It's almost summer and that means I am day dreaming about summer vacation. Where should we go? Where can we stay (we are a small army, after all)? How will I keep the kids entertained while we travel? What should I pack? And just like that a wistful day dream ends --snapped back to the stressful reality of arranging a vacation for a giant crew.
It will be okay. All it takes is a little planning, and a family trip can be memorable and ENJOYable for everyone. We can do this! To address these issues and help eliminate stress this blog post is PART 1 of 2, so we can work in manageable steps.
Stress Free Travel With a Large Family (PART 1)
In digging around for great advice, I found some very useful articles and items and I hope they will help you plan a (mostly) stress-free family vacation, too.
Where should we go?
These lists offers a wide variety of destination options to help spark ideas about places your family might enjoy. It's a great place to start brainstorming. Once you have a couple of options you think your family would enjoy, start Googling things to do in each location.
*Bonus Tip: Be sure to use words like "local favorite" and "off the beaten path" in your search if you wish to find places outside of tourist-trap areas.
Where will we stay?
If you have yet to give Airbnb a try, do it. Honestly, one of the biggest stressors for me in planning our family vacations is finding reasonably priced accommodations. As a family of 6, hotels are not designed for us with their "4 people to a room" rule. All-suite hotels are not available everywhere and often come with a price tag similar to paying for 2 regular rooms. Enter Airbnb. Simply plug in your destination, how many beds and baths you require, and other miscellaneous bits of information and poof! the app shows you what's available for those dates. It also gives really great information about food, shops, attractions, and transportation nearby. Our family has used Airbnb in the US as well as abroad. It is fab. The end.
*Bonus Tip: On top of that, your host is usually a wealth of information and can help you avoid tourist traps and steer you toward local favorites.
How will I keep the kids entertained while we travel?
Are we there yeeeeet? Probably the most hated question in all of parentdom. But only because its first utterance occurs while still backing out of the driveway. Oy. Depending on the length of the trip, I pack either one or multiple versions of an age appropriate Busy Bag for each kiddo. A Busy Bag is an opportunity to cater to the interests of each child because this will insure maximum time spent playing with/using each item. Just because it's a bag of "goodies" does not mean it has to be expensive. I'm including a printable organizer for brainstorming and listing items to collect from around the house and/or buy. Here is the one I created for my daughter to use on the plane in couple of weeks when we travel to New York.
The items I chose cost a total of $5 because I had a couple of "rainy day" items already on hand and I printed coloring pages on our home printer.
*Bonus Tip: Dollar Tree and the Target Dollar Spot are a couple of my favorite places to find odds and ends for these bags. With a $20 budget you can easily make bags for 4 kiddos by combining new items and on hand items. Be sure to mix in some snacks, too!
**EXTRA BONUS: To help build suspense and use up scraps of wrapping paper, I wrap each item before putting it in the Busy Bag. This accomplishes a few things: 1) it helps them spend more time with each item, 2) if you add number stickers to each you can control which item they open next (this is great if one item will be their "main attraction") and 3) wrapping keeps their attention focussed only on what is open instead of leaping from item to item and only spending 5 seconds on each.
***EXTRA, EXTRA BONUS: For the younger kiddos (3 - 12 ish) create a time chart so they know exactly when they can open their next "present" -- this will help reduce the number of times you hear "When can I open the next one? Is it time to open my next one yet?" They can learn about time and you can point to the clock each time they ask.
***BEST BONUS: A Busy Bag has a SPECIAL FEATURE that tablets and other devices do not --- it's called a good attitude. I don't know why, but for some reason when my kids O.D. on tablet usage during a long trip, their brains melt and they turn into angry monsters. Monsters that I really don't like hanging out with on vacation. Minimize the tablet time and maximize enjoyment of your children. I promise it works . . . after the detox period.
Check out PART 2 of Stress Free Travel With a Large Family (next week) for ideas on how and what to pack!