tips. Being in a car for hours can be sensory deprivation for young children, and it makes them crazy. An hour in the pool before bed can 1. tire them out and 2. provide vestibular sensory input that can help them re-regulate. It's magic.

Sensory needs are super important for younger kids and they play a big role in emotional regulation. I used to go to a zoo that had a splash pad with my toddler. It was incredible how 30 minutes on the splash pad turned a cranky child who wanted to go home immediately and hated the zoo and everyone in it into a cheerful, agreeable child who wanted to see the cheetahs and the elephants and isn't the zoo just wonderful?

I used to pack an exercise band while travelling just for my son to use in the car. I would loop it around the bottom of the seat in front of him and he would pull on it, like doing seated rows. Some kids just need a lot of gross motor stimulation to keep an even keel.

Now, we have a handheld video game console and it does keep him quiet on trips; however, there is often a rebound effect where once we arrive, he's bouncing off the walls. Again, a pool is a handy outlet for all that energy.

SEAK

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Re: How do you vacation with young kids?
« Reply #12 on: January 05, 2024, 10:02:23 AM »
Since our kids, now 14 and 16YO, have been young I've preferred to go on adventure type vacations. These trips are always a ton of work but we've made some great memories with the kids and hopefully they seek out their own adventures someday. We've also had plenty of "normal" vacations visiting family over the holidays. I used to be able to drag the kids on whatever type of adventure I wanted but since they've become teens it's definitely harder to coax them along.

Some adventure vacation examples:
Rented VW campervan and camped/toured the entire Big Island for two weeks, son 1YO.
North Shore Kauai twice in rental houses and tent camping, kids 4 to 10YO.
Lots of times sea kayaking/backpacking out to local remote Forest Service cabins here in AK, since the kids were pretty much born until now.
Rented AirBnBs twice near Escalante for a week at a time and hiked/explored the Grand Staircase, kids 4 to 8YO.
Road trip across the Yukon Territories tent camping and fishing, kids 4 and 6YO.
Backpacked the 33-mile Chilkoot Trail, kids 6 and 8YO.
Costa Rica explorations.
11 day trek in Nepal, kids 8Yo and 10YO, max elevation 15.5k.
6 day canoe down Green River in Canyonland National Park, kids 5 and 7YO.
Cedar Mesa camping/hiking, kids 7 and 9YO.
6 day canoe down the Yukon River, kids 9 and 11YO, + 4 month old puppy!
18 day raft down the Grand Canyon, kids 11 and 13YO.
3 day backpack in Wrangell St. Elias National Park, kids 11 and 13YO. 
Four fly in Dall Sheep hunts, son aged 11-15YO.
Three walk-in in day hike style Caribou hunts, son aged 9-13YO.
6 day raft down the Middle Fork Salmon River, daughter 13YO.
This year Inca Trail?, raft Yampa?, kids aged 14 and 17YO.



Laura33

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Re: How do you vacation with young kids?
« Reply #13 on: January 05, 2024, 11:58:38 AM »
Top tip:  lower your expectations.  Any kind of travel with young kids is NOT a vacation for the parents.  Plan around what your kids can handle and what they enjoy, expect to have at least one bad day when food/sleep/naps are out of whack and the kids lose it, and if you find something really cool along the way, appreciate it as a bonus.

IOW, ask yourself why you're traveling before you do so, because it ain't gonna be a restful break.  Going to see family, or do some particular activity you and the kids enjoy?  Go for it.  Going somewhere far away because you want an actual vacation?  Not gonna happen, so don't even bother until they're older.

And find some time every trip to be alone with your partner.  We went skiing every year (important to DH), so ski school was expensive but worth it, both because they could teach the kids better than we ever could, and because it gave us time on our own.  Most places we stayed knew someone willing to babysit, so we always had one night out.  Or for several years, the vacations were big family get-togethers in a rented house somewhere, hosted by a grandparent, so we could trade off with siblings and grandparents and such for time away.

Make a habit of preparing the kids for what is going to happen, particularly things where you know they typically struggle.  For ex., my very-ADHD DD had serious trouble sitting still on planes, and I spent many unhappy hours trying to prevent her from kicking the seat in front of her (including, at times, physically holding her legs down).  Then we had an unexpected flight to Germany when she was about 3 1/2 when my SIL/BIL moved there for a couple of years and begged for visitors.  So I talked to DD repeatedly about the flight, and how it was going to be hard, but she needed to sit still for a long time.  And I bribed her by telling her that if she behaved and stayed put and left the seat belt alone, she was big enough to sit in the seat without her carseat.  During the flight, she got antsy once, and I said, "do I have to get the carseat?" and she stopped (totally bullshitting, btw -- I'd checked it -- but it worked).  We also talked about things like how we were going to give our suitcases to the airplane people but would get them back, that we'd need to take off our shoes and put our bags through a tunnel but they'd come out the other side -- all the new/different things that were likely to set DD off.  Then when we got there, I just reminded her of what was going to happen; she still didn't like giving the bags away and dealing with security, but she kept her calm and did what she needed to (and then we praised her effusively for being such a big girl).

And then we planned the trip around the kids' interests and abilities.  Pools are freaking awesome.  We never scheduled anything for naptime.  We kept meals and snacks around the same time, too (I strongly prefer rental homes/apartments for that very reason -- much easier to manage meals/snacks/naps when you have everything you need right there vs. fighting restaurant lines and making sure you're out of the room when housekeeping comes).  We kept the overall activity level low -- one big event one day, the next day hanging around the rental in the pool.  We've been to Europe with the kids several times and never once visited a famous museum; instead, we took DS to the Museum of Torture (of which there are far more than I ever expected, in many small European towns).   

You know your kids, so you're the only one who can say what will work for them and for you.  My DS, for example, happily sat quietly on a plane for hours.  OTOH, his food preferences were picky AF, so whenever we went somewhere new/different, we talked in advance about how the food was going to look different, but he was a big enough boy that he could try things to see if he liked them, and then described the food in ways he understood (e.g., a pizza carbonara became "fried egg pizza," which he was all over).  So adjust your plans, prep, and expectations to who your kids are and what they can/can't handle.

My other piece of advice:  find a way to leave the kids with a relative or very trusted sitter at least overnight occasionally; a weekend is better.  Your family vacations will not feel very vacation-ey, and it's important that you recharge your batteries, too. 

Fru-Gal

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Re: How do you vacation with young kids?
« Reply #14 on: January 05, 2024, 01:17:28 PM »
Am I the only person who is going to comment that a TEN HOUR DRIVE sounds nightmarish? For that distance, economically and environmentally and for pure enjoyment, you should take the train rather than drive. Amtrak, if you are in the US. You can take a ton of luggage, or even your bikes. You’ll have legroom, food, views galore and will make amazing memories for your kids. For trips that are 12 hours or less you should be in coach, a sleeper would be pointless.

Also read this from MMM:

Quote
Activities: The most satisfying and memorable things to do are generally the ones that take the most effort from you. It may seem convenient to ride a cog railway or a helicopter to the bottom of the canyon so you can get out at the bottom, buy a picture of yourself, and eat a giant helping of cotton candy on the way back up.  But it is even more fun to pack a lunch and a few bottles of water, figure out how to get down yourself on the walking trail, swim around in the cold river at the bottom, and then make the 3,000 foot climb back up in the hot afternoon sun. Then you get to marvel at your tired feet and dusty but well-exercised calves when you kick off the shoes at the end of the long day and crack into the cold beer from your cooler.  While the other people in your travel group pay for a 4×4 tour around Cozumel’s jewelry shopping district, you might prefer to go for a walk through the streets where the people actually live and see if you can join a soccer game with some of the little kids out in the street.

This philosophy of travel would seem shocking to the standard Wealthy American or European traveler, and it does not fit in at all with the examples of expensive restaurants and white-suited valet parking attendants at the gatehouse of prestigious golf courses I sometimes walk past while on vacation. But I can guarantee it will allow you to have more fun than the big spenders are having, even while you spend about 90% less than they spend per week of vacation. You’ll be able to maintain a much healthier lifestyle, and a much bushier Money Mustache than they could even dream of attaining.  Happy travels!


I can’t find it but he had some excellent blog posts back in the day about local travel being preferable to long distance.
« Last Edit: January 05, 2024, 01:22:12 PM by Fru-Gal »

Laura33

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Re: How do you vacation with young kids?
« Reply #15 on: January 05, 2024, 03:15:07 PM »
Am I the only person who is going to comment that a TEN HOUR DRIVE sounds nightmarish? . . . .

Also read this from MMM:

Quote
Activities: The most satisfying and memorable things to do are generally the ones that take the most effort from you. It may seem convenient to ride a cog railway or a helicopter to the bottom of the canyon so you can get out at the bottom, buy a picture of yourself, and eat a giant helping of cotton candy on the way back up.  But it is even more fun to pack a lunch and a few bottles of water, figure out how to get down yourself on the walking trail, swim around in the cold river at the bottom, and then make the 3,000 foot climb back up in the hot afternoon sun. . . .

. . . .  I can guarantee it will allow you to have more fun

100% with you on the 10-hr drive. 

From personal experience:  everything MMM talks about here is completely awesome and true.  For grownups.

Add a couple of small kids to the mix -- say, a toddler and a kindergartener -- and it becomes an immediate descent into the 9th circle of hell.

IMO, attempting any kind of trip with multiple small children already qualifies as "activities taking the most effort."  It's therefore entirely reasonable to take steps to try to minimize the most hellish aspects of that effort.  If we have a family reunion that's a 10-hr drive or a 2-hr flight, I'm forking out for the plane tickets, thankyouverymuch.   

I do agree with the larger concept, however:  with small kids, less is better.  Little kids are happy to play in mudpuddles in the back yard.  You can go camping overnight in the back yard and they'll be thrilled.  We do the big fancy travel stuff for us, not for them -- because we want our kids to know XX, or have YY experiences, or have relationships with extended family, or whatever. 

When they're little, everyone will be happier if you can keep it as low-key as possible.  If you have a personal reason to make a big trip, like visiting far-away family, go for it, and do what you can to make it less painful.  Otherwise, save the big splashy Disney trips for when they're old enough to both handle the travel/change and remember it.

reeshau

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Re: How do you vacation with young kids?
« Reply #16 on: January 05, 2024, 03:39:14 PM »
Lol--well, our drive home for Christmas is 16.  (Done in two days)  10?  Cake.

We first flew with DS at 6 months.  For about two years, the flight attendants would fawn over him, and welcome him to his first flight.  While that is, of course, sweet to do, I was thinking: "no, miss---he's a silver elite flyer."  We have flown from the Midwest to Alaska, Maui, and Europe, and tons of times to Florida and elsewhere to visit family.

Our Christmas drive used to be 10 hours in the Midwest.  Now that we're in Texas, we did our first big road trip for a month the first summer we were back from Ireland.  And the next summer we spent a month driving around Ireland, getting to say a proper goodbye after the end of their pandemic quarantine.

Great tips so far; it brings back a lot of memories.  Apologies if some are repeated without citation.  I wholeheartedly agree with @Laura33 's point that vacation with kids is for kids.  Just like days spent at home, time together is working time for parents.  You won't get to everything you plan; everything is optional, if the kids are in a mindset to enjoy them.  Any item on the itinerary can be jettisoned--travel like you are going to come back.

Flying:

Saving money in a number of ways is good, but you can spend some smart money here, too.

Kicking the seat in front of you?  Get bulkhead seats.  Voila!

While we regulate screen time strictly at home, air travel gets opened up.  It's almost inescapable on long haul flights now, anyway.  We bring a tablet so that it is available right away, is not interrupted by super load announcements, and has curated content.  If they have no screen, they may shoulder surf the row in front of you or across the aisle, and lord knows the rated R movies people in an aisle seat think they can watch!

Bring your own snacks, of course.  Not just saving money, but familiar tastes if you have a picky eater.  While I firmly believe eating as locals do is part od travel, and DS is an adventurous eater, familiar food is also a way to touch base with home while you're away.

We firmly believe in "pack light," but it was a struggle when DS was a toddler.  DW had to ease back from planning for every contingency, to knowing us and trusting there are solutions available in other societies, if needed.  But even pound you can shed, you will be thankful for.  Know that will mean some cash spent at a pharmacy or supermarket on the road.

On the road:

Quick meals: if you get fast food, take it to a park or playground nearby instead of eating in their dining area.  Of course, this expands to other takeout options, too.  Play places can also fit, if the weather doesn't allow for that, but DW swears she can see the germs crawling there.  Not only is play time a reward and an energy sink, but if you're lucky there are also members of their own kind there, who will interact with your kids. (for free!)  And new friendships are a great result of travel, even if those friendships only last for the day.

Add a down day to your trip.  You could slog through a 10 hour drive in a day, but giving it two days lowers the tension for everyone, and maybe gives you a surprise to see.  We do our 16 hour drive Up North in 2 days, but take a 3rd day in the middle.  Wichita is a great overnight stop for aviation enthusiasts!  There is something unexpected out there for every interest.

When we are eating out a lot, we rotate turns to "call" the restaurant.  Mom and Dad make sure some stops, at least, are nutritious.  And kids like to have some control over their circumstances.

Flying is fastest, of course.  But driving gives you control.  Particularly important in the winter, where leaving a day early or late could save you significant delay and difficulty, due to weather.

Freedomin5

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Re: How do you vacation with young kids?
« Reply #17 on: January 05, 2024, 06:20:07 PM »
Regarding new experiences that might give your kids anxiety, I’ve found that social stories work very well for young kids.

Prior to age two, DD had never ridden regularly in a car seat. We didn’t have a car in China, and mostly rode busses and subways. To prepare for our trip to Canada, where we would be mostly driving, and where she would need to sit still for several hours on the plane and then sit in a car seat in a car, we created a storybook called “When DD goes to Canada”. Social stories are commonly used for kids on the spectrum to teach social routines in specific situations.

We filled the book with photos of kids who looked like DD happily sitting in car seats and riding in planes. The book talked about sleeping on the plane and napping in car seats and all the fun things she could do in a car seat (like looking out the window). We read the book every day for a week before we left. We put a photo of DD on the cover with her suitcase. She loved the book because it was about her.

It worked like a charm. We would get on the plane and would ask her, “What do we do on the plane?” (Eat snacks, play with toys, and sleep.) When we got to the car (we had a picture in the book of the exact car we were driving), we would ask, “What do we do in the car?” She would happily reply, “Sit in the car seat and buckle the seatbelt”, then try to climb into the car seat by herself.

I’m a big fan of social stories for young kids.

clarkfan1979

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Re: How do you vacation with young kids?
« Reply #18 on: January 06, 2024, 04:16:01 AM »
We have a 6-year old. We fly for vacation about 95% of the time. About 90% of the flights are on Southwest with points.

We mainly visit our parents and other family members. We typically stay with family. We have a long-term rental in Hawaii and we stay there when in between long-term tenants. We probably average 3 nights of hotel each year.

 

FINate

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Re: How do you vacation with young kids?
« Reply #19 on: January 06, 2024, 10:19:55 AM »
You don't vacation with young kids, instead you take "family trips" :)

We were in Hawaii once when our kids were toddlers. The kids were cranky because their sleep schedules were off. We were exhausted from getting everyone out the door to the airport on time, getting through security, keeping the kids occupied during travel. Everything is more difficult and takes longer in a new place.

The trip was completely lost on the kids. The only thing they wanted was to play in the pool. When we tried to go do other things they quickly got cranky.

After the kids went to bed one night DW and I got to talking: Why did we spend thousands of dollars coming here? We literally could have stayed at a hotel in our hometown and had a better time for a lot less money.

So that's what we started doing when our kids were 0-5. We did simple short local trips, and it was glorious. We splurged on hotels and eating out and still spent less because we weren't paying for flights and rental cars. We lived in Santa Cruz at the time, so we'd do 3-4 day trips to: Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Solvang, Santa Barbara, Yosemite, San Francisco, Tahoe. And we'd take camping trips.

As the kids got a little older (5-10), we started doing some longer road trips. We'd take a month during summer and slow travel around the west. Kept driving to less then 5 hrs/day, staying in each location 2-3 days. Mostly camping (which is super cheap), but with the occasional motel to break things up. We'd swim in rivers and lakes, explore National Parks, check out little towns and get treats... really whatever we felt like doing.

Our kids are now entering their teen years and so we feel more confident in taking bigger tips. Spring '22 we did a longer drive to Las Vegas to see Cirque du Soleil. Last summer we went to NYC to see a Broadway show, explore the city, and show the kids where I used to work. Their favorite part of NYC? Riding the subway, lol.

Yet we still mostly take simple short trips. We live in Boise now, so places like: Sun Valley, McCall, Redfish Lake, Portland, Oregon Coast, Salt Lake City, Yellowstone, Grand Tetons/Jackson, and so on. With places like the attached photo in our backyard it's tough to justify spending a lot of time and money going elsewhere.

WorkingToUnwind

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Re: How do you vacation with young kids?
« Reply #20 on: January 06, 2024, 05:27:04 PM »
We have a 4 and 2 year old and for the past two summers we've done camping trips to nearby campgrounds. We spring for the campgrounds with the activities and nice pool. The kids run around the playground, pool, ride bikes, and eat lots of cheap homemade food. We go out for a meal or two and do a local activity like a gondola ride or cave exploration. It's exhausting but I think as good as it gets with little ones! When they're older we hope to do longer trips traveling cross-country.

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Re: How do you vacation with young kids?
« Reply #21 on: January 06, 2024, 06:54:07 PM »
The trip was completely lost on the kids.

This is the dirty secret of travel with kids and something I think about all the time when I see family travel blogs, where they have young children and they're touring Europe and going to Bali.

We moved to another country when my son was 3 and back to our home country when he was 6. At 10, he hardly remembers anything about living there, much less any of the trips we took. He once had to write an essay for school about "the most exciting trip I ever took" and wrote about a day we had spent at a local theme park about a month earlier, lol.

Captain FIRE

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Re: How do you vacation with young kids?
« Reply #22 on: January 06, 2024, 08:22:48 PM »
You don't vacation with young kids, instead you take "family trips" :)

I was waiting for someone to say this.

We have young kids. When kids are little, it's really easy for everyone to get cranky unless you focus on: maintaining schedules, feeding people on time (adults too), and keeping expectations/activities manageable.

Schedules: Try to keep the kids on the same nap/bedtime schedule as normal. As an adult, a late flight back isn't a big deal. As a parent of a little kid, it was horrible the few times we've had badly delayed flights and terribly exhausted kids, so now I won't book flights back too late, even if it's a bit more expensive. You know your kids - our oldest would sleep in cars and (with great difficulty) on planes, but our youngest is highly resistant so we keep that in mind, that travel is likely missed nap days and we don't have back to back missed nap days. I didn't think I'd do it, but we also bribed our oldest to behave on planes. After a MISERABLE trip down one time, and a husband across the aisle who fell asleep and didn't help much with the two kids, I apparently kvetched enough to him about how utterly horrible it was and completely broke me, that he talked to our oldest and bribed him for good behavior on the return with a "Daddy lego". So for $25, I got one very well behaved kid, and agreed to the bribe on the next trip too, when there was an issue and we sat on the tarmac for 3 hours (for them to count passengers) before taking off, making for a very long delay. He does know we won't do this every time, it's only unusual circumstances.

Food: We get terribly cranky in our family when people haven't eaten. Travel with snacks. Offer them regularly, so you don't hit the cranky level. We usually try to bring breakfast with us or buy food for the hotel room, so we get people fed quickly and save some money.

Activities: My youngest gets tired and wants to be carried, so there are no hikes or walks around foreign cities. Both kids are too young to appreciate the foreign cities the way I want to experience them, so we stick with what everyone will enjoy - easier beach vacations for the most part. I am a chronic overscheduler, but I've learned to ease back the throttle to maximize happiness. Agree with pool as a pro move - we strive to get one when we can and throw the kids in before/after travel in particular to (futilely) try to tire them out. Sometimes we do a vacation just for them - a kids amusement park a few hours away (much more manageable than Disney). If you can manage some alone time with family or other babysitters, that will help to make it feel more like a vacation for you too.

Finally...we are not particularly mustachian about vacations - we will pay extra for things like a suite hotel room when we can find it reasonably, which has a separate living space for us to go in the evening and our oldest in the morning when he wakes up early. We also would not stay in less than 3 stars even pre-kids for safety reasons. (Had some uncomfortable experiences in a 3 star, so we also read reviews carefully.) Will do VRBO/AirBnB to get more space - and take advantage of the kitchen. Look for better VRBO/AirBnBs...I've never had one require me to bring my own bedding! And the cleaning requirements have been manageable (e.g. run dishwasher, take out trash).

Pack carefully. I usually bring a backpack just for things to entertain the kids: a new book for oldest (a tradition started when I got him a lego star wars book for a trip and that book is held together by tape now, it's so beloved and well read - before bed many nights, brought to school until I banned it, etc), toys that are only travel toys so they remain fresh - a writing board, reusable stickers, etc. and favorites like play doh with a few accessories (although FYI for the first time in Nov we had to throw away half of it due to an aggressive TSA agent, and half instead of all was only after I nicely showed them the US govt page saying it was ok). At the same time, try to not carry about too much stuff that you have to keep track of things/are weighed down. I also have a "master packing list" that I use for trips so I don't forget things/overpack.

But yeah, 10-12 hours in a car wouldn't work for my family. Way too long, we'd fly that distance or skip it entirely. My youngest is a COVID kid so hasn't done much driving and isn't good about travel. If you have to do it, break it up - stop for interesting activities, meals, etc. You can also try my parent's trick of popping us into the car super early in the morning so they get a few hours of driving down while we were still sleepy.
« Last Edit: January 06, 2024, 08:29:21 PM by Captain FIRE »

shelivesthedream

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Re: How do you vacation with young kids?
« Reply #23 on: January 07, 2024, 02:07:49 PM »
Step one is to realise that young kids really really do not need a lot to have a fantastic time, and the higher your expectations are the more miserable everyone will be.

We travel by train. You can move around, go to the loo whenever you like, and both adults are 100% mentally available for the children. We time it so we eat lunch on the train and get some new activoty/colouring/sticker books for the journey. My children love trains, so the journey is a major part of the excitement. We have honed the train journey system so that I was able to make a 4.5 hr journey each way there and back in a single day with a 5yo, 3yo and 2yo to visit my grandmother in hospital all by myself without my husband.

At the other end we get a taxi to...

A rental house/cottage or flat. You know, like an AirBNB. Own kitchen and a sitting room for Mummy and Daddy to hang out in the evenings without being in the same room as a sleeping child. No paper thin walls for people in adjoining rooms to hear the screaming.

We get a supermarket delivery of the lowest effort most treaty foods we can imagine that evening. Minimal cooking, modest cost.

Then we operate a "one day on, one day off" system for outings. We alternate days when we go out and do ONE THING with days when we just kick around at the rental or go for a stroll. Kids get tired and go to bed early, we get to do our favourite thing which is sit up with tea and chocolates and read our books at opposite ends of the sofa.

It works well for us right now.

startingsmall

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Re: How do you vacation with young kids?
« Reply #24 on: January 08, 2024, 09:52:50 AM »
I discovered this article years ago, when traveling with our then-toddler. It remains one of my all-time favorite parenting articles:
https://www.huffpost.com/entry/vacation-or-trip-a-helpful-guide-for-parents_b_7789310

For me, the key was setting realistic expectations. Traveling with young kids is hard, period. It's not going to feel like a true vacation for you. There are ways to make it better (this whole thread is full of great ideas!), but we just opted to take fewer trips when our daughter was young. We traveled as needed to visit family, but didn't really try to plan fun "vacations."

Last summer, we took our 11 year old on her first big trip to Scotland & England. It was amazing, and she's finally at an age where can all enjoy traveling together. I questioned the sanity of her first flight being such a long one, but everything worked out for the best. We were there for 11 days, stayed at nicer hotels (using points), and traveled between destinations via train.... it was an amazing trip and we all loved it. All that to say, hang in there! Eventually it will be enjoyable!
« Last Edit: January 08, 2024, 09:54:36 AM by startingsmall »

Kmp2

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Re: How do you vacation with young kids?
« Reply #25 on: January 08, 2024, 05:14:39 PM »
With two under five, we stayed relatively close to home. Generally our vacations were within a days drive (500-800km), we'd stay at a place with a kitchenette or visit family and we'd basically just live somewhere else for a week or two. Schedules would be kept as close to normal as possible, a hike or a visit to the pool might replace a playground, and we might order in more than usual for fun.

Our youngest turned 5 this year, so we planned an epic road trip across Canada. We camped - which was AMAZING, but it meant that we'd aim for roughly 600km/day to give us time. There was a place to swim in every campground, and with the firebans this summer we would arrive, set up, cook dinner/clean up then we went for a swim before bed. There was space for the kids to burn off their pent up energy and they loved exploring and could be louder than if we were in a hotel. Exploring each campground was the highlight of their trip, and they adjusted to the long car trips so quickly... that on our last stop our mid kid exclaimed - this is only 6.5h from home, we can come back next weekend! When 5h was a really, really long trip before.

But ya, camping with three kids, isn't really a vacation. You let things slide, you do easy meals, and when it rains you can always do what my parents did... change plans, pack up and drive towards a desert :D.

Looking forward to exploring the other half of Canada next year.

PHAT

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Re: How do you vacation with young kids?
« Reply #26 on: January 13, 2024, 09:39:29 PM »
Most of our travel involves visiting family, since both sets of grandparents live on the other side of the country.  Hubby also has quite a bit of family in Europe, so we go there as well.  Regardless, we are pretty much always flying.  If we are not staying with family (at their house), then we always go for AirBnB rather than a hotel.  The price is usually similar (at least in the places we go), but you get multiple bedrooms, a living room, kitchen, and often laundry facilities.  This means we can really basically follow most of our routines as we would at home, while just adding in the daily adventures.  This works if you are in the same location for several days or more.  For a one-night stop (like on a road trip), whatever is the cheapest and best location wins!  Also, I have never stayed at an AirBnB that requires you to bring your own linens and cleaning supplies, perhaps we are travelling in different locations?  I bring shampoo and a small amount of laundry detergent (usually there is some available, but just in case I bring a handful of those fancy laundry strips that take up zero space in your luggage)

1.  multiple rooms means the kids can go to bed at a reasonable hour, and you can still be up puttering/socializing instead of sitting in the dark waiting for them to fall asleep.  Book carefully, because some places will be listed as multiple bedrooms, but upon closer inspection of the photos, the living room, hallway and dining room (with pullout couches) all count as "bedrooms"!  I also examine the windows in the photos to ensure the bedrooms do not have giant windows.  Preferably they have black-out curtains, but if not, I always travel with 2 or 3 contractor size black garbage bags and a small roll of masking tape to use in the kids bedroom.  Jetlag is real, and the kids need to have some good sleep if everyone is going to have fun!  If the house/apartment you are renting is very large, you may consider bringing a baby monitor so you can hear the kids regardless of the layout of the sleeping arrangements.

2. Having a kitchen means that we can pack a picnic lunch every day, avoiding restaurants which end up being expensive, kids don't like the food anyway, and they get bored and antsy - no fun for anyone!  Instead, we bring a picnic blanket (an old flat sheet) and find the nearest park at lunch time.  Kids can run and play, adults can chill for a bit.  If not staying with family, we do typically eat out for supper while travelling.  We see it as a bit of cultural exposure (we live in a very small town, and NEVER eat out when at home), so don't mind doing this while we are away. 

3.  Having access to laundry facilities means that we can pack light.  Last year 4 of us spent over 2 weeks in Europe (3 locations, 2 major cities and one small village), stayed in AirBnB's the whole time.  We brought 2 carry-on roller bags plus 4 small backpacks.  This was possible because we were able to do a load of laundry every 3 days or so whenever necessary.  We love travelling light, it really allows us to be flexible with what we want to do and how we get around!

For reference, kids are currently 7yo and 4yo.  We have been travelling this way since the oldest was less than a year old.

onecoolcat

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Re: How do you vacation with young kids?
« Reply #27 on: January 13, 2024, 10:41:47 PM »
We live in Florida and are 30 minutes away from two ports.  We do cruises.  They are affordable, easy, and you can drop your kiddos off at camp for 9 hours a day while you enjoy yourselves.  We just did a 5-night balcony on Celebrity for $2500 including excursions.  We did a 4-night balcony on Royal Caribbean for $2200 including everything.  We do 2-3 cruises a year, we take the kids on most, and our total annual vacation spending is around $4000-5000.

rothwem

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Re: How do you vacation with young kids?
« Reply #28 on: January 17, 2024, 01:49:53 PM »
Am I the only person who is going to comment that a TEN HOUR DRIVE sounds nightmarish? . . . .

Also read this from MMM:

Quote
Activities: The most satisfying and memorable things to do are generally the ones that take the most effort from you. It may seem convenient to ride a cog railway or a helicopter to the bottom of the canyon so you can get out at the bottom, buy a picture of yourself, and eat a giant helping of cotton candy on the way back up.  But it is even more fun to pack a lunch and a few bottles of water, figure out how to get down yourself on the walking trail, swim around in the cold river at the bottom, and then make the 3,000 foot climb back up in the hot afternoon sun. . . .

. . . .  I can guarantee it will allow you to have more fun

100% with you on the 10-hr drive. 

From personal experience:  everything MMM talks about here is completely awesome and true.  For grownups.

Add a couple of small kids to the mix -- say, a toddler and a kindergartener -- and it becomes an immediate descent into the 9th circle of hell.

IMO, attempting any kind of trip with multiple small children already qualifies as "activities taking the most effort."  It's therefore entirely reasonable to take steps to try to minimize the most hellish aspects of that effort.  If we have a family reunion that's a 10-hr drive or a 2-hr flight, I'm forking out for the plane tickets, thankyouverymuch.   

I do agree with the larger concept, however:  with small kids, less is better.  Little kids are happy to play in mudpuddles in the back yard.  You can go camping overnight in the back yard and they'll be thrilled.  We do the big fancy travel stuff for us, not for them -- because we want our kids to know XX, or have YY experiences, or have relationships with extended family, or whatever. 

When they're little, everyone will be happier if you can keep it as low-key as possible.  If you have a personal reason to make a big trip, like visiting far-away family, go for it, and do what you can to make it less painful.  Otherwise, save the big splashy Disney trips for when they're old enough to both handle the travel/change and remember it.

Man, with my kids (4 and 2), driving is so much better than flying.  My daughter cried the entire flight down and my son screamed the entire flight back when we went to Florida.  I felt terrible for everyone one that plane.  And that was just the plane ride--carrying two giant car seats, having to check 38 bags, waiting in line at security with two kids that want nothing more than to run off...fuck that.  Never again.  We joke that we're not flying again until the kids are out of the house, but seriously, they've got to be older than they currently are. 

Meanwhile, we drive to my inlaws in Louisiana (12 hour drive) and my parent's house (8 hour drive) a couple times a year, .  The trick is to stop at a park for an hour every ~3 hours or so, and we usually bring my son's bike so he can shred some gnar and burn off some energy.  We've done the drive to LA so many times that we know which small towns have good parks (For example Forest, MS has a really nice park next to the Tyson plant).  The only time it gets dicey is if its rainy--the park thing doesn't work as well then, and we try to find a fast food place with a playplace.

As far as vacationing in general, we try not to do it without some reinforcements in the form of extra family.  We've tried for a simple beach trip with just me, my wife and kids, and it was pretty awful.  The kids were off their routine and sobbed constantly, and we didn't ever relax because the AirBNB we stayed in was anti childproofed with breakable knickknacks strategically hidden for a toddler to search out and find (and show up next to a parents bed with in the middle of the night).  We had a lot better luck when we met my inlaws at the beach, or my brother's family, where there are some extra adults to keep an eye on children. 

MMMarbleheader

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Re: How do you vacation with young kids?
« Reply #29 on: February 06, 2024, 02:19:52 PM »
Up until the kids were the age where we all go to bed at the same time (10 and 6) we only stayed in Airbnbs but as they have gotten older we have switched to hotels because we just all crash at the same time and free breakfast has increased in value as they have gotten older.

EverythingisNew

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Re: How do you vacation with young kids?
« Reply #30 on: February 07, 2024, 08:40:22 AM »
I just booked and planned out all of our vacations for the year so I can share some hard numbers of a family of 5 (2 adults, 3 kids). I don’t include food but I do include gas if it’s farther than 3 hours. I love traveling!! Maybe it gives you some ideas for cheaper fun trips!

3 Night 2 hour drive skiing and winter indoor water park (2 nights city hotel, 1 adult and 1 oldest kid ski passes+rentals for 1 day ($300!), and 1 night Great Wolf Lodge) $860

8 Night Colorado roadtrip (3 Night stay at friend’s house, 2 nights in a state park cabin and 3 hotel with pool nights, gas) $1,226

3 Night 6 hour drive outdoor adventure and new city (1 night fancy resort with pool, 1 night city hotel, 1 pre-booked activity, 1 night forest hotel, gas) $785

1 Night parent’s night out while grandparents visit (1 night 5 star hotel) $300

I really like maximizing time at nice hotels by arriving early. We sometimes arrive at 10am and start using the pool. If you get a full day at the pool, it feels like you were there 2 nights! I also like to switch hotels often to see new places. Switching makes a 3 night vacation seem long!
« Last Edit: February 07, 2024, 09:16:34 AM by EverythingisNew »

Captain FIRE

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Re: How do you vacation with young kids?
« Reply #31 on: February 07, 2024, 12:14:44 PM »
So interesting how different people approach things. To me, having to repack multiple times on a trip seems like a logistical nightmare to be avoided bc it eats up vacation time, but to you, it’s the goal because it provides a fresh experience!

reeshau

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Re: How do you vacation with young kids?
« Reply #32 on: February 07, 2024, 01:25:35 PM »
One key, harder with kids, is to not bring so much, anyway: pack light.  Every pound is precious.  Carry-ons can free your travel, whether in the airport (skip some lines!) Or the hotel (elevator broken?  Can do!  No storage?  No big deal!)

DW needs a down day from the pace of travel every three days or so anyway. (aka, the vacation from your vacation)  That becomes laundry day for us.  There's not a lot to do, so it's some reading time in the morning, with 4 interruptions, and open afternoon for some solo exploration or time with local kids at the playground / pool / whatnot.

use2betrix

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Re: How do you vacation with young kids?
« Reply #33 on: February 29, 2024, 06:08:31 PM »
We had a camping trailer long before my 2.5 y/o daughter was born and moved from a 17’ to a 23’ trailer last fall. We also have an 80 lb German shepherd that travels with us.

When DD was 6 months we drove 18 hours to Phoenix, then 6-8 hrs into Baja Mexico, all camping in the trailer over the 2 week trip. 6 months later we drove 18 hrs to Iowa to camp. At 1.5 years was 10 hrs to northern Arkansas, 2 years was 15 hrs to Colorado (mom and DD flew there and drove with me back), then another 2 week 18 hr camping trip to AZ/Nm/TX this past Christmas.

It’s all gone pretty good for us. Only tough trip was Arkansas just because I think the trip wasn’t long enough for the drive. We love having the trailer for travel. We’re in “our beds” every night. We have everything with us we need. Only pack and unpack once. Rv parks, state parks, and dispersed camping give tons of options to be outdoors.

Baby #2 is on the way and unsure how my crewcab truck will do with 2 babies and a big dog in the back seat. An SUV is a possibility but none of them tow remotely as well as my F250. We’d need a larger air conditioned rear space for the dog.

Also, costs are obviously expensive. Trailer cost, insurance, storage, maintenance. If you use it enough, it’s much easier to justify. If you sleep in it 25 nights per year that offsets a lot of hotels, plane tickets, rental cars, more expensive activities, etc.

clairebonk

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Re: How do you vacation with young kids?
« Reply #34 on: March 09, 2024, 09:12:31 PM »
You don’t vacation with young kids, unless you vacation with family that helps. Vacationing with young kids is doing everything you do at home (getting everyone to sleep and eat and cleaning and laundry) but it’s just harder.

The one thing that was a bit fun was backpacking because I like the wilderness and it fed my soul. We’d come home from a weekend away and the house was clean. We didn’t have to clean much because we made one pot meals. The kids just played with rocks and sticks and were so happy.

FireLane

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Re: How do you vacation with young kids?
« Reply #35 on: March 16, 2024, 07:42:09 PM »
My son is 7 going on 8. Mostly because of COVID, he's never been on an airplane, but he's been on lots of road trips. We've taken him to Washington, DC; Shenandoah and Acadia National Parks; Vermont; Rhode Island; the Delaware Water Gap; and the Adirondacks.

It used to be very hard to entertain him in the car, but he's gotten better at traveling as he gets older. We bring plenty of snacks, some books, and a tablet with TV shows that he likes loaded in advance. We also play games in the car, like trying to spot a license plate from every state.

He still gets carsick, so we try to stop every hour or two for everyone to get some air and stretch their legs. For the biggest trips, like Acadia and our trip to Niagara Falls this summer, we break up the driving into multiple days slow-travel style, stopping at points of interest along the way.

We like nature and outdoorsy stuff, so we plan vacations that involve as much walking/hiking as possible. It's the best way to experience a place, and when everyone's happily tired out at the end of the day, there's no trouble with going to sleep.

Our biggest splurge is that we always rent either an Airbnb/VRBO or a hotel suite with separate bedrooms. He falls asleep between 7 and 8, and it's nice for my wife and me to be able to stay up until our usual hour. (Hotels with real suites are hard to find - a lot of them advertise "suites" when they really just mean slightly larger rooms - so Airbnb has really helped with this. I agree with other commenters that I've never come across an Airbnb that required me to bring my own linens.)

Those kinds of places will also have a kitchen/kitchenette, so we can bring our own food to prepare and not have to dine out for every meal. It's cheaper and easier to not have to manage a kid's behavior in a restaurant.

Taran Wanderer

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Re: How do you vacation with young kids?
« Reply #36 on: March 16, 2024, 09:37:24 PM »
We’ve done all sorts of travel with kids, starting with flights of a couple of hours with an infant (piece of cake) or toddlers (a little bit harder).  Five hours with 0.5, 2.5, and 5.5 went okay because the result was a rental house for 10 days with no further moving until the 5-hour flight back home.  The 10-hour flight with a 2 year old was really hard.  The 10-hour flight with 1 and 4 was just plain dumb.  The 18-hour road trips with an infant or a toddler were not so great.  The 18-hour road trip with 1, 3, and 6 was okay - but only because I drove with the 6 and DW flew with the 1 and 3 and no baggage for the trip there, and we slow-drove home.

When the kids were young, the best trips were about 4 hours one way to a rental house with a week-long stay.  On the first one, we ended up doing three “M”s that we said we’d never do - McDonald’s and movie in the minivan.  But it worked!

Since those early days, we’ve progressed a lot.  We did another 7+4 hour flight with 6, 8, and 11, and it was an amazing three weeks.  It’s been a few years, and last summer, we did another three week trip. It’s different now with older kids - fewer playground stops (but we still had one last summer!), more tolerance for museums, more energy, no naps required.  But it’s magical to take them places far out of their comfort zones and see them just absorb it and adjust.  I am completely confident in their ability to navigate domestic and international travel, urban and rural, with the language or without… and we still have several years before any of them will be old enough to do this on their own.

The biggest thing I’ve learned about traveling with kids is that it’s no longer your trip, it’s theirs, and agendas don’t work.  Our agendas have gotten looser and less ambitious.  Plans become more a list of priorities, and we fit in what we can.  And we have a lot more gelato stops.