How to be a good houseguest when traveling with kids
Traveling with kids for a weekend or more can combine the best of two worlds -- getting away from it all, while still enjoying the comforts of (someone else's) home. By following these rules and thinking things through before your trip, you'll be able to enjoy your vacation -- and your relatives -- without too much trouble.
Step 1: Be prepared
Staying with friends or relatives can be tough if you're not prepared for the challenges of such an arrangement. Unless you have the most understanding of kin, vacationing in someone else's house is not Holiday Inn with a built-in babysitter and laundry service.
Step 2: Survey the property
Even if your hosts have little ones underfoot on a regular basis, chances are you'll find some areas -- a medicine cabinet, an open cupboard under the sink, exposed electrical outlets, an unguarded swimming pool -- that are hazards waiting to happen. When someone no longer lives with children, they aren't used to thinking of the possible dangers such items pose.
As the parent, it's your job to take a trip through the house as soon as possible upon arrival to duly note and develop an action plan for potential threats.
Step 3: Get busy with basic babyproofing
While your host will likely be glad to make reasonable accommodations (moving a lamp or two, relocating her prize collection of fragile Limoges figurines), don't expect her to change her entire lifestyle just because the kids are in town for a week or two.
If part of the house would require too much effort (like the garage or home office), simply make that room off-limits for the little one and ask that the door be kept closed, and possibly locked, for the duration of your stay. If that would be too difficult or cause other problems, just pick up an inexpensive baby gate to use for those few days. Since babygates are bulky, just leave the gate with your hosts or drop it by a Goodwill-type store before you head home.
Step 4: Pack light
While some items -- the port-a-crib and the car seat, for instance -- are indispensable, you'll probably be able to survive for a short time without your jog stroller and Diaper Genie. Sure, life would be easier if you had all your assorted equipment with you, but be mindful of the space limitations of your host's home.
While you're at it, do try to contain the mess as much as possible. If you're staying in the guest room, make sure to do a sweep of the house each day and round up stray socks, Legos and other items that have escaped.
Step 5: Stick to your routine, but be flexible
If Parker and Polli go to bed at 8 pm every evening but your in-laws are nightowls, don't be afraid to pack the kids off at their normal hour. But do try to accommodate your host's lifestyle. If they dine late, for instance, feed the kids cheese and cracker "hors d'oeuvres" so they don't complain that they're starving.
Step 6: Follow the house rules
Nana says no eating outside the dining room although your family usually enjoys dinner in front of the TV most nights? Let your host set the rules and do your best to conform, within reason. A week or so without "Slime Time" won't do anyone any permanent damage.
At the same time, if your personal rules are more stringent (no violent TV shows, for instance), suggest an alternative or take your kids out for ice cream while your hosts are watching "Die Hard III." The key is compromise.
Step 7: Plan time off for you - and for them
If your parents love babysitting every night, definitely take advantage of their good nature and get a few date nights in with your spouse.
But make sure they get a break, too. Hire a sitter so all the adults can go out one night, or send your parents off to the movies on Sunday while you hold down the fort. They might argue, but they'll appreciate the down time -- and they'll come back ready for another heavy dose of your kids.
Step 8: Have a backup plan
Most family relationships involve some level of stress, and an extended visit can bring all those tensions to the surface, especially if you feel trapped in the same house for weeks on end.
By having a backup plan -- a nearby hotel or another relative who'd be happy to have you and your brood -- you have an escape. Just the knowledge that you don't have to stay can ease tensions and give you peace of mind.
Step 9: Follow the Scout's Rule of Camping
Leave things better than you found them. Offer to do the laundry, sweep the front walk, mow the lawn or go grocery shopping (and spring for the bill). Take over a chore you've seen your host do or heard her mention, and do it with a smile.
By keeping these tips in mind, you and your family will be welcome guests again and again.
Get tips for when friends or family drop in, see:
How to welcome unexpected guests