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Top 10 Ways to Enjoy a Family Vacation

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I used to love to fly. What better way to catch up on my celeb magazines, eat a bag of M&M’s (that’s a must-have at 3,000 feet) and relax? And the best part of flying? Watching all those already exhausted moms and dads with all their kids and their crap shuffle past me, and knowing I wasn’t one of them.

Then I had my first child and became a member of the "Exhausted Travelers Club." My husband and I were invited by friends to come to France for two weeks with our 1-year-old. Like rookies, we said yes. Do you have any idea what it’s like to fly with a 1-year-old for 12 whole hours, transfer in Paris, schlep across the airport to catch that flight to Nice, only to finally arrive 15 hours after leaving home? Of course you do, because you’ve made the same rookie mistake that I have—you’ve traveled with your children. It was then that I made the rule: Vacations aren’t vacations when children are involved.

Now as the parents of two children, the hubs and I have been anxious to get out of town and to show our kids the world. So I’ve tested the waters in search of the perfect family vacation that actually involves my family. Here’s what I came up with:

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1. Don't Go Far

So yeah, this kind of cuts out the Paris trip you’ve been planning or that Boston to Hawaii journey you’ve been thinking about. Your 2-year-old doesn’t really care where she is. To her, Daytona Beach and Bali are all the same—they’re beaches. Go far enough so you feel like you went somewhere, and close enough to where you don’t need heavy pharmaceuticals just to endure the trip with your kids.

2. This Is Not the Time to Restrict Screen Time

OK, your kids are basically Amish at home and watch TV once every year, but on vacation anything goes—especially if you’re flying. So charge the battery on your Blackberry, iPhone, DVD player, computer and iPad and let those kids watch Finding Nemo 400 times. If they don’t cry on the plane, neither will you.

3. Go Somewhere the Kids Will Love

Sure, you used to look at those hotels with water slides and kid camps like they were for sissies. Guess what? Those hotels keep your kids happy and engaged. So soak up that splash pad and enjoy People mag while the little one yucks it up in the baby pool. Because nothing screams “bad vacation” like taking little kids to museums that mom and dad can barely stand.

4. Bring in Backup

Can’t stand your mother-in-law? Terrified of hotel babysitters? Uncle Jimmy makes you nuts? Well a family vacation is the perfect time to forget old grudges. Because those relatives you can’t stand will also be the first ones to hang with your kids while they nap, or babysit while you and the hubs have a night out. And those hotel babysitters? Check ‘em out and make sure you're comfortable. But once you are, even a few hours of help means you and the hubs get to have a vacation, too. At least for a few hours.

When traveling with kids, or traveling in general, it’s important to be honest about what you actually need to be happy.

5. Let Them Eat Cake

Like screen time, vacations are not the time to expect the kids to have their healthiest meals. Long after they’ve lost the taste for ice cream morning, noon and night, they’ll remember staying up a little too late, eating stuff they don’t get at home and having 100 percent of mom's and dad's attention. So instead of restricting what the kids eat, order something yummy for yourself. You’re on holiday. Lord knows you deserve it!

6. If You Can't Travel in the Style You're Comfortable, Don't Travel

Some families love a good camping trip. Others need a four-star resort with every amenity you can imagine. When traveling with kids, or traveling in general, it’s important to be honest about what you actually need to be happy. Travel can be stressful so if you’re a “need my space” kind of gal, maybe don’t put your whole family of five in one room. It’s better to stay home where you’re at home, then travel for the sake of the story. Especially when the story starts with, “The worst vacation ever!”

7. You Don't Have to Be Together Every Waking Minute

You really want to go to the gym or take an hour to finish that book you started a year ago. Do it! Sure, it’s a family vacation but you’re part of the family. So let the hubs watch the kiddos for an hour or two while you hit the spa. Or better yet, get that nap you’ve been trying for since the year before you had kids.

8. Travel Within Your Budget

Traveling with a family is expensive no matter how you slice it. Extra expenses always come up like the $30 bagel or the $18 lollipop the kid insists on at DisneyWorld. With that in mind, book a trip you can actually afford. Because if you’re stressed about cash the whole time, you won’t enjoy it.

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9. Don't Complain

You can whine at home. Vacations are for silly family fun and strange and new adventures. So check your complaints at the gate and lighten up. It is a vacation, after all!

10. Be Flexible

The key to a fun family vacation is flexibility, from all parties involved. The kids have to expect that the four-hour car ride may end up being closer to eight hours, and mom and dad have to be prepared for the flight to be delayed and that the 3-year-old is going to want to eat. So be prepared for all possibilities, and be open to them. Your kids will laugh, remembering the whole family wearing their same clothes for three days straight long after you remember that the airline losing your luggage was anything but funny.

Enjoy! Oh, and bring sunscreen. Nothing kills a vacation quicker than blistery skin and peeling noses.

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