I was only a few months old the first time I traveled on a plane. I lived in Greece the first year of my life, and every second year after that, my parents would take me to Greece for the summer. I have fond memories of Greece, and of traveling with my family. From Florida to Maine to England, I enjoyed every vacation and the memories from each trip.
Now my boys are avid travelers, too—from flying to road trips, they're got the travel bug like their mom. They're on their third passports, already. My children are easy and laid-back little travelers, which makes it much easier on me. I think traveling with your children at least once a year is very important. Travel really is "...the only thing you buy that makes you richer." Even though we often go to our favourite resort in south Florida every winter, each time we go, we leave with new wonderful memories to last a lifetime. It's become sort of a second home away from home for my boys.
I have learned a thing or two about traveling with young kids, and this is my travel advice to you:
Dress comfortably: Wear your most comfortable pair of jeans, a pair of lulu's, or a dress that no matter what position you end up in, will not fall off, or expose any body parts unintentionally. You'll be bending over and picking things up off the floor a lot, and you'll be using the tiny bathroom on the plane, so dress accordingly. Also, dress your children in the most comfortable of clothes, too. Loose pants, a t-shirt, and remember to bring a sweater—it's always cold on the plane!
Pack a smart carry-on: Listen, I know you might be tempted to bring five hardcover novels with you, but don't. First of all, you will not get around to reading them all, so just pack one, and pack it in your suitcase. You won't have time to read on the plane, if more than one child is traveling with you. The carry-on essentials are: snacks, snacks, and more snacks. Also? Snacks. Surprise your kids with snacks they'll love and include something sweet, too. Treats like their favourite chocolate bars will be your best friend, trust me. Just make sure the snacks are peanut-free. Other important things to pack? Books, notebooks, and pencil crayons. Leave the markers at home. Make sure you have packed a change of clothes for each child in their backpack, and an extra pair of socks. Surprise the children with new little gifts you know they'll appreciate. Sticker books are great, and keep them busy. The most important item in each child's backpack, or in your carry-on? Their DVD player/DS/ipad mini. And make sure to download all their favourite shows, movies, and games before you leave. You'll be set! Oh, and don't forget the earphones and a little pillow for them to rest their heads.
Don't leave home without: The most important thing to bring with you on your vacation? Your iphone/ipad/DVD/DS chargers. That should be the second most important item you pack, right after the passports. Don't leave home without them!
Get creative: Sure, your children will be busy having fun on the plane—they'll be enjoying their healthy and not-so healthy snacks you've packed for them while watching their favourite movies, but maybe you should give them something fun to do, too? When we travel without daddy, they write letters to him, or draw him pictures about what's happening so far on their journey, even if we're still on the plane. This makes them happy and keeps them busy. Think of new games to play and ask them to keep a travel journal, of sorts. (If they're old enough to write; pictures will do if you're traveling with young ones!)
Don't leave home without (part 2): Pack a little first-aid kit. Remember band-aids, polysporin, alcohol wipes, Gravol, Tylenol, Advil, vitamins, bug spray (depending on where you're going) sunscreen, aloe lotion for burns, and a thermometer. And your patience. Always pack your patience.
Be flexible: When you're on vacation and away from home, no matter where you're staying, be flexible. Children will be off their routine, so go with the flow. My children have taken many naps under palm trees with beach towels as their blankets. If I love falling asleep to the sound of the ocean waves under the breeze of a palm tree, I'm positive my children enjoy it, too!
Ask for help: If you have to walk across the airport to catch a connecting flight, and you've got young kids but no stroller with you, ask for help. Oftentimes, you'll be able to hitch a ride with someone riding a golf cart type vehicle (do these things even have a name?) to get you where you need to be faster! This is super fun for the kids.
Get a room with a balcony: Assuming you're traveling somewhere where there's an ocean, get a room with a balcony and an ocean view. There's nothing quite like waking up to the sound of the waves and seeing the endless ocean in front of you! This way, if you children just want to hang out in the room for a few hours because they're tired or not feeling well, at least you'll still feel like you're on vacation.
Stay at child-friendly resorts: One of my favourite things about traveling to a resort like the Westin Diplomat Resort and Spa is the fact that Westin hotels are very child-friendly. My children enjoy the free (and absolutely delicious) breakfast buffet, they have great lunch options, and there is a Kids Club. Even if the kids don't partake in the Club activities, they'll receive things like a beach hat and bag upon arrival. The kids love being treated like special guests! They also offer great toys for the beach and pool, from noodles to shovels and pails, which means less packing for you.
Travel with your entourage: I've traveled alone with my children, I've traveled with my husband and the children, and I've often traveled with my entire family with me—parents, sister, cousins, grandparents. The more family members that travel with you? The better. Having an extra hand is always a good thing. It means you can run to the bathroom without having to drag the children with you. It means you can actually drink your pina colada while it's still cold. It means you can even jump in the ocean and swim without a care in the world, if only for a few minutes. Traveling with a lot of family members is fun, too. It adds to the vacation experience!
Get out there: As much as we love the resorts and hotels we stay at, and even though we don't have to leave, I love that we can just get in our car and go exploring the city we're in. Whether we're heading to our favourite restaurant for dinner, going to our favourite shopping mall, or visiting the Miami Zoo, it's fun getting out while we're on vacation, and exploring.
Be the photographer: Take an endless amount of pictures, both with your real camera and with the one that's on your phone. I usually bring my good camera down to the beach with me on our first or second day of vacation to get some really good shots and then take the rest of our pictures with my camera on my iphone. Remember to ask someone to take a picture with YOU and your children, too!
Do it for the kids: We went to Great Wolf Lodge last summer as part of our Niagara Falls trip, and the kids just loved it. I mean, seriously loved it. It may not have been my number one destination of choice, but seeing my kids so happy in the water park made me feel like there was no better place to be on earth. What makes them happy makes me happy.
Take it easy: If you're not willing to give up your usual routine of blow-drying your hair every morning, you'll have to wake up extra early to take care of yourself while you're on vacation. Or, just don't stress about your hair and sleep in if you can. Another tip: keep your hotel room, house, or wherever you're staying neat and tidy. Before I go to bed, I make sure I have all the clothes and swim wear ready to go for the next day.
Don't overpack: I know—this is nearly impossible. I have a hard time not packing my entire closet with me when I go on vacation and I never know what shoes to leave out. Just pack what you know you'll wear, what you love, and what looks great on you. Buy a great bikini cover up for the beach, and leave room in your suitcase for any new purchases you may buy for you and your children.
Stock up on healthy snacks: When we're on vacation, it is not always easy to eat a well-balanced, nutritious meal. We always go the grocery store upon our arrival and buy fruit, crackers, and granola bars for our hotel room, so we have a variety of healthy snacks ready at all times. (This is also cheaper than raiding the mini-bar!)
Relax: You've survived the plane ride and your children are having the time of their lives. Now it is time for you to sit back and try to relax... enjoy the view... sip a yummy drink... and relax. You're on vacation, after all!