During the darkest, coldest days of winter, nothing seems to warm one’s heart and mind more than discussions of what vacations we should take. As travel forums and cheap deal sites abound, opportunities are virtually endless. As parents, our first responsibility is to our little ones, of course. Should we take them with us as we jet around the world for less than a bus trip to Grandma?
There are many who would say that a vacation with children is not a vacation, that you will be so busy doing child-friendly activities, you won’t have any time for yourself, the children will be cranky without their normal sleep and eating schedules, that you will be squished into a hotel room and trapped there after 8 pm while being woken up at 6 am…. the list goes on.
The reason why I know this list so well is because I used to think that way. Any money spent on vacation with children was wasted because nobody enjoyed the time anyway. However, we recently took our three children (ages 4-8) to California for 48 hours and they managed so well, I was forced to rethink my entire conviction that nobody under 18 needs a vacation.
Here are some benefits children receive from family travel:
Increased quality family time. All too often, parents are rushing through the evening routine so that they can get back to their chores and/or work. On vacation, when work is a distant thought (unless you brought work with you; we will deal with that in a future article), and there aren’t any chores to do, parents can focus on their children without any distractions. This increased family time helps families develop more love and affection that stays around even when vacation is over.
Memory creator. Many studies show that people are happier with good memories then with more stuff. Very often, we are tempted to “buy” off our children with prizes for their charts, good marks in school or birthdays. But saving up that money and spending it on vacation can create fabulous memories that will generate good feelings for a lifetime, especially if you ever print out those pictures.
Get to know each other better. Studies by Disney Time Survey (and they would know) say that a vacation is a great opportunity for parents and children to get to know each other as individuals, thanks to all the great quality time we spend talking with each other. Now your children can find out exactly what you do at work, and you can find out how they are really doing in school.
Widen their perspective. Taking children out of their typical setting and immersing them in a different environment where they can see how others live, work, and play enables them to be able to appreciate different perspectives and realize the world does not, in fact, revolve around them. In addition, viewing other cultures gives children a richer and deeper appreciation for our colorful and diverse world.
If that all sounds lovely and beautiful, but you are unsure how to take your children on vacation and actually enjoy any part of it, try these helpful tips.
- Always fly at night. This way, children can sleep at least for part of the flight, a multi-step process.
Pack healthy food for the plane. This is a good way to begin your trip in general, when thoughts of “we are on vacation, let’s party” can derail any healthy eating the family usually does. Eating junk food the entire time will make anyone cranky, and won’t help the children settle down. Eating a healthy dinner on the plane, such as whole wheat bread with avocado, cream cheese or peanut butter, along with plenty of water, fruit, sliced veggies, and some whole-grain pretzels, raisins, or whole-grain crackers later for snack, allows your child to feel full and satiated and makes it easier for him or her to fall asleep.
Tell your children ahead of time how much screen time they are allowed and then enforce it. Don’t give in to “let them watch as long as they are quiet” because they won’t be able to fall asleep while they are watching, even if they insist they can. The screen is two inches from their face; they can barely manage to blink.
Once dinner and screen time is over, the children should change into pajamas if they haven’t already. As much as possible, do their bed time routine of songs, Shema, and a bed time story; although you are on a plane, the children will still respond to the familiar routine.
Either bring blankets from home or get from the flight attendants. Bring sweatshirts for added coziness as the blankets are sure to fall off. A hood on a sweatshirt also blocks out a little of the airplane noise. I like to give my children sleep masks to make it as dark as possible. Then, I sit with them one at a time and insist they keep their eyes closed and not talk. It doesn’t take too long before they are sleeping as if they are tucked into their beds at home.
- Once you land, keeping a healthy routine is essential for everybody to have a good time. Avoid falling into the trap of going out to eat three times a day. Prepare ahead with healthy snacks and water bottles to keep everyone satiated and sane. When going out to eat, stick with healthy choices and smart portion sizes. Your body will thank you and your children will feel balanced.
- As much as possible, stick to their typical morning and evening routines. This means if your children usually go to bed between 7 and 8, have them do that while you are on vacation as well. If the thought of being stuck in your hotel room at 8 makes you antsy, remember how much better everyone will feel after a good night’s sleep. If you are in a Jewish neighborhood and your husband is catching the local minyan, ask if anyone has teenagers who could babysit so you and your spouse can have some adult time.
- Don’t stress the details. Obviously, you and your children will not have the same interests, and possibly neither will you and your spouse. The main thing to remember is that you are out of the house and enjoying each other’s company. Sometimes a leisurely breakfast and stroll around the neighborhood is enough to satisfy everyone while creating life-long memories.