There we were pushing two mountains worth of luggage with our preschooler perched on top, holding a screaming infant, pulling our daughter in her wheelchair behind us. It was waaaaaaaay past their bedtimes and we still had to clear customs. This was the tail end of our Make-A-Wish trip and our patience. It was in that moment of stares targeting our traveling circus that I laughed quite loudly. It was going to either be laugh or cry, and I already looked like the Bride of Frankenstein! So, how does one cope when traveling becomes less than optimal?
The trick is to embrace the imperfection of the situation. I know it is easier said than done. Our journey to accepting this was laced with detours and set backs. You see, when we became parents, we had absolutely no idea that in three years we would learn that all of her perfect imperfections would lead to a much shortened life span. Life stood still. All of a sudden we could feel our hearts beating and breathing was no longer a voluntary action. The delivery of the diagnosis of Ataxia-Telangiectasia brought us to our knees. Slowly, very slowly, we stood back up. Perhaps we packed our bags because our baggage at home was getting too heavy to carry.Traveling brings us new and happier memories, smiles to everyone’s faces, and the chance to fill a shortened lifespan with everything we can. Sometimes the smiles fade and children fight or melt down. Ok, sometimes it’s me that melts down too! Traveling is our getaway car in this crazy life, and sometimes it is just going to take a wrong turn!
Pinterest is FULL of a million ways to keep your kids happy, smiling, engaged, and on and on while traveling. Look, I’m just looking for the toddler to not throw his sippy cup at me from the backseat and to not have to threaten to pull over more than a dozen times! I’m NOT looking to be super mom who has her hair perfectly coiffed, nails painted, and perfect little minions hanging on every word. I have adjusted my expectations and embraced that it will not go smoothly all the time. Here are some of my practical tips for keeping harmony on vacation:
1. Before you even set foot out of the door, call a family meeting to tell your children what you expect from them. For example:
“Listen, we are going to be in the car from breakfast until bed time, and that’s a long time. I am expecting you to pee every time we stop without saying you don’t have to, because it will make our trip even longer if you don’t. None of us want to stay in the car longer, right? If you follow these directions, we will let you choose what we listen to for thirty minutes. If you decide to not obey, we will be sure to listen to the most boring podcast we can find.”
Yes, I am THAT mom. However, fair is fair! They were warned!
2. Let them know you will let them know every hour closer to the destination you get. Then, when you are within an hour, you will tell them every ten minutes. When you are under ten minutes, every minute will be counted down. Any requests for how much longer it will take are ignored. Trust me, they quit asking after a while.
3. Think long and hard about seating on whatever mode of transportation you are taking. Double down on planning sleeping arrangements. Let the children know in advance who is sleeping where.
4. Pack each child their own snack bag. We use gallon bags with their name written on them. If they eat everything in ten minutes, that’s on them. Make sure to let them know this in advance.
5. Each child of ours has a backpack that they fill with things to do. We add additional things they have never seen. This doesn’t have to be expensive, young children are happy with Dollar Store treasures. They bear responsibility in helping plan ahead. This is a good lesson to learn.
6. When someone reaches that meltdown mode, take a deep breath or fifty. Try to not feed into whatever is causing them to come apart. It’s ok to be that person whose child is going bananas. Ignore the stares and focus on what’s the root of the problem with your child. Are they hungry? Are they tired, over stimulated, bored, disregulated, or just in a foul mood? Address the root of the problem, and talk about behavior once things settle down. Remember this is vacation, and it is easy for children to be overwhelmed and pick up on stress from parents.
7. Offer choices! So, the parents both want to go to the art museum and that can’t miss monument. Perhaps ask kid #1 on the first day and #2 on the second, “Would you like to go to the art museum and then the monument or the monument and then the art museum?” Both lead to what you want, but they have some control. Ok, and sometimes we throw in ice cream at the end. Yay for ice cream!
8. Please schedule in down time! That down time can be sitting on the grass at Disney and playing I Spy. Just slow down for a bit.
9. Don’t expect to accomplish everything you set out to do. If you miss out on seeing that one MUST SEE place on your trip, try and remember the million small things that you did get to experience. There is someone out there that would give anything to have your less than perfect vacation.
Stuck on a Ride at Disney. #4 has a poopy diaper and #1 has had more than enough looking at plants!
10. Try and have fun. When your toddler loses it, smile and make a silly face. They will become better and better travelers the older they get and the more often they do it.