Vacationing with a child isn't always much of a vacation

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  August 6, 2009 06:01 AM

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Our son's first trip was to California when he was six months old. In a borrowed car on a dusty road north of Marin, he cried and cried and even stopping and feeding, changing and rocking him didn't help. Finally, out of desperation we began to drive again and recite the words to his favorite book ("Suppertime for Frieda Fuzzypaws" -- I still know it by heart). It worked like magic. We've been traveling together ever since.


Question: Vacation! We went away for a weekend with our 17 month old son. He HOWLED and would not nap. We even had a full size crib for him, similar to home. We are heading off for vacation for a week soon. I am nervous that he won't nap all week and will be so overtired that it won't be fun. What else can we do besides bringing his sheet, music, etc, to vacation with us and keeping to his same schedule?? thanks

From: Lynn, Boston

Hi Lynn,

I wish I had some encouraging words but, honestly, it sounds like you did everything right. Wait, here is one encouraging thought: Sometimes it's harder on children to go away for a weekend than it is for a week or more. With a longer period of time, they have a chance to adjust.

Keeping to the same schedule, including nap schedule, is the single most important ingredient to a successful vacation with a child. In fact, the more you can manipulate the days so they cater to your child's agenda, the happier everyone is likely to be, even though it can mean sacrificing what you would like to do.

Your son happens to be at a particularly difficult age for tolerating change of any kind to his routine. But it will get easier. In the meantime, give him a little advance warning. ("We're going to grandma's house on the lake; you'll have your own bed there, and your favorite sheets from home, and we'll read a bedtime story every night just like we do at home.") Do all the things you did before, keep the routine as familiar as possible, and hope for the best! You might get lucky.

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8 comments so far...
  1. My husband and I always say that going away with our 3 year old son is a "trip" definitely NOT a vacation, LOL!

    Posted by Erica August 6, 09 09:39 AM
  1. We took our 17 month old child on a trip to Greece and it went surprisingly well. We prepared her for the airplane ride weeks in advance by talking about the trip and I even bought a play airplane. Her sleep schedule was fine with the nap strictly enforced. Just remember you are are always on and it will not be the "relaxing" vacation that was pre-kids. My husband and I would give each other a couple hours of alone time each day which helped. Good luck and enjoy.

    Posted by ND August 6, 09 09:43 AM
  1. Ha! Welcome to parenthood! Barbara is right - the child will adjust on a longer vacation. Relax - you can still have plenty of fun in between the cranky episodes.

    Posted by Dad August 6, 09 09:45 AM
  1. It may just be my kids, but we've never been sticklers for routine on vacation, and it has always been a blast. If the kids needed naps, we'd try to get them to take them, but if it wasn't going to happen, we'd go do something fun instead (and make sure we had stuff to feed them quick dinners so they could crash early if they needed to). I think it's important to bring a lovey, but the same sheets, books, and music? Please! Do you want to have to cart that stuff around for the rest of your life? The best way to raise an adaptable kid is to give them opportunities to adapt. Our kids never slept in a crib on vacation. Maybe a pack and play, but usually a real bed. They managed. Honestly, the bed was better - it was easier for one of us to lie down with the kid who needed to sleep.

    A vacation with kids CAN, and SHOULD, be fun.

    Posted by akmom August 6, 09 12:05 PM
  1. I think you also have to adjust your expectations. Like akmom, I through all semblence of routine out the window when we went on vacation. If I felt like on of my kids needed a nap, I through him/her in the car or stroller, I let them stay up late so they would exhausted and fall asleep. I immediately recognized a vacation would never be the same, but that is OK. It is still a chance to have a break with reality and spend lots of quality time together.

    Like someone else mentioned, my husband and I always took turns managing the kids so the other one would truly get a bit of a break.

    Enjoy, those days fly by!

    Posted by Jane August 6, 09 02:02 PM
  1. AKMom and Jane - it really does depend on the kid.

    We always stick as closely to routine as possible and everyone is happier that way. Our kids are in bed early and up early, and one takes a mid day nap. Hitting Disney World parks right when they open, taking a break at the hottest and most crowded part of the day for a nap at the hotel, and then heading back for a little more fun before dinner makes a GREAT day for everyone. Even my husband and I! We can take turns taking our older child for a swim while the other one hangs with the napper and naps him or herself, or all put our feet up and read a book. Then when they go to bed for the night (relatively close, but not exactly) to their regular bedtime, we have the chance to review our photos from the day, keep things organized and re pack daytime bags (a MUST for a family trip) have a glass of wine, and enjoy each other's company.

    Even though it's a lot of work to travel with kids, we find that when we put their needs first, everyone ends up happier. For us, for our children, letting 'em go until they drop never works out for anyone. Not only does it cause meltdowns and problems, but oftentimes it can even ruin the NEXT day as well. But all kids our different. Ours get overloaded quickly and turn into textbook cases of "overstimulation" if we are not careful. This cannot be ignored simply because of vacation. Or, I suppose it can, and then we'll suffer the consequences. We prefer to head things off at the pass rather than drive over the cliff.

    We've been away THIRTEEN WEEKENDS, some of them extended, in a row with our two and six year old! Not a single one at home this summer! We're pros at this by now, and have been doing it this way for years.

    Posted by RH August 7, 09 08:15 AM
  1. I guess I just realized why my parents left us with our grandparents when they went on one or two vacations when we were little (we were 3 kids in four years!) Also, as I recall, we did Grama's schedule at Grama's house, not ours - without even thinking about different routines in different places with different people. I'm certain my youngest sister was 6 before we all hit the road for camping vacations as a family - so naps, familiar sheets, toys, routines were just NOT an issue - we all, parents included, expected everything to be different, that's what vacation meant.

    Posted by Ajay August 7, 09 12:02 PM
  1. We tried vacationing with just us and a little one but quickly learned it just wasn't that fun. We then started renting a house with the grandparents and things got much better. It wasn't as adventurous as the trips we had in our childless days but having the grandparents around to step in and give us a break meant that we actually got to relax a bit. When cousins came along, they added instant playmates to the mix. Now that the kids are older we are back to having adventures again. For every age there is a different kind of adjustment.

    Posted by Cordelia August 10, 09 02:33 PM
 
8 comments so far...
  1. My husband and I always say that going away with our 3 year old son is a "trip" definitely NOT a vacation, LOL!

    Posted by Erica August 6, 09 09:39 AM
  1. We took our 17 month old child on a trip to Greece and it went surprisingly well. We prepared her for the airplane ride weeks in advance by talking about the trip and I even bought a play airplane. Her sleep schedule was fine with the nap strictly enforced. Just remember you are are always on and it will not be the "relaxing" vacation that was pre-kids. My husband and I would give each other a couple hours of alone time each day which helped. Good luck and enjoy.

    Posted by ND August 6, 09 09:43 AM
  1. Ha! Welcome to parenthood! Barbara is right - the child will adjust on a longer vacation. Relax - you can still have plenty of fun in between the cranky episodes.

    Posted by Dad August 6, 09 09:45 AM
  1. It may just be my kids, but we've never been sticklers for routine on vacation, and it has always been a blast. If the kids needed naps, we'd try to get them to take them, but if it wasn't going to happen, we'd go do something fun instead (and make sure we had stuff to feed them quick dinners so they could crash early if they needed to). I think it's important to bring a lovey, but the same sheets, books, and music? Please! Do you want to have to cart that stuff around for the rest of your life? The best way to raise an adaptable kid is to give them opportunities to adapt. Our kids never slept in a crib on vacation. Maybe a pack and play, but usually a real bed. They managed. Honestly, the bed was better - it was easier for one of us to lie down with the kid who needed to sleep.

    A vacation with kids CAN, and SHOULD, be fun.

    Posted by akmom August 6, 09 12:05 PM
  1. I think you also have to adjust your expectations. Like akmom, I through all semblence of routine out the window when we went on vacation. If I felt like on of my kids needed a nap, I through him/her in the car or stroller, I let them stay up late so they would exhausted and fall asleep. I immediately recognized a vacation would never be the same, but that is OK. It is still a chance to have a break with reality and spend lots of quality time together.

    Like someone else mentioned, my husband and I always took turns managing the kids so the other one would truly get a bit of a break.

    Enjoy, those days fly by!

    Posted by Jane August 6, 09 02:02 PM
  1. AKMom and Jane - it really does depend on the kid.

    We always stick as closely to routine as possible and everyone is happier that way. Our kids are in bed early and up early, and one takes a mid day nap. Hitting Disney World parks right when they open, taking a break at the hottest and most crowded part of the day for a nap at the hotel, and then heading back for a little more fun before dinner makes a GREAT day for everyone. Even my husband and I! We can take turns taking our older child for a swim while the other one hangs with the napper and naps him or herself, or all put our feet up and read a book. Then when they go to bed for the night (relatively close, but not exactly) to their regular bedtime, we have the chance to review our photos from the day, keep things organized and re pack daytime bags (a MUST for a family trip) have a glass of wine, and enjoy each other's company.

    Even though it's a lot of work to travel with kids, we find that when we put their needs first, everyone ends up happier. For us, for our children, letting 'em go until they drop never works out for anyone. Not only does it cause meltdowns and problems, but oftentimes it can even ruin the NEXT day as well. But all kids our different. Ours get overloaded quickly and turn into textbook cases of "overstimulation" if we are not careful. This cannot be ignored simply because of vacation. Or, I suppose it can, and then we'll suffer the consequences. We prefer to head things off at the pass rather than drive over the cliff.

    We've been away THIRTEEN WEEKENDS, some of them extended, in a row with our two and six year old! Not a single one at home this summer! We're pros at this by now, and have been doing it this way for years.

    Posted by RH August 7, 09 08:15 AM
  1. I guess I just realized why my parents left us with our grandparents when they went on one or two vacations when we were little (we were 3 kids in four years!) Also, as I recall, we did Grama's schedule at Grama's house, not ours - without even thinking about different routines in different places with different people. I'm certain my youngest sister was 6 before we all hit the road for camping vacations as a family - so naps, familiar sheets, toys, routines were just NOT an issue - we all, parents included, expected everything to be different, that's what vacation meant.

    Posted by Ajay August 7, 09 12:02 PM
  1. We tried vacationing with just us and a little one but quickly learned it just wasn't that fun. We then started renting a house with the grandparents and things got much better. It wasn't as adventurous as the trips we had in our childless days but having the grandparents around to step in and give us a break meant that we actually got to relax a bit. When cousins came along, they added instant playmates to the mix. Now that the kids are older we are back to having adventures again. For every age there is a different kind of adjustment.

    Posted by Cordelia August 10, 09 02:33 PM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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