Before I became a mom, I pictured glorious vacations with my husband and kids running through the sand, splashing in the waves, building sand castles, taking beach naps in the shade of an umbrella.
We traveled with friends and family a handful of times in the first year that we were parents. But when Belle turned one, we went on our first official family vacation. Just the three of us. We rented a beautiful house on the coast of Maine with breathtaking views of the ocean. What could go wrong?
When we arrived I immediately went to work baby proofing and setting up everything we'd packed into our car. We had a wild one year old who climbed everything, ran instead of walked, and was just "very busy" as everyone liked to say. So I gathered all the breakables, hid them in a closet, showed her the cabinets she could play in - pots and pans and Tupperware - made her a little play space in the sun porch, put up gates near the stairs, etc. As I went about my work I noticed my husband sort of just watching it all like a deer in the headlights.
He works A LOT. And this trip was at the end of summer. It marked the end of a very busy spring/summer season for him and being away from work now was proving to give him a bit of anxiety...and more specifically, a feeling of "what now?" A few hours later, I found him on the sun porch attempting a 1000 piece puzzle, sipping a glass of scotch.
This was puzzling because in all the years I'd known him I'd never seen him do a puzzle. Ever. A little while later, he came into the kitchen, looked down at Belle (who was wearing a pasta strainer as a hat) and said "so, what does she do all day?"
"This," I said. "She does this. She just plays. And soon she'll nap. Then she'll play some more, eat, and go to bed."
And that's when it hit me. This was a full-on baby immersion program for him. One year ago, this little girl was born and only a few weeks after that, we decided that I wasn't going back to work. He began working his tail off, completely restructuring his real estate business, and I was fully immersed in raising this baby and figuring out my new life as a stay at home mom. And now here we were, one year later, and the week ahead of us would be the most amount of time the three of us had spent together under one roof to date.
I felt awful. I was so used to just running on auto-pilot when it came to all-things-Belle, but he had virtually no idea what our days were like...let alone a whole week. I had a year of gradual, day-by-day learning to lead me to this point. But he got thrown in all at once. So, there I went, gently trying to clue him into our day to day routines, while also trying to make sure all of us had a great week. It was a lot of work. It was exhausting to be honest. It was not a vacation - not by any stretch. As much as I'd prepared for it, I felt totally defeated because clearly I was unprepared. And so was he.
But here's the thing: we learned SO MUCH from that first vacation. For me, the biggest lesson of all was to change my perspective and expectations going into each trip we take...and to remind my husband to gauge his own expectations of the week ahead, as well. One of my mom friends refers to these as Work Trips. And with that simple word swap, balance is restored and you no longer want to run away and leave your entire family in paradise.
1. Hotel rooms are not your friend. Rent a house! Airbnb, HomeAway, VRBO, these sites are your friend. (And make sure to ask if they have kid toys - most summer rentals have beach toys on hand so you don't have to bring your own.) At the very least, do yourself a favor and get a hotel room with a kitchen. No good has ever come from a trip that involved a single hotel room for our family. This past fall we went to Stowe, VT for a long weekend so we thought "its just a few days, a hotel room is fine." BIG MISTAKE. Washing bottles in the tiny bathroom pedestal sink, trying to hush the baby when she woke up at night for fear that she'd wake her sister, too. Eating EVERY MEAL in restaurants. Nope nope nope.
2. Rent everything. Travel as light as possible. Airports are a shitshow with kids, so the less you're trying to cary, the better. Simply google the name of the city you're going to + "baby gear rental" and you'll find a company (in most major cities/travel destinations) who will deliver and set up pretty much anything you need. High chairs, tubs, cribs, bouncy seats, sound machines, etc. They even have the option to rent a box of age-appropriate toys and books! Trust me, it's amazingggg. Side note: renting a crib for a baby/toddler is essential. They do not sleep as well in pack-n-plays. Fact.
3. Wear your baby. From the minute you get to the airport, strap that babe onto your chest and enjoy having two free hands. You don't even need to take the baby out of the carrier at security. Just keep them in the wrap/carrier and TSA will simply swab your hands. WARNING: don't use organic wipes on your hands prior to doing this. It can be mistaken for bomb reside in the hand swab test. True story, this actually happened to me. WARNING #2: make sure baby has a fresh diaper when you strap them into the carrier/wrap. If their diaper is already wet, and then you reposition them/spread their legs to position them in the carrier, the diaper will leak and you WILL get peed on. This has also happened to me. I put both my girls in the Ergo carrier until they were 18 months old.
4. Swaddle blankets are life. No matter how old your kids are, these are useful. There's a reason why you got 94847 at your baby shower....moms know. They can be a blanket for freezing cold airplanes, something to sit on or let baby/kids play on during flight delays, they can be towels, changing pads, sun shades, boob covers, pillows, you name it.
5. New stuff to play with. Whether it's for a flight, or restaurant entertainment, or just a few new things that are cheap and entertaining for the week away, I LIVE AND DIE by the Target dollar section. Those little felt books, flash cards, stickers, all good.
6. Sometimes airline clubs are the oasis you need. Paying to belong to these clubs isn't practical unless you travel a ton. BUT, when your flight is delayed or canceled they can be essential for sanity. Sometimes you have access to them just based on your credit card points and/or an affiliation with the card that you didn't even know about. And sometimes you can buy a one-time pass. At 2am when you're trapped in the middle of America because of a blizzard and you have a baby who just napped for 4 hours on the previous flight, no amount of money is too much for a "free" glass of wine, some warm snacks, and if you're really lucky, these magical places sometimes have showers. And they always have TVs, cozy couches, and they're much cleaner than the rest of the airport.
7. Get yourself a cheap travel car seat. One that has good safety ratings, but is cheap enough to not stress you out if it gets lost or damaged. Also make sure it's lightweight and made for smaller cars. That way, you can rest assured it will fit in the very small airplane seats. We use this one for travel. When your kids are too old to be lap-babies, having their car seat on the plane is KEY. They're used to their car seat. They regularly nap in their car seat. They're not used to being seated on an airplane and being able to climb around and play with windows and tray tables. If they're in their seat, they think they're in a car and they'll behave how they do in a car. Usually.
8. Rent bikes. This has turned into one of our favorite vacation traditions. From the time our first daughter could ride in one of the baby seats we've been renting bikes on pretty much every trip we've taken. It's a great way to pass time, see the area, get fresh air, and have some fun. Pre-bedtime rides are a great way to end the day....and they almost always fall asleep.
9. Baby powder. This is more of a life hack than a travel tip. Did you know that baby powder is the magic solution to removing sand from sticky kid feet? Baby butt cracks? Every single nook and cranny? Yup, it's true. Just sprinkle it on your sandy child and watch that sand wipe away easy peasy. I even keep a bottle in my car for those dreaded playgrounds with sandboxes.
10. If you have a baby, buy this. Behold the Pop n Jump. While I'm 100% for renting things on vacation, this thing is amazing and you should just own it and bring it with you wherever you go. I bought this last year before we went to FL and I panicked when I realized we'd have a 7 month old at the beach. What is a 7 month old supposed to do at the beach?? This. Buy this thing now. Pro tip - we packed this inside our car seat bag. Fit right in there with the car seat and we used it in the condo, on the beach, everywhere. We popped it open under the beach umbrella, or we'd drag it down to the water and let the waves wash over her feet. Rosie had a blast!
*It's also essential to keep in your trunk for when your older one has soccer games, or pop it open in the backyard while you're outside playing, bring it to the pool, just take it everywhere you go. Rosie played in this until she was 14 months old. Even when she started walking I'd stick her in there while we played at the pool and I needed to contain her while Belle demanded every ounce of my attention.
11. Dont leave groceries off your list. While you're making your packing lists, make your grocery list too. The last thing you want to do as soon as you arrive on vacation is buy groceries, but they're essential when traveling with kids. If your list is made ahead of time, your experience of wandering the aisles of an unfamiliar grocery store will be less miserable. Also, Instacart. You can place your whole order and have it ready for pickup or delivery in most major cities. We're using this on an upcoming family trip to North Captiva Island and I CANT FREAKING WAIT to not have to go to the actual grocery store.
12. Write. Shit. Down. One of my favorite traditions is to write a note to my girls about my favorite day spent with them. The first time I did this was on a trip to FL when my daughter was almost two. The first few days she was terrified to even be near the ocean. We'd walk down the beach steps and she'd cling to my side, pat her hand on my shoulder and say "momma's here" as if to reassure herself that she was safe in my arms. By the third day she was loving the beach. We sat on a striped towel and watched the waves and ate ice cream pops together. It was the very best day. And her dad snapped this pic, which made it even better. I wrote this all in a note for her, gathered a handful of sand and the prettiest shells we'd collected and I tossed it all into a cute glass jar, which now sits on a shelf in her room. From time to time she'll ask me to "read the story of our best day" and it melts my heart. I also write these little notes on the backs of framed photos as well.
13. Embrase the early mornings. I know, I know, it's the opposite of what vacation is supposed to be....but remember, you're on a work trip, not a vacation. Kids wake up early when they're not in their natural habitat. Especially if they're sharing a room or a bed with you and/or siblings. But seriously, some of my most favorite moments have happened while wandering the pre-dawn streets of whatever beachy neighborhood we're staying in. There's a lot of peace to be found in those early morning hours on quiet little roads while you push your baby carriage and struggle to actually wake up. The only downside is when literally nothing opens until 7am and you just NEED COFFEE. (I'm talking to you, Nantucket).
14. DON'T BE SCARED. Seriously. Don't avoid taking trips with your kids. Especially if you're in the glory days of having only one child. It's so easy with just one. Get out and see the world. Enjoy the change of scenery. Go into it with the realization that it will be different from your day to day - try to anticipate what those differences will be so they don't punch you in the face on the first day. Set yourself up for vacation success by reminding yourself of this fact: a vacation is a trip with your spouse. A trip with your spouse and kids is a Work Trip. But I promise, both are fun. Memories will be made, beach naps will be had, and if you're lucky, you'll come home with a tan. (Maybe bring a puzzle just in case)