5 Tips to Prepare for a More Fun, Less Stressful Family Vacation

5 Tips to Prepare for a More Fun, Less Stressful Family Vacation

Some say that traveling with kids is a trip but never a vacation. Here’s a more optimistic view: While your days of carefree lounging are on pause, you might find that you have more fun than ever — especially if you’re prepared.

“The most important time is the preparation you do before the trip,” says Dr. Maria Shaheen, senior director of education for Primrose Schools®. “When parents are stressed, children feel that, so being ready — but also flexible — is helpful.”

These tips can help you reduce stress when traveling as a family. That way, everyone, even Mom and Dad, can enjoy the trip.

1. Set expectations with your children.

Children thrive on routine and may struggle when that routine is disrupted. Talk to your child before the trip about what they can expect and outline each day’s plans in the morning. Much like the “plan for the day” presented in Primrose classrooms, your travel plan for the day can include important items such as breakfast, snack, nap time and sightseeing.

You can also show your child the route you’re taking on a map and prepare them for what might happen: “We are going to fly from here to here, which will take about four hours. To pass the time, we will color, read and look out the window at the clouds. In the middle, a flight attendant will bring us snacks, and we will take a potty break.”

2. Get the whole family in on planning.

It’s easier to get excited for a trip when you helped plan it. Even young children can help pack their favorite clothes, swimsuits, books and toys (and parents can whittle down or substitute as needed — especially if your 2-year-old thinks they need their snow boots in Mexico).

Of course, the real packing responsibility falls to the parents. As far in advance as possible, start to make a game plan for what you’ll need in terms of clothing, equipment, medicine, toiletries, food and anything else your child uses in a typical day. If you start making a list, organized by category, a few days or even a week ahead of time, you can add items to it as you think of them. You can also reuse the list for future trips to save time later.

3. Prepare activity bags.

Have your child help prepare a few activity bags with different themes, or make each bag an assortment of educational and entertainment materials. One could have drawing supplies, paper and stickers for in-car artwork. In another, you could mix pop-up books, play dough and a bead-and-lace toy. An activity bag just for the hotel might include stuffed toys, a blanket and a favorite bedtime book. A rainy-day bag could have games, books and art supplies.

It can be helpful to mix new toys — or toys that you’ve put away for a while before the trip — with familiar items, to give your child a sense of both novelty and comfort.

4. Practice calming techniques before and during the trip.

Children younger than 5 are just starting to learn how to self-regulate when they have overwhelming emotions such as anger and fear. Before the trip and while you’re traveling, practice calming techniques with your child, such as taking a deep breath and counting to three.

5. Know it won’t be perfect — and that’s OK.

Yes, thoughtful preparation is helpful. But there will still be toddler meltdowns, diaper disasters and wrong turns. Your child will get their cues on how to react to adversity from you, so take care to practice your own calming techniques and show resilience. After all, some of the best vacation stories come from the chaotic moments.

“As hard as you try, your child may be overtired and have a few moments where they simply need to decompress or rest, and they show it by crying or acting out,” Shaheen says. “Be gentle with them and yourself, and remember that the tough moment will pass, and you can do it.”

For more tips on traveling with little ones, check out:

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