Traveling with Toddlers: How to Enjoy your (Holiday) Vacation with Young Children

Last year, we had a six-month-old preemie, so we didn’t go anywhere in the winter. We politely declined invitations for out-of-state holiday celebrations and family gatherings mostly because we didn’t want to expose our littlest guy to germs, but there was a small sigh of relief. Having an excuse to avoid driving 5-6 hours in the car with multiple young children, and having to drive from obligation to obligation as a sleep-deprived-horrible-mother felt kinda nice.

This year we don’t have an excuse to stay home, and to be honest, I was kind of wishing we did. At least until last weekend.

This past weekend, we decided to take a quick trip out of state to see some extended family that we haven’t seen in far too long. Initially, we opted out of the trip because we would have to drive up Friday night and come home Sunday afternoon. Driving for 5-6 hours for less than 36 hours of family time sounded crazy. It. Was. Crazy. But it was awesome and totally worth it. This time, I think we gave ourselves an advantage. We started the trip with our eyes wide open….saying to ourselves:

“Hey, this is crazy. We will not get enough sleep. The kids will not be on their regular schedule. There will be food we know isn’t healthy. Our kids will want it. It will be okay. Getting to see our kids with family and enjoy time with other adults is worth it.”

Well, all of the above happened. I tried to bring some healthier food options, which the kids did eat, but they also ate all of the other food. I cringed a little, but explained why we don’t usually eat this way, and that it may make them feel a little bit sick. I think as they age, they will be more in tune with their bodies and opt-out of the junk food, but at 4, 2 and 1, I forced myself to not freak out.

The trip was great! So great, that we decided to go visit different relatives out-of-state for Xmas even though we were originally planning on staying home.

With that said, traveling this weekend for Xmas will be our third weekend in a row of travel. Somehow, I have learned more in these back-to-back trips than all of the traveling we’ve done in the past year. I guess that’s probably because traveling so much to different states every time requires a plan to not loose my mind!

Five Ways to Mitigate Stress When Traveling with Kids (especially if you happen to be a Paleo Minimalist):

1. Consider Food Before You Go.

If you are eating Paleo or anything different from SAD, try to bring healthy snacks and even healthy meal options if possible. If you are visiting family and you feel comfortable, ask if you can cook and/or buy some groceries. Recently, I offered to make eggs for everyone for breakfast instead of the sugary cereal and milk that was being offered. Everyone wanted eggs and appreciated the home-cooked meal. Win-Win.

2. Stagger Kids Bedtimes

If you are sharing a room with your kids, or your kids are sharing a room with each other (and they don’t usually), stagger bedtimes. This is one we’re working on during our next trip. The novelty of being in a new place and being in a bedroom together is more than little (tired) minds can handle. Don’t make the mistake I made and assume that they will pass out because it is past their normal bedtime and they are exhausted. Even if your kids usually go to sleep at the same time, try to stagger sleep by at least 20 minutes for each kid.

3. Know When Your Kids Travel Best

For us, that means getting in the car between 8am and 10am. Maybe your kids travel well at night…they sleep in the car, you love the silence, and you can function on less sleep than usual. That last part is critical. If traveling at night means you don’t get enough sleep to be a good parent the next day, don’t do it! If you can’t avoid traveling at night, try to do it on the way home from vacation. Having your regular routine, food, beds, etc, makes it easier for everyone to have a good day when you’re overtired from travel.

4. Pack Light

No, you do not need twice as many pairs of underwear as number of days in your trip. Making umpteen trips to the car to bring in luggage or trying to bring way too many suitcases to the airport just invites stress, accidents and lost luggage. For a great article on what clothes you should pack, check out this one. Remember, you can always do laundry. I promise, throwing a load of laundry into your in-law’s machine is totally worth it. My favorite thing? Washing the laundry before heading home so I don’t come home to piles of dirty laundry…more on strategies for returning from your vacation stress-free another time ;)

5. Chill Out

A few days (or weeks) will not ruin your life. Don’t stress out if your kid wants the sugary cereal (cringe) like all five of her cousins. Quietly explain why “we don’t usually eat this way,” and try to let it go. If your kids can’t nap at their usual time every day, just aim for a regular schedule most days. You get the picture :).

I love that I am writing this post the morning before our third weekend in a row of traveling. What I think is hilarious is we still have one more weekend of travel ahead after this one. I’m going try to take my own advice and chill out and enjoy it. What about you?

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