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The Reality of Family Vacations with Small Children

We recently took our first family vacation as a family of four! We drove four hours away for a whole weekend in Minneapolis. My husband and I went into our trip knowing things would probably not go as planned. We have two daughters, 3 years old and 8 months. A vacation with small children meant we would have to roll with the punches.

Although we hoped for a perfect family vacation, here are a few realities of what a family vacation is like with small children:

The Reality of Family Vacations with Small Children

Plan for extra driving time.

If driving to your destination, plan for it to take longer than normal; between stops for gas, food, bathroom breaks, or just some space outside of the vehicle, it will all add up. No matter how much you try to time all the breaks together, guaranteed at least once, you’ll be 20 minutes after a stop and someone will need the bathroom. One thing I’ve heard as a tip for long trips, is bringing a potty chair along if you’re going somewhere with few stops and you have someone with a tiny bladder.       

A hangry toddler can be world ending.

What parent wants to be out in an unfamiliar area, trying to find food their toddler will eat once they are already upset? No one. I highly recommend bringing lots of snacks to have on hand at a moments notice. Plus, it will save you money from buying individual snacks the whole trip! We brought along graham crackers, granola bars, and fruit snacks, to keep in our hotel room and our diaper bag during our trip.

Kiss nap time goodbye!

This reality of traveling with small children may not happen to everyone, but if it does, it is exhausting. Luck for us, our youngest sleeps great in a moving vehicle or a baby carrier. She slept great during our whole trip. On the other hand, our oldest did not nap until day 3 of 4 on our trip. On top of that she was only sleeping about 9 hours a night, instead of her normal 12 hours. Eventually, the lack of sleep for everyone starts to wear thin. Oh, how I miss the days of sleeping in while on vacation!

Trolls on repeat.

Or whatever your kids favorite movie/musician/songs may be. During our trip we listened to the Trolls Soundtrack everyday, multiple times a day. Hey, it helped keep our toddler happy and the music isn’t half bad. Might as well belt out “Can’t Stop the Feeling” till it makes your little one giggle like crazy. Who can go wrong with some Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick?

Too much excitement and over stimulation is real.

All toddlers and babies will hit a point where they need time to relax and stop moving. On our trip, we had a list of places we wanted to go while in Minneapolis, but after all the crowds, noise, and excitement from everything. Our girls each day needed a little bit of time to unwind with us. Time to just relax, cuddle, eat, and enjoy some quieter time as a family. Even though we had a list of places to go, one of the goals of our trip was to take some time each morning and evening to just relax together.

Although not every moment may be picture perfect, every picture and memory will be perfect for our family.

Prior to going her first ride at the Nickelodeon amusement park, our daughter was so excited. She ended up terrified and hating it. Afterwards, we comforted her and talked about the other rides she could go on. Then, she was ready to go. This picture helps remind us how resilient our daughter is. She wanted to keep going on new rides, even though she had been scared the first time.

The Reality of Family Vacations with Small Children

There may be many ups and downs to a family vacation with small children, but they are all worth it. Our daughters may not remember the adventures we had, the lack of sleep, or listening to their favorite songs during the drive, but we gained memories as parents and photos we can show them later on. Even though they are little, our vacation started a tradition of family time and travel that I wouldn’t trade for anything. 


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