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Family Vacationing Made Easier

Desk to Go in action

"You don't have to go far or plan a big, expensive vacation to see great stuff. In fact, some of the greatest places may be right around the corner."
—Joanne O'Sullivan, 101 Places You Gotta See Before You're 12!

Parents often have mixed feelings with the approach of vacation time. It's nice to have a more relaxed routine and a change from the work/school schedule, but it's not always easy to keep children content when traveling. Whether taking day trips or longer excursions to distant locations, planning ahead with your children can ease the stresses and struggles.

Preparing and Planning

Begin talking about your vacation or excursion several days or weeks ahead, and educate your child about what to expect and what the trip will include. If you are traveling to a distant place, a map can clarify the discussion about the destination as can pictures of the city, resort, amusement park, house, lake, mountains, etc. Talk about the modes of transportation, how long it will take to get there, and what you'll see when you get there. If visiting friends or family, talk about what you'll do, whom you will see, and what gifts you might take for them. A calendar to mark off the days until the vacation starts helps young children wait more patiently.

Even a two-year-old child can participate in the packing, helping to gather clothes to put into the suitcase. "Bring me two pairs of socks." "Which pajamas do you want to take?" Children can have a small bag or backpack with their own special items - a favorite stuffed animal or book along with their own hat, sweater, and water bottle. An older child might pack her own suitcase if instructions are given about how to pack. Rolling up items of clothing sometimes makes them easier to pack.

On the Road

Just as the children pack their necessities, a parent's "survival pack" includes not only adult necessities, but also extra items for whole family. Remember extra sets of clothing (even for mom and dad) in case of accidents, spills, or unexpected splashing.

  • Be sure to take well-liked snacks or meals for travel times. Airline or traffic delays might not allow for time to eat. Some parents take along enough food for the first day of the trip.
  • Young children will like the comfort of their own car seat on a plane. This also eases struggles with seatbelt requirements, since children are accustomed to being belted when riding in the car.
  • When the wait is long or children tire, a new activity, book, or game can help the time pass without stress.
  • Regardless of the at-home rules limiting screen time, tablets or smart phones are a real plus to avoid "melt-downs" and are much appreciated by people sitting nearby on the plane, bus, train or at the restaurant. These special-occasion uses leave everyone less frazzled. Remember to let children know in advance what rules govern these special uses.

Family Enjoyment

Remember, the vacation is for everyone's pleasure, so balance parents' needs with those of the children. Not every activity needs to revolve around the children. Never hesitate to visit museums and historical sights. You might be surprised how much young children remember, especially if you talk beforehand about what will be seen. As much as possible, keep your usual schedule of eating and sleeping. Being tired or hungry affects everyone. Watch for overload or over-stimulation. While parents might have the stamina to do just one more thing, family peace may come from an afternoon relaxing with books or writing postcards.

Many families plan trips to special child-oriented destinations. As exciting and stimulating as an amusement park is, remember this is basically a passive activity. One waits in line, then sits down to enjoy the ride or performance. It is very different to ride a bike, hike a trail, or build a sand castle. Be sensitive to both yours and your children's needs to be active. I've heard many a child express the desire to just swim in the hotel pool rather than take one more ride or see another sight.

It's fun to keep a journal of the family trip - an older child might be the photographer, someone might write the diary of weather, sights seen, mountains climbed, etc. Children love to collect souvenirs, whether special rocks, postcards, or memories. Prepare a special bag or box for each child's souvenirs before the trip, and help the youngest begin to collect treasures on the very first day.

Most of all, remember to have fun and savor the travel explorations. Being prepared as well as flexible makes for a memorable vacation for the whole family.

"It's clear that the adult must give up the adult rhythm of walking and allow the child to interact with whatever captures interest."
—Patricia Oriti, At Home with Montessori

—by Jane M. Jacobs, M.A., Montessori Educational Consultant at Montessori Services. She is a trained primary Montessori directress and also a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She has taught children aged 2 to 7 years in Montessori schools, Headstart, and also in a preschool for children with developmental challenges. In her counseling practice, she helps individuals, couples, and families.

—Originally Published 2013

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