Family Challenge: How to Balance Schedules and Relaxation on Vacation
Travel is supposed to be fun... right? Nice and relaxing by the beach, maybe reading a book, sipping your favorite drink and forgetting all your cares.
However, when you add kids into the mix (especially little kids) all of a sudden you might find your stress levels rising. If you've ever found yourself screaming (or at least thinking), "You're going to have fun and you're going to like it!" then perhaps some of these tips to keep the stress out and relaxation in on vacation will help you.
Start With a Vacation "Schedule"
I have a few kiddos on the autism spectrum, and to one degree or another, they really like knowing what is planned for a particular day. On vacation, this can throw a wrench into their routines, since so much of what goes on is different from regular life. One thing that is helpful is sitting down a few days before we leave for our trip to make a "vacation schedule."
We usually start with a sheet of paper and divide it into morning / afternoon / evening, and add in the details we know. This can be as detailed or as loose as you want. If you're not a planner like I am, detailing your trip may sound like the worst form of torture. But even so, you still probably know when your flights are (including what seats the kids will be sitting in), or what hotel you're staying at, or maybe some of the things you'll see or people you'll visit. Here's one page of our schedule from a recent trip.
Once your rough schedule is created, it can be helpful to do some research and notate on the schedule the hours of operation for any attractions you plan to visit. Nothing is worse than showing up somewhere with a carload of kids looking forward to an experience only to find that the attraction is closed for the day. Oh, and if you're traveling by car, here are some tips for surviving a road trip with a large family.
My older kids are more "go with the flow" people by now, and so they didn't want to participate in making the schedules for our last vacation, which was fine. But you better believe that every time they asked, "What are we doing today?" while on vacation, I told them, "Hmm. You should check your schedule!"
Keep a Routine on Vacation
I've found that most kids thrive on routine, especially younger kids. I know there are parents who have a less structured parenting philosophy. If that's you, these tips might not be right for your family.
When our kids were younger, we were very strict about upholding the sanctity of "nap time." On vacation, especially if you're with extended family or other people, this may be harder to do. But it's still possible with a bit of planning. If you follow some of our hotel tips for larger families, you might be able to find a hotel with a suite that allows little kids to take their naps in the bedroom while everyone else can still be doing their thing in the common area. Be on the lookout for all-suite options, some of which are on Mommy Points' list of best hotel chains for families. Suites also make it a bit easier to prepare some meals in the room (saving a few bucks in the process).
The same thing goes for bedtimes. While I think you can afford to be a little flexible with bedtimes and parts of the routine (see below) on vacation, you're asking for trouble if you keep a toddler up way past his bedtime and then expect him to be happy the next day! Or (even worse), they'll still be up at the crack of dawn and you will be cranky having to deal with him!
Know When to Be Flexible
So, like I mentioned, I'm a big believer in routines and schedules, but part of having a routine is giving yourself permission to adjust it as necessary. Of course, only you will know your kids and how your family reacts, but vacation is a good time to allow a bit of flexibility. When our kids were little, we still tried to return to the hotel for midday nap times, since we knew that it would make the kids super cranky in the evening if we didn't. To compensate, we were a little more flexible on bedtimes and keeping the kids out later. Of course, they were still up at the crack of dawn wanting to be entertained, but that's what Disney Jr. on the hotel TV is for!
For us, the vacation schedules were super helpful, since it allowed our more routine-focused kids to know when days would be "different" and what to expect.
All in all, remember that vacation is supposed to be fun. So even if you're a schedule-focused, detail-oriented control freak like me, vacation is a good time to take a step back and build some flexibility into your schedule.
I hope that these tips have helped you reduce stress on your next family vacation. Now it's your turn: Have schedules or routines helped you on your family vacations? What are some of your other tips? We'd love to hear about them.