I frequently travel as the only adult with my four daughters, so I could make a list of travel tips longer than a TSA line. But really, there are five most important, all of which can be distilled into one idea: If you are having a good time traveling with your children, chances are they’re having a good time, too.
It’s an important tip, but one that continues to be a real challenge for me. Traveling with children takes plenty of energy. In the pre-departure chaos — that stage of trying to prepare for the trip and compensate for missed work — be mindful of your own physical needs, because it will be difficult to administer to your children if you begin your vacation already depleted. Travel with kids is not known for being restful, unless you’re traveling with an entourage of helpers; force yourself to recognize which tasks can wait for your return and which items you can do without.
Every family has rules, but some should be broken during vacation. Go ahead and drink Italian sodas or eat Mexican ice cream every day—maybe even twice a day. Stay up too late. Make too much noise. Even leave that hotel room a bit of a mess, knowing that when you come back after a day of fun, it will be clean. Do things that aren’t generally encouraged at home; let vacation feel like something special, because it is.
Ask your child to do something that you think is beyond his or her skill set: Let the 4-year-old pack her carry on; have the 6-year-old order his ice cream or find his seat assignment; give the 10-year-old some money to pick up a few things at a nearby market; entrust the 13-year-old with interpreting the subway system; let the 16-year-old book the train tickets. Children will feel much more invested in a family vacation if they have some control. You can follow up (or watch them covertly), but be OK with the outcome, because these exercises will give them the confidence they need to navigate the world someday.
One exception: Do not, under any circumstances, let your child be in charge of his own passport (unless he is traveling solo). Only one family member should be responsible for these important documents. Losing a passport is an adventurer’s rite of passage, but as a family, it’s better for all to go missing rather than just one.
If you’re waiting for the perfect time to take a vacation, you’ll never go. You’ll never have enough time, kids will always have sporting events or recitals, work will always be pressing, you will always think you’ll have more money later … the list goes on and on. Make it happen and trust that it will be worth it! All the other distractions fade away in the rearview mirror, but the travel memories will last a lifetime.
Constant, absolute honesty has a price. Sometimes, everyone can benefit if you hold back information. If possible, don’t tell people the exact date you’re coming home. Always add at least a day, as it’s your only hope for catching up. Children may need a day to sleep in and recover from the physical demands of travel. Refrigerators need to be restocked, laundry cleaned and mail sorted. Give yourself some space between vacation and real life so you can better appreciate both.