On Vacationing with Littles


In honor of our upcoming Canada Extravaganza, I thought I’d share a post from last year–in which I discovered that vacationing with small children is not the same as vacationing sans children. (Duh).

But while it is different, I believe it can still be good. And to help me manage my expectations, I like to call them trips, not vacations. 😉

We travel fairly often but only recently took our first week-long vacation with just our little family of four.  We booked a lake house and I made my beach reading list. After an intensely full year and a half, my excitement for time away was building.

And then I realized: vacationing with an 18 month old and a three year old would not be the same pre-children vacationing that I remembered.

Beach reading? What was I thinking?

Not to mention the fact that if I didn’t want to consume only junk all week, I was going to have to be strategic about preparing or purchasing some real food ahead of time. And without the child-friendly conveniences of home, would this trip even merit the word vacation?

Cue vacation-prep anxiety.  And the incredibly appropriate Onion post.

Thankfully, Hubs helped me dial-down the crazy meal planning.  Getting ready still took effort (obviously).  But with some adjusted expectations, a little solo time, and gratitude for time spent as family, it ended up a great trip.

What I Learned on Our First Family Vacation

1.)  Trips with littles are not completely restful.  Adjust expectations accordingly.

Yes, packing and preparing to take babes overnight anywhere feels like a temporary part-time job.  Yes, the mental gymnastics of determining what we need (I aspire to minimalism but default to over-preparedness) can feel overwhelming.  No, the babies (and hence, mommy) don’t sleep quite as well away from home.

But we’re away from the demands of life at home & work and have uninterrupted time to enjoy each other’s company and explore a new place together. And somehow, that makes it all worth it.


2.) I will always forget something, but the world won’t end over it.

In all of my list making and strategic shopping, I forgot my son’s bathing suit for the beach vacation.  Sigh.

Thankfully, they were still in stock at the local grocery.  So we secured his turtle trunks with a hair elastic (because bless his heart, he’s just that skinny) and he was set.

3.)  Always pack socks.

Turns out a beach vacation in Michigan warrants them. It gets chilly there, y’all.

Blackberry picking and our bounty
Blackberry picking and our bounty

4.)  It is possible to eat mostly real food on vacation. It is also totally freeing to not.

Regarding real food, I adhere to the 80/20 rule: I do what I can to feed my family quality stuff 80% of the time and try not to worry about the 20% I can’t control.

Rather than completely chalking vacation up to the 20%, we made most of our meals at the lake house.  The owner of the property daily deposited homegrown veggies on our porch and showed us the best spots for picking blackberries.

But we also ate gobs of pizza, ice cream, and Mackinac fudge.  And a ton of blueberries probably covered in all kinds of sprayed pesticides.

And it was all lovely.


5.)  Trading baby-free time with the Hubs is key for personal refreshment.

I put the babies to bed by myself one night while he caught a movie and then he kept them while I sat at a coffee shop for a few hours.  It was needed and perfect.

6.)  Bumps will happen, but we’re still on vacation–together.

A couple days in, Buckaroo got this crazy urinary tract thing  (read: multiple sleepless nights and crazy scream sessions) and we thought we were going to have to drive home for a procedure.

After a bit of a freak-out, I realized that whatever we had to do, at least we’d all be together.  And thankfully, Buckaroo got better and started sleeping again and the trip continued normally.

7.)  Good sleeping arrangements = a good trip.

Yes, a trip can still be enjoyed even if we’re all in one room and the toddler talks to the baby all night and the baby wakes up 5 times.


But in this season of life, it’s highly preferable for the babies sleep separately from each other and Mommy/Daddy.  Thank goodness for a three-bedroom rental house.

I’d have been happy putting them in laundry rooms or (ventilated) closets, so those bedrooms felt downright luxurious.



8.) A quiet, unpopulated beach is pretty much the greatest thing ever.

We did the super packed beach thing one day, but after finding a lesser-known nook, I realized how fantastic a quiet spot of shoreline is.  And sand truly is magical for little ones; my never-stopping pair were entranced for hours.  Hallelujah.

Will you take a family vacation this summer?

About Jenn

Jenn is a mommy of three and wife to her best friend. She enjoys good books, dinner guests, elevenses, and proper apostrophe use.

  • brenda venable

    The joys of vacationing with little ones will forever be remembered, no mater what happens, it’s always quality time spent….. whether in a tent, a RV or a beach condo……………. it was the very very best of times w/ the family. Glad you are experiencing how much fun it is to have little ones to care for.

    • Love the perspective of it “being fun” to care for the little ones, even on vacations :).

  • I want to rent a beach house next year, freshly picked veggies! Oh delightful! And I say amen to everything- the sleeping (or lack thereof), the forgetting, the trading off of solo time, the quiet beach and happy littles.

    • Yes, the happy littles on the beach! You were right, the effect of sand is magical :).

  • Tiare

    Great advice which, as a frequent family traveler, I completely agree with. We find planning and prevention go a long way. So we plan as much as we can and then plan for the unplanned as well. Then we try to prevent the preventable (e.g. schedule nap times to avoid meltdowns).

    Luckily, kids are always up for adventure. It’s mostly the adults who need reminding that traveling is supposed to be adventure so stop worrying and just go with the flow, even when the “flow” is unexpected pee running down the leg of your toddler because you couldn’t find a bathroom in time.

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  • Hope

    Oh how I love your optimism and outlook on eating! Sounds like a great trip!

  • Brenda Venable

    Fun, joy, delight, fun, the best, never a dull moment, and again… fun! You pick, Now, let’s throw n #3 and see what happens………… that’s when the true fun begins.

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