After you become a parent, the word “vacation” takes on an entirely different meaning. Not only do your destinations typically change (bye Cabo, hello Disney), but the way you travel also changes drastically.
There’s really no way to fully prepare yourself for the differences ahead. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a list of tips for traveling with young kids. But even they can’t convey the magnitude of what awaits you. These are lessons you can really only learn for yourself.
Here are 15 thoughts you’ll have while planning and going on vacation with young kids.
You don’t plan a family vacation unless you think it’s going to be the kind of epic event your kids will talk about and remember well into their twilight years. That vision you have in the planning stages is what sustains you through all the stress ahead. You tell yourself it will be magical, and that your kids will forever hold onto these memories you’re about to create.
The packing begins. And you suddenly realize that while you used to be able to travel for weeks at a time with nothing more than a carry-on, you now might have to pay an exorbitant amount in extra baggage fees. Somehow you need to bring along the bottles, diapers, car seats, extra changes of clothes, toys for both the plane and destination, and all sorts of other supplies and gear that your babies and kids (and you) can’t live without.
That’s what navigating a busy airport with young children will do to you. It makes you envious of the parent willing to put a leash on their children. Why have you always judged those things?
There’s nothing like a plane ride with young kids to make you feel incredibly guilty. Your baby won’t stop crying. Your toddler just picked their nose and wiped it on the person sitting next to them. And your kindergartner keeps kicking the seat in front of them. You’re pretty sure you’ve never apologized so much in your entire life.
Less than halfway through that plane trip, you’re willing to ditch all the rules you’ve ever made about screen time and processed snacks. Right about now, anything that will keep your kids occupied and happy is good in your book.
You land, you get your luggage, you manage to find the car rental place, and load everyone up. Then, you finally get to your destination. At last, you’re convinced vacation is ready to begin.
Unfortunately, not five minutes after arriving at your destination, you realize your kids have somehow been hit by this weird burst of energy (the kind that happens to kids when they are tired and overstimulated). All you want to do is curl up in a quiet room to decompress from that awful plane ride. Only, you can’t. Your kids are begging to go to the beach, or the park, or whatever big pull it was that brought you to this destination in the first place. They’re bouncing off the walls and you are their guardian. So you have to entertain them.
That’s when it hits you. Your kids are too young to go off on their own. So everything they do, everywhere they go, you’ll have to go with them. And in this new place where they want to explore everything, you may not get to sit down all week.
Remember all that effort you put into packing? All the times you found yourself questioning, “Do we really need all this stuff?” You still forgot something you needed. Or actually, you forgot several things you needed. Because it turns out, yes, you really did need all that stuff, and then some.
Maybe they need a little more. I should probably at least touch up their noses. Your kids are legitimately running away at the sight of you and that bottle.
It used to be that when you went on vacation, you could go through as many as three books and two magazines while lazing around in the sun. Now? You’re lucky if your kids will let you get through a single chapter.
It doesn’t even matter if you’re at the beach or a cabin in the woods. If you’re traveling with kiddos, there’s inevitably going to be mounds of sand tracked into wherever it is you are staying.
One more ice cream. One more souvenir-stuffed animal. One more T-shirt. Somehow, on vacation, you totally get roped into buying just one more.
All that stuff you bought? Now you don’t have enough room to bring it home. Might as well just plan on one more extra baggage fee.
This thought may not come for several years after the fact. You’ll be skimming through photos and will come across one of those tiny, happy faces splashed across your vacation destination. You’ll suddenly remember fondly the laughter and fun you all had. You’ll completely forget the stress and mess and complete lack of relaxation that vacation involved. It turns out, traveling with young kids is a lot like childbirth. It’s awful and painful while you’re in it, but once you get to the other side, you have these beautiful photos to show for it. You kind of just forget how bad it was in the process.
You may even convince yourself that you want to do it again!