Manage your expectations for family vacations

Jun 30, 2015 at 2:00 p.m. ET
Image: Getty Images/Royalty Free /Jade Brookbank

Woo-hoo summer! School is out and the parents on the internet are whining to Grand Cayman and back about how vacationing with kids is stressful, crying little salty tears about how they’ll need a vacation after the vacation.

A family trip will never be the same as a spa getaway for two. Of course it won’t. But, your family vacation doesn’t have to suck and here are five hacks for (almost) hassle-free trips with kids.

1. Lower expectations

My simple goal for our family vacation last summer was for it not to suck. And you know what? It didn’t. The bar was low. I had zero illusions of reconnecting with my husband (translation: any vacation sex) or returning feeling rejuvenated. Flinging my expectations out the window allowed me to focus on important stuff like not losing my kids in the airport.

The night we got home from vacation, I sat on the couch and had a celebratory glass of wine, ignoring the dirty clothes and unpacked suitcases. All kids were accounted for and my husband and I were still speaking. Winner!

2. Travel light

If you’re flying, aim for carry-on only. You might be shaking your head because you need eyeliner for all occasions and a case of Pull-Ups. Weigh the minimalist approach with the pain of lost luggage.

If you’re driving, you can pack more depending on your family’s needs, but just because you have room in your trunk doesn’t mean you need to cram in the jumbo bucket of LEGOs, three tubs of Clorox wipes and a month’s worth of canned goods. It’s vacation, not the zombie apocalypse.

When traveling with kids, things are easier if I don’t spend a ton of time primping. When your family is crammed in a coat-closet sized room, bathroom hogs are unpopular. My makeup bag contains hair elastic, lip gloss and a flask of vodka. A good ponytail, shiny lips and a buzz are enough to make anyone feel pulled together, right?

We don’t pack a lot of clothes when traveling as a family. Everything is dry-weave and can be rinsed out in the sink with a little hotel brand shampoo. Clean enough, people — a little funk never hurt anyone.

3. Limit souvenirs

Don’t bring back junk. This is a hard habit to break if you already indulge your little squirrels with whatever shiny souvenirs grab their attention. Your kid may try to convince you she needs that giant Donald Duck balloon. She does not.

I’ll own up to indulging my kids with thrice daily ice cream on vacation (this requires reconditioning when we get home), but less clutter simplifies things.

4. Appreciate the small stuff

Vacationing with kids is stressful but sometimes the universe will throw you a bone. Recognize it. The waitress who escorted my little ones to pick out their own straws (I don’t know why this was a thing, but it was) allowed me exactly 73 seconds alone with my coffee while my husband and daughter grazed at the all-you-can-stuff-your-face-with breakfast buffet. Sure, the waitress could have been a child-snatcher, but I went with my gut and enjoyed my sliver of quiet.

5. Embrace Murphy’s law

Know something will go wrong, like:

Having 30 minutes to eat breakfast and meet your tour group and discovering your kid chucked his only pair of shoes off the fifth floor balcony in your hotel room.


Realizing you left the ratty scrap of fabric that used to be a blanket that your kid is crazy attached to on the plane that just took off.

Breathe, channel your inner Elsa, open the wine, let it go and woosah.

Wishing you minimal tantrums and a happy-ish vacation!

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Active family ideas for your summer vacations
How to plan a fun vacation with another family