DISCLAIMER: This is assuming you haven’t already lost your mind for planning a vacation with toddlers in the first place.
So, there we were: Two oversized suitcases; two stuffed-to-the-brim carry-on bags; a box filled with extra diapers, swimsuits, and toys on its way, via FedEx, to our hotel; two washed and ready toddlers; one cautiously optimistic daddy; and one list-wielding, Xanax-hugging, drivers-license-triple-checking mom. Vacation, here we come.
I remember when vacations were all about relaxation. The days began whenever you wanted, and fruity cocktails and fancy meals were enjoyed just as much as obtaining that perfect bronze glow. (Or blistery red if we’re being totally honest!)
Vacationing with little ones in tow is a very different ball game. There are new challenges (hello, you thought YOU had a hard time adjusting to a change in time zone!?) and new thrills. With that said, here is my guide to surviving a vacation with toddlers.
Toddlers act like toddlers on a plane. Accept it. I applaud the families who make those adorable kits for their neighbors on the plane — the ones that attempt to shelter them from any toddler sounds or toddler actions that may happen on a flight cross country with headphones, magazine, or liquor. I decided that being just regular, attentive parents — armed with a stockpile of treats, toys, and books — would be my gift to my middle seat neighbor. Toddlers cry, yell, fidget, and inexplicably decide to nap right as the plane is landing. It’s toddlerhood. They will behave better than half of the people seated around you. (I’m looking at you, loud talker with a potty mouth and foul-smelling airport food that doesn’t wait his turn when exiting the plane.) Breathe through it and know that most of the passengers have kids, know kids, and get it.
It’s different. Accept it. This vacation may not include “relaxing” or “laying out” or “eating your food while it’s still hot” or “wearing that cute white linen dress” or even “showering regularly” like vacations past. The quicker you adjust your expectations, the faster you can get to enjoying the new version of vacation. And the new version can be pretty sweet.
You will pack completely incorrectly. Accept it. Those toys and books they love at home? They won’t want anything to do with them when in another time zone. You’ll run out of Aquaphor, but have enough Q-Tips to built a fort. Beach balls? Who needs them when you’ve got those brand new adorable wedges you bought for the trip that are waaaay more fun to throw. Your children will no doubt have a growth spurt some time overnight on the day of departure, and their monogrammed tops don’t look as cool as crop tops. Knowing that you could just as easily close your eyes, grab things from their toy chest and closet, throw it into a bag, and fare the same way should ease some stress you might feel about carefully planning. Take that time and instead download even more Sesame Street apps for emergency fuss-quenching.
Diets, schmiets. Vacation is when you eat whatever you want, drink whatever you want, and worry about the muffin-top consequences later. Why should your kiddos miss out on the fun? Leave the vegetable, fruit, and lean protein meals — or at least the rigidity of meal planning — back home. Let this be an opportunity to have your kids try something new, exciting, and reflective of your vacation spot. My sons got to eat a cheeseburger from their daddy’s favorite hamburger spot, and some delicious fish and chips overlooking the Santa Monica Pier. There will be plenty of organic carrots, hormone-free turkey, and quinoa when you get back to reality. For now, let them enjoy the “anything goes” aspect of vacation we grown-ups love so much. It will lighten your stress load and provide some hilarious and photo-worthy memories!
Vacation with all five senses. Watching the sun set on the Pacific Ocean as my husband and I looked on, boys at our hips with the cool ocean breeze causing them to snuggle into us even closer. The look of elation and confusion when they first put their chubby little toes in the sand for the first time. The squeals of joy they let out as they were darted around the pool by their grandparents. The smell of sunscreen and blueberries on their face as they make their first steps towards you, pressing it against yours as you embrace to celebrate. The lingering of a small hand on your leg on the chaise lounge by the pool, wanting so badly for the sun to make a lasting imprint of this mother-son moment. These are the moments that make us want to do it all over again soon, no matter how poorly we packed or how little we slept, or how we wore the same outfit twice because aforementioned vacation eating rendered half your wardrobe unzippable, or how bruised your innards feel from having a 25 pound ball of energy mistake you for a rock climbing wall in seat 15F.
Being present to soak up all of the memories from vacation should be the goal of every mom traveling with her children, and I hope that this guide helps you symbolically throw your hands up and surrender to the old “just roll with it” mantra of parenting — even if it’s just until the plane lands. You will look back at these family trips and not remember the Cheerio-throwing temper tantrum at 30,000 feet, or the guilt pangs from feeding your kids bacon and pancakes with regular milk three mornings in a row — just those sweet sights, smells, tastes, sounds, and touches that make it all worthwhile. Aren’t those the things that keep us sane in the midst of the madness of motherhood anyway?
So how do YOU survive traveling with toddlers?