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Sure, on vacation it’s easier to say yes to ice cream for lunch, late-night swims and a spur-of-the-moment gift-shop purchase. That’s just part of why, on vacation, parents might get to be the best versions of themselves. There are more sides to the coin though, and some of the reasons aren’t because the rules are more lax (though that’s often true, too).

For background: We travel a lot. Travel is a big part of my job and it’s also my passion. I don’t count countries, routes and flights, but it is safe to say my 9-year old-has been on hundreds of flights and my 3-year-old is probably approaching triple digits. I wouldn’t classify all of our travels as “vacations,” but some of them certainly are. With that sample set to use as a baseline, here are five ways that being a “vacation mom” (or dad) can be the stuff parenting dreams are made of — not only for kids, but for parents, too.

We’re In It Together

On an average day at home during the school year, it’s common for the kids to have maybe 30 to 60 waking minutes at home with the parents before they are off to eight hours of school and parents head to work for at least that long. Then come the after-school activities where the kids flip, dance, kick or perform while parents watch. (Or, perhaps while parents continue working from the parent holding area.) Next up is the evening whirlwind of homework, baths and bedtime before it all starts over the next day.

On vacation, there’s little to none of that. For us, that means no early alarm clocks, eating three meals a day together, riding bikes, squealing on roller coasters, hiking together, swimming together, playing together. On trips, we aren’t living separate lives that just intersect at the beginning and ends of the day, but we are playing and exploring … together. That 24-hour togetherness by itself is what my kids say they like the best about “vacation mom.” (I’m sure they will change their mind during the teen years.)

There’s a Plan … for Fun

This varies from day to day and trip to trip but, on vacation, there’s often a plan for fun. Perhaps the plan is go to the beach, use FastPasses at certain rides, hike with a National Park Ranger or spend the day at the pool. What each day has in common are the activity anchor points that propel the days away from just hanging around the house and into actually getting out and doing things.

Photo by Shelby Soblick for The Points Guy
Photo by Shelby Soblick for The Points Guy

While weekends at home might have the freedom to look like vacation days in some ways, sometimes everyone is so wiped out from the week that doesn’t happen. I certainly don’t always have a plan for fun at home, but when I step into vacation mom mode, there are almost always ideas at the ready. Rarely on vacation will we spend an entire day just laying around (unless it’s by the pool!).

It’s Easy to Say Yes

Nine times out of 10, when my kids ask to go get ice cream or make a Target run at home, the answer is, “not today.” We try and save those things for special occasions (or five-star bribes). But vacation mom has a strong “yes” track record — probably because there are fewer downsides to just going with it. Maybe you’re at an all-inclusive resort where poolside smoothies and even a visit to the candy and ice cream store doesn’t cost extra (thanks, Hyatt Ziva Cancun).

Hyatt Ziva Cancun included dessert shop (Photo by Zach Griff / The Points Guy)
Hyatt Ziva Cancun included dessert shop (Photo by Zach Griff / The Points Guy)

Or maybe it’s because there’s no early alarm tomorrow preventing staying up late to swim or watching that late-night movie.

Perhaps it’s because you’re not at risk of setting a hard-to-break habit when you deviate from the norm away from home, but saying yes is as fun on vacation to the parent as the kid. You might find that saying yes to small things makes your kids ask for some pretty cool things that gets them more involved in the entire travel-planning process.

You Face Challenges

Upping your parenting game on vacation isn’t just because of the fun stuff, it comes out of the harder stuff, too. At home there’s often an out if stuff gets too hard, but when you are out in the larger world exploring, pushing through might be the only way forward.

For example, we’ve taken a wrong turn on the ski slope and had to find our way down safely, pushing both our limits. Or, there’s been times when my kids didn’t think they could take another step after an overnight flight, but absolutely had to in order to get where we were going — while pulling their own bags. We’ve also been in places that we didn’t speak the primary language and we had to navigate those challenges as a team, celebrating the victories and learning from the misses.

Facing and overcoming challenges can also come up simply by trying new things such as paddle-boarding, kayaking, zip-lining or trail riding. Those situations allow you to help guide your kids forward to just give new things a try. These new activities might feel challenging in the moment, but they feel pretty darn great when they are over, even if they were only done for fun. 

Shared Memories

It’s great when kids have their own friends, activities, school happenings, etc. but some of the best stuff from childhood comes out of shared, happy family experiences. The brain blurs the day-to-day together, but the unusual experiences can stick out. Looking back at my own childhood, we all still remember and laugh at how long we waited in line to ride Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disney — and how awful the ride sort of was. We remember the bizarre games my sister and I played in the backseat of the 1989 Honda Accord driving down to Orlando to pass the time in the years before tablets. We reminisce about the snow slides that were made out of the frozen wonderland outside of rented condos in Colorado.

These all seem like small things in the moment, but they become a part of shared family history. When my kids are grown, it’ll probably be important that we (mostly) got them to school on time, made sure the homework was done, teeth were brushed and that we helped them explore hobbies in after-school activities, but I don’t want to be remembered as the glorified activities chauffeur or tooth brush patrol.

I want to be remembered as the mom who took that horseback ride with them. The mom who flew screaming on the inner tube down the snow. The mom who helped them sample and rate as much shave ice as possible. The mom who had rules, but who sometimes let them slide in favor of saying yes.

Some parents are probably good at doing all that without ever leaving home, but while I’m trying, that doesn’t always happen for us. For me, vacation mom is the best mom. She may not be a 24/7/365 occupant of this household, but thankfully with a few miles and points, we know where to find her.

Featured image by Kim Ebert / The Points Guy

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