Updated: Jul 1, 2021
When my daughter was about a year old, I took her on vacation by myself. We went on a cruise and booked a beach excursion; which okay, I get it, doesn't seem like the best idea with a toddler. But hey, when you're a single mom and want to travel, nothing will or should stop you.
It was our first solo vacation and I wanted to be prepared for anything. On top off all the diapers and clothes, sunscreen and paperwork, I double-checked to make sure I had everything I thought I needed for a week out to sea. Boy, did I have it all wrong.
All the snacks I bought, she wasn't interested in. The foods that were her favorite on land, made her sick on the sea. The activities I packed were nothing in comparison to the finger paints and coloring books at the children's club. The toy she couldn't live without at home, remained in the suitcase the entire time.
I was not expecting my child to be entertained or fed by anyone but me. A funny thing happens in parenthood; just when you think you've figured your child out, they evolve into complete strangers. And I did what mostly all parents do - I overpacked.
So, when it finally came time for the excursion to the beach, I struggled to get into and out of a cab with a stroller, diaper bag, cooler, shovel and pail, umbrella, snacks, blow-up pool (yes, I did that!) and a host of other things I thought were necessary to make sure she had fun on the beach.
And you know what? She sat in the sand and played with a shell. (I did not pack the shell) She didn’t want to sit in the blow-up pool. She had no interest in the shovel. The resort offered umbrellas and I never put her in the stroller because she wanted to be carried everywhere.
There is the unused blow-up pool. Just sitting there in the sun. And there is the shell that was used instead of the shovel I had packed.
I laugh because now our days at the beach have turned into, "Grab your water bottle, use the bathroom and let's go!" Oh, how experience and time can change us.
Looking back, life could have been a lot easier if I had just said no to things. I didn’t need any of it.
Here she is now with a hoola-hoop and some waves. Shoes not even needed!
Now that my daughter is almost nine, trips have become a lot easier. She's at the age where I let her pack whatever she wants, as long as she doesn't mind carrying it. That's the trick! After she stuffed a backpack of all the things she just had to pack, I made her walk around the house with it on. Within seconds, she realized she packed too much and thinned out her belongings.
Once we stop carrying the load for them, they will see first-hand that they do not want or need to bring that much stuff with them. It's a lesson that takes time to learn. If I had learned at nine, I wouldn't have been on a beautiful island worrying about how to deflate a blow-up pool with a crying sandy toddler in one arm.
What I have learned over the years, I will now share with you:
Parent Hint #1: You can rent almost anything when you are on vacation, so you can pack even less when you travel! I have seen places that rent strollers, umbrellas, pool toys, pack and plays and all sorts of equipment.
If there is no place to rent anything, see if you can find a local thrift store. You will save a ton of money from not buying in the tourist areas and you can always donate it right back before you leave. Bonus - thrift stores usually support a good cause!
Parent Hint #2: Kids love to read? Go to the library. Even if they don't let you take out books, there is usually a book sale section to choose from. There are also Little Free Libraries popping up all over. Homepage - Little Free Library. Get into the habit of borrowing books while you're on vacation so they don't take up space in your luggage.
Parent Hint #3: Kids about to outgrow something? Pack it! I did this on a cruise once and found a worker who had a daughter just a bit younger than mine. I gave her a bag of items on our last day. The woman was over-joyed to receive some new outfits and shoes, and I was able to come home with less clutter. I now make this a regular habit when I go on vacation.
Parent Hint #4: Vacationing with other parents? Odds are your kids won't be needing the same item at the same time.* See if you can coordinate some larger items so that you aren't all bringing the same stuff. Perhaps you only need one kiddy pool? One cooler? One set of diving toys? You get the idea. Make it easier on everyone; after all parents need a break too!
*Toys? That's another issue. Kid rule #1: "When another kid is playing with something, no matter how much they didn't care about it five seconds ago, it is now the most important object on the face of the planet, and they must have it." If I'm wrong, please tell me.
I haven't figured out how to prevent fighting, tantrums or arguing on vacations, sorry. I am not, nor will ever be that talented.
See, traveling with kids doesn't have to include packing everything for every situation. You can almost actually, gulp, relax! The less stuff we have to pack, repack, and keep track of, lose and find, the more time and energy can be spent on actually having a vacation. You'll be amazed how much you can stop stuffing into your luggage when you really think about it. It's all about the experience anyway, isn't it?
Ever overpack for a trip? Kids ever packed away a "surprise" you found only once you were already in the midst of traveling?
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