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How Not to Hate Your Vacation With Small Children

A parent can never really be on vacation with small children.

"Going on vacation" generally implies taking a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Yet, little ones do not pause their hustling and bustling when they're on vacation. They still poop their pants, wipe boogers on their parents' sleeves and grind goldfish crackers into every crevice they can find. Even at the beach. Even in hotel rooms. Even at the most magical place on Earth.

It's enough to make any parent want to give up before they've booked their Airbnb.

But there are some things we parents can do to keep ourselves from hating these trips with our darling children.

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1. Lower your expectations

In fact, let your expectations plummet. Let's be real:

Someone might whine.

Someone might complain.

Someone might cry. (It might be you.)

Someone might puke all over the car when you are less than a quarter-of-a-mile from your mountaintop cabin. (Been there.)

Someone might throw a tantrum so spectacularly terrifying that you consider seeking out an exorcism instead of an early bedtime. (Done that.)

And there might be a moment or two where you think to yourself, "Oh my God, I could use a vacation." And then you'll die a little inside when you realize that you are, in fact, on vacation.

Expect the bad. Prepare for the worst. And then be wonderfully surprised by all the good.

At least that's the twisted parenting logic I've used while traveling with my kids.

2. Develop a strategic child-entertainment plan for the journey to your destination

And perhaps for while you're at the destination itself. Vacation is no time to be a good mom.

Bring games. Snacks. Activity kits. Coloring books. Old toys. Screens. All the screens. Let the screen time rain down from the technological heavens for those interminable car and plane trips.

The primary goal here isn't to boost your child's brain activity.

The goal is to preserve yours.

Oh, and we also packed some wine. Lots of wine.

3. And then pack some of your personal coping tools

A few years ago, my husband and I drove our three small children halfway across the country to a quaint cabin in the Rocky Mountains. Two weeks before the trip, I received the following horrifying message about the cabin amenities:

There is no coffee maker in the cabin.

Incredulous, I asked my husband, "What kind of monsters are these people?"

"The kind that don't have three kids destroying their sleep every night," he said.

We promptly packed our Keurig into a box and, with Tetris-like precision, squeezed it into the suitcase-crammed trunk of our minivan.

Oh, and we also packed some wine. Lots of wine.

Do the same for yourself. Coffee, wine, chocolate, music, a sensory deprivation tank: whatever it is that helps you cope, find a way to squeeze it into your luggage. You won't regret it.

4. Reflect on your vacation many years later

Be amazed by how lovely the whole experience seems in retrospect. Months and years later: this is when the real vacation magic happens.

You'll find the bag of seashells that your 3-year-old collected at the beach.

You'll remember your toddler's squeals of delight when they met Mickey Mouse.

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You'll discover a photograph of your little ones snuggling together on the hotel bed, zonked out after a fun-packed vacation day.

And in that moment, you'll only remember the good.

Thanks to the gift of parental amnesia, you might even think that those trips were some of the best vacations you ever took. Especially if you managed to have coffee.

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