I must say that the title of this post may be misleading, that is, if you think “vacation” = “relaxation.” If you think you can have a relaxing vacation with a toddler, you’ve never tried. Or you have a nanny coming with you.
This post simply is a guide for how to survive a “vacation” with a toddler. You know, a time when you travel far from home to visit some place but not family. What you would have once in your life called a vacation.
Our very first family vacation was a trip to Scotland. It sounds dramatic and exotic, but it was less of a schlep than driving from Omaha to Denver. Or Chicago. Slightly farther than Minneapolis, but we have family there so it wouldn’t have counted as a vacation anyway. Maybe it would have been like taking a trip to Canada. But awesomer.
So. What we learned.
Driving isn’t so bad. My husband said, “Let’s just get up and go in the morning, it will be fine.” And I thought, “Have you lost your mind?” Well, it turns out… it was OK. Our tot was a trooper, and a variety of snacks and toys kept him entertained. Which was good, because he only slept for about 40% of his usual nap duration. It was no problem to pack a big variety of sometimes noisy toys, a cooler, and as much stuff as we wanted. Plus, have you ever tried to wrangle a kid on a train? It’s much closer to “relaxing” to have them restrained.
Apartments! Separate bedrooms, a kitchen… if you can swing it, these luxuries can be really nice. For example, you don’t have to read your Kindle under the covers starting at 7; you don’t have to eat at 5:15 every night; you save money on the meals you fix at “home.” Oddly, it’s more relaxing to have a place that feels a bit like home than to jerry-rig a hotel room to get by.
Make a checklist. Find out what things are available from the place you’re staying (and book them), then go from there. My recommended starter list:
- Where will the kid sleep? (Many hotels offer cribs of some kind. Request this when you book the room.)
- How will the kid eat? (i.e. Is your toddler too miniature to eat from the chair in your itty bitty kitchen? Can you get one from the hotel or should you pack a portable one?)
- How will you get around? Stroller, backpack? Don’t forget the raincovers!
- What food do you need to get there, and for the night and following morning?
- Snacks. Little snacks like Cheerios, raisins, grape halves, so on, that will occupy your wee one for as long as possible. We kind of fell in love with the Snack Trap this past week.
- Pack as much clothing as you think you need for him and more. You know how it is.
- Diapers & wipes & toothbrush.
- Everything you need for the usual bedtime routine.
- A few favorite books & toys.
- Purse-sized surprises for entertaining at restaurants/in lines/at that point in the tour when everyone is trying to listen and your kid wants to scream his word for “banana!” Little sticker books go a long way for us.
Be flexible. (Or you will snap.) Maybe you need to stop in a park and let your little guy run off some steam. Maybe he’ll fall asleep in his stroller 2 hours before nap time and completely ruin your plan for the afternoon. Maybe Mom just needs to take him back to the room while Dad waits for the bill. Sometimes little compromises are necessary.
Share the load. Alternating times when Mom or Dad is The One Keeping an Eye On The Kid allows at least one of you to kind of relax and enjoy something you’re wanting to see. Of course this works best if you each have separate things you’re interested in seeing. If your hotel is centrally located, nap times are a good time to recharge or squeeze in an extra sight alone.
Don’t forget the camera! It will be nice to look back on the photos and remember the fun moments of the trip.