I remember the first big vacation we took together with my son in Israel. On a beautiful summer day, we drove for an hour up a steep cliff to see one of the most beautiful sites in the area, the valley in which David slew Goliath. As we stood looking at the breathtaking view, I held up my three-year-old and said to him, "Mordechai, isn't it beautiful?" He looked at me and said "Mommy, now can we go home and watch Barney?"
Sometimes the key with young kids is to "Do Less and Enjoy More."
While to adults vacation fun usually includes new, exciting and different activities, what young children often want most is what they are used to.
Does that mean that we should not bother taking young kids on vacation? Of course not. What it does mean is that it's worthwhile taking your child's needs and interests into account in order to make a trip fun for the whole family.
Here are a few tips and issues to consider in planning a trip with young kids.
Consider your Child's Schedule
Don't plan a non-stop day of touring and expect your young child not to get cranky. If he is used to taking a nap, plan a time in the middle of the day when you can go back to your hotel room. Occasionally, he can miss a nap. After a week of missed naps, though, you will have one cranky child on your hands.
Look for Child-Friendly Activities
Look for fun playgrounds, petting zoos and small amusement parks. While you may want to see the main tourist attractions in an area, remember that if you also plan something fun for your child, she will have more patience for tourist activities.
Bring Along A Little Piece of Home
Bring along some familiar favorite objects on your trip. Your child's favorite book, toy and stuffed animal should be going on your trip too.
Consider Splitting Up
Even during a family vacation, the whole family does not have to do everything together. If there is a great art museum you want to see, then split up. Let one parent take the young children to a park and the other parent can go to the museum. Later on or the next day, you can switch.
If there are older children in the family, divide into two groups rather than listen to older children complain about being bored. You can meet for supper and share the experiences of your day as a family.
If you are a single parent, try and choose locations that will have a park for your children and an interesting historical site for you.
Plan for Healthy Meals
Family trips are notoriously times when children eat junk food, McDonalds' children's meals and ice cream. One week of poor nutrition will probably not have a long-lasting effect on your child's health. But remember that the kind of foods your child eats affect how he feels and, therefore, how he behaves. A child who is stuffed full with sugar and carbohydrates is not likely to stand in line quietly waiting for his turn.
Consider taking along some whole-wheat bread and peanut butter and jelly, so that you can always whip out a sandwich instead of running to the ice-cream stand when your child is hungry. Pack some healthy snacks in your bag so that you don't always have to resort to buying what is behind the counter. Bring along a canteen of water to make sure that your child drinks enough without filling herself up on soda.
Plan in advance and know what you are doing each day. But don't feel an obligation to stick with your plans if they are not working for your child. If you plan a whole day of traveling and your child wakes up that day in a cranky mood, then consider switching to a shorter activity.
If you are in the middle of a tour and your child is hungry or thirsty, take a break.
Sometimes by sticking too closely to the "plan" you end up having a less enjoyable time. Sometimes the key with young kids is to "Do Less and Enjoy More."
Don't Forget to Laugh
I don't know about you, but no matter how well I plan my family trips, there are always surprises. So while it is understandable to be a bit upset when things don't work out as planned, try and keep a sense of humor. Give your child (and spouse) a hug and kiss, take a step back and try to laugh at the situation.
In fact, when I look back on that day on the mountain, what I remember with most fondness is not the beauty of the view (although it was beautiful), but our laughter over a three-year-old whose priority was Barney.
So try and keep in mind that what counts on a vacation is not always how many things you see, but how much fun you have doing things together.