Our family is no stranger to vacations and road trips. We started traveling with our crew from the beginning and as we continued to add to our brood, we were forced to accommodate. While we are currently past "baby mode" we still live in the world that includes a High School, Middle School, Intermediate, and Elementary School aged children. This can be challenging at times but keeping our ultimate goal in mind is key to accomplishing a fun family getaway. What is our ultimate goal? Quite simply, it is to always be together. For you, it may be different. So, determining your ultimate goal is important before you leave for a trip. Then, plan accordingly!
We do a lot of outdoor family activities. No joke, A-LOT! We choose these types of vacations and adventures for a variety of reasons: we strive to create a love of God's creation with our children, it's cheap, we always see something new, and it forces us to talk and be together. We have been been participating in outdoor hiking, biking, strolling, walking and exploring since my hubby and I began dating so our memories and love of the outside has only grown as we have expanded our hiking and cultural awareness from our own city to varied states and countries. Hikes and walks have included the city, the country, the mountains, trails, parks, creeks, caves, and anywhere we can explore. Your choices are endless!
*Tip Alert* First off, if you are vacationing/traveling while you have a little one, baby wearing is my favorite! I mean, you can totally do a stroller if you travel somewhere with accommodating streets but wearing your baby is something you can do most anywhere you go. I had a friend hand down an Ergo (this is my preferred baby carrier; however, there are many different brands and options. This is not a commercial or paid ad for this particular brand) when I was pregnant with my fourth girlie and she was able to fit and ride snugly until she was four! My life was made so much easier while having three other girls to take care of.
Taking your kids interests into consideration is important when traveling; however, you cannot underestimate creating cultural awareness with their fun. For instance, our kids like many others, love theme parks, movies, and things geared to keep them interested. Instead of taking them to a theme park featuring pirate rides, we enriched this interest by taking them to a pirate museum which allowed our kids to read different pirate information, participate in interactive activities, have a scavenger hunt, and were offered a prize at the end of a completed hunt. They had so much fun! From the 6 year old to the 17 year old, we got raving reviews.
Did I mention we do prizes even for the most mundane of activities too? My husband understands that not every activity we do will thoroughly interest every age group so we add a bit of fun by offering our kids a prize for different quests such as keeping an eye out for castles while driving four hours across Europe. For spotting a castle first, the child earned one Euro to spend. Finding a bear would earn you 5$ when we were in Yellowstone and spotting a snake earns quite the penny when traipsing through our own stomping grounds since this is a safety first issue for our area.
Now that I've spilled some tips, lets take an additional look at some important things we keep in mind while vacationing and traveling with your family.
10 things we use as a rule of thumb for our vacations
1. We try not to separate
We had a vacation in which two of our kids could participate on some waterslides while the other two children could not. My husband and I spent most of our vacation being split between attractions which made for a very split vacation and some unhappy parents. Making memories as a family means you need to put a priority on keeping the family together more than just at dinner and breakfast. Try to stay together as much as you possibly can, it makes the trip more meaningful and promotes sibling bonding.
2. We try to hit a happy medium with interest levels
Even if something may not interest a child, find a bit of history or an animal that may. For instance, we visit many historical sights because it interests me, my husband, and at least one or two of the children. Before we go, I will do a bit of research about a historical figurehead to tell to the kids as we go so that they can find it a bit more interesting. We have also made sure that if we pick an activity which is hard for one child, that we pick an evening activity/meal that appeals to their taste. For instance, ending the evening at the hotel pool after a hot hike may put a cool ending to a hard day for a child.
3. We make sure each child feels special no matter the venue
When hiking, my hubby and I try to take a moment to walk individually with each child. When walking through the streets of a city, I try to walk and talk about the scenery with each child, when we went to a theme park I took a ride with one child while he waited in line with the others (I said we try not to separate but sometimes it is needed). Allowing each child individual time with each parent helps them to be heard, be seen, and feel appreciated.
4. We make sure everyone is well rested
If we drive all night, we make sure everyone can sleep in. When we travelled out West, many days were 12 hour driving days (yep, my hubby is a beast!) so sleeping in the next day was a must in order to have happy kids and that goes for all ages; adults included!
5. Take the weather into consideration if you plan to be outdoors
Since our most recent big trip was across the United States, I will use this trip as an example. The weather in the Western states was at its extreme during our time from June and into July. Because of this, forecasters suggested any outdoor activities be done from 6-9am or 3-9pm. Taking this into consideration, we chose to sleep each day, eat a large leisurely breakfast, leave at 12pm (yep, they were typically 3 hours away from our location) and do our National Park tours starting at 3pm in order to heed the heat warnings. Taking weather into consideration is important to your family's enjoyment unless you are participating in an indoor activity.
6. Pack snacks and water in your car or travelling packs
Hungry children are ill children and this also accounts for adults so keeping something to nibble on while out and about is important for good attitudes and continued interest.
7. Plan for meals
On the note of food, be prepared for meal times. Figure out if you should take packed lunches or if there will be available venues to eat from. This is especially important if you have a child with food allergies, a medical condition, or specific food preferences. We have been in a number of places in which there was not the ability to purchase cooked food. We planned in advance with packed lunches but have also stopped by grocery stores to purchase fresh fruit, crackers, and other instant edible items.
8. Make sure your family activity allows access to your age groups
While I understand that families may need to separate for a moment or two due to a ride or activity; however, checking the website of your chosen activity for age appropriateness is advised. For example, horseback riding is typically a fun activity for all ages, requires a waiver, and allows for family bonding. For most places; however, children under certain age ranges are not allowed even with an accompanying parent. The same goes for white water rafting, canoeing, tubing, skiing, etc. These are considered unsafe activities for babies even if they are worn by a parent. Check websites and make a call if they are unclear. It is better to check than to be turned away once you arrive.
9. Allow your kids to look at your destination in advance and vote/discuss approved family options
If your children are old enough, giving them a say in your activities can give them something to look forward to. Each year we take a trip to the same beach. On day one of the trip, we sit at the breakfast table and map our our week together. Our typical activities involve a biking day, beach days, participating in one of the local state park's activities, pool day, and shopping day. Each year is a bit different but every child gets a voice and at least one activity is planned for each interest and age. Mind you, the beach is an easy place to entertain everyone.
10. Make a souvenir/spending limit for each child
Yeah, I know this sounds silly; but, if you go through a gift shop, walk through a tourist town, or attend an attraction, every child will get the "gimmies" at some point. Sellers know they can get you to spend more money by attracting your kids. In order to combat this, we incentivize our kids to think about what they want to purchase, if really need it, and how they will use said item. We incentivize by giving them a spending limit in advance or making them use their own money. Then, we stick with our decision. It can be hard for parents to limit their children because parents want their kids to have the best experience possible; however, more stuff does not equal a better event. The memories you make and the places you introduce to your children are what your kids will remember most.
Do you have some key things you keep in mind when travelling with your kids? Do you have multiple age groups in your family? Drop me a comment on your life experiences with multiple age groups and don't forget to join the site! I would love to hear from you. And to give you a peak into some of our family fun, I have made the following video for you!