Ahh, vacation. A time to relax, unwind, have spontaneous adventures, and do things you wouldn’t normally do at home.
Oh wait, you have kids now. Nap times, snack times, and bedtimes before the sun goes down mean vacation isn’t quite what it used to be. But with a little planning, flexibility and a good sense of humor, you can have just as much fun (if not more) as you did before the kids were born.
1. Pick your lodging carefully
If your kids go to bed before you like to turn in, and if they are still at napping age, you may need more than a standard hotel room. Look for a small cabin at a resort or a hotel suite with separate sleeping quarters for the kids. Having a kitchen is also a plus, meaning fewer restaurant meals (and, in turn, fewer tantrums). Continental breakfast, swimming pools or beaches, playgrounds and on-site children's programs are also great perks for keeping the kids content.
2. Look for deals
Traveling as a family can be pricey, but there are always deals to be had if you know where to look. Check with your destination’s convention and visitors bureau before your trip or upon arrival, and they’ll likely have coupons for attractions, dining, shopping and more. You can also save money by buying tickets for special events, museums and attractions in advance online, so do some research before you hit the road.
Another great way to save is by traveling outside of peak times—in Minnesota, that’s often between Labor Day and Memorial Day, and midweek during the summer.
3. Pack smart
When it comes to traveling with kids, packing smart doesn’t necessarily mean packing light. If you’re flying, the nominal fee to check a bag will be worth it once you get to your destination with everything you need. Plus, you can usually check strollers and car seats for free! If you’re driving, don’t be afraid to fill the trunk to the max, and pack the car with snacks and toys and other items you may want to access en route.
Books and toys from home, favorite foods and other comfort objects can make a new place feel familiar, and give the kids something to do while you plan your itinerary for the day. For long hauls, consider bringing a new toy or book to keep the kids entertained while in transit.
4. Don’t over-schedule
Trying to fit in three state parks before lunch may be doable for adults, but with short legs and even shorter attention spans, most kids will probably be happier with one. If you’re on a road trip, build in time for lunch and potty and stretch breaks. You may not get to see as many sites as you would like, but that’s OK. The part that everyone will remember is the time you spent together, not how many monuments or museums you checked off your list.
5. Stick to your routine
Speaking of schedules, vacation is not the time to skip naps or push bedtime back to 10 p.m., as tempting as it may be. Kids thrive on routine, and rested kids are happy kids, which usually translates to happy parents, too. Plan activities around your regular schedule as much as you can: Go to the museum or the zoo as soon as it opens, or head to a park or playground that opens when the sun comes up if your kids are early risers. In the evening, go out for an early dinner so you can explore or hit the hotel pool before it’s time for bed.
6. Bring your camera
Vacations are some of the most memorable times of your life, for both kids and parents. Selfies with Paul Bunyan, your child’s first fish, and cones at the local ice cream shop are what Minnesota vacations are made of. Capture these memories and put them in your scrapbook to keep forever—and be sure to post them online using #OnlyinMN! You can also hand the camera over and give the kids a chance to channel their inner shutterbug.
7. Go with the flow
Inevitably, some things will not go according to plan. Someone will get sick, a flight will be delayed, or the day you planned to be on the water will get rained out. But don't let any of these things ruin your trip. Kids have a way of bouncing back quickly, so take their lead and make the most of it, because even the worst day on vacation can't be so bad!