The first time you take a trip with young children, you quickly learn there is a very distinct difference between a “vacation” and a “family trip.” A vacation is a relaxing, carefree break filled with leisure. A family trip is… different. It’s not better or worse; it’s just different.

However, there are a few things that you can do to make it a more enjoyable experience for yourself and your family.

Set Expectations for Your Children

A trip is full of new experience for your child. One thing we all know is that kids don’t always adapt well to changes. A trip means they’ll be sleeping somewhere different, eating different things. They’ll possibly be spending a significant amount of time in a car or flying on a plane for the first time. The best thing you can do is give your children an idea of the things that they’ll be experiencing. Make them aware of the sights and sounds of an airplane. Talk about what to expect when sleeping in a hotel. Pull up images online of things that you’ll be seeing and doing.  We all like to be prepared as best we can for new situations. Children are no different.

Set Expectations for Yourself

Kids are nothing if not unpredictable.  With all the new experiences, it’s likely that your kids may behave differently than expected. A night in a hotel can be an exciting experience and all of that excitement may mean that things like bedtime routines may not go exactly as anticipated. A day full of exciting new adventures may mean your children may have a hard time settling their minds and their bodies.  If kids have a strict bedtime at home, you may need to adjust it elsewhere.


It’s also important to remember that the way your children experience and react to things may be differently than you expect. While your enthusiasm can help, it’s also best not to take it too personally if they don’t feel as strongly about something that you do. It’s best to understand that their feelings are valid and allow their reaction to be genuine. The worst thing you can do is try to force your kids to love something that they have no interest in just because it’s something that you love.

Be Flexible

A trip away from home is great because it is a deviation from our normal lives, but those deviations leave us less prepared. We may not have the things that we need. Weather may interrupt our plans. There can be traffic. There may be unexpected crowds. The best thing to do is go with the flow. A rainy day may require you to seek out indoor options. For you own sanity you may need to loosen up on the screen time restrictions. You may need to spend $10 on cheap ponchos and just do whatever you were going to do anyway. The key is to be flexible. Being angry or frustrated at the unexpected is only going to make the trip less enjoyable for you and, ultimately, less enjoyable for your family.

And finally but most importantly…

Be Present

One of the hardest things about going on vacation is unplugging. We know what is waiting for us back at work when we get home, and sometimes we figure we can hold it off with just one quick email. However, one quick email can turn to just a few returned phone calls and just a quick tweak of a proposal, and before you know it, you’ve spent a few hours of your time off back at work.

If we’re lucky enough to unplug from work, we still face the challenge of unplugging from technology. We all dream of that perfect vacation photo or that perfect few second video. We work on crafting the perfect social media post to let the world know that we are having a great time.

Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take pictures of videos of your family. The power of a photograph or a video to capture of moment in time is amazing. I’m only suggesting that you not only keep it in check, but also think about what you’re recording.

I think back to a few years ago. My wife and I had taken our twins on our annual summer beach trip. This trip always falls over the week of July 4th. They were three that year, and it would be the first time that we decided to keep them awake to see the fireworks. I remember that as everyone around me had their phones pointed at the sky recording a fireworks display that they’d never watch again, I was watching my sons’ reaction to their first 4th of July fireworks. The amazement in their eyes, the little gasps with each explosion is something that I’ll never forget. To this day, it may be the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to a perfect parenting moment. It’s definitely something I wouldn’t trade for a five minute video on my phone that I’d eventually delete when I needed space. That memory will last in my heart for a lifetime.

Will every moment of every vacation be perfect? No. However, remember that today’s parenting struggles make for tomorrow’s great stories and that bad days rarely make the highlight reel. The best we can do is love our children, plan with the best of intentions and laugh when absolutely nothing goes according to that plan.

Let’s face it; you only get some many family trips with your kids while they’re young. You have to make the most of them.

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