Mentally Preparing for Vacation With Kids

We leave for vacation in a few days. And honestly? I’m already exhausted.

It’s not just the mental checklists — making sure we have floaties, sunscreen, all the books and toys they can’t possibly live without, getting the pets accommodated for, settling my work-related matters. It’s the anticipatory exhaustion of what I know is coming.

Vacations are wonderful after you have kids. So many special memories to make, exciting adventures to go on. But vacations with kids are also anything but restful. Our trip will be on the beach. While these beach vacations used to be very relaxing, they now come with a lot of work. Dragging literally everything from our condo down to the beach and back up again, accommodating kids’ short attention spans, moderating sibling fights and temper tantrums. By the time the vacation is over, I need a vacation. I’m doing some things to mentally prepare. I know I can’t control what happens on our trip, and what exhausting events I might have to navigate, but I can control my mindset. Here are a few things I’m doing now, in the days leading up to the trip, to mentally prepare:

#1. Setting realistic expectations.

I have to accept that vacations with little kids just will not be the same as vacations without them. I am working to see myself as the steward of their good time — focusing my attention on making the trip magical for them. If I go into the trip planning to derive my joy from watching the kids have a good time, I won’t feel as frustrated when I don’t get to enjoy the trip the way I want to.

#2. Planning things that I can enjoy, too.

Just because I’m making the trip about the kids instead of myself, that doesn’t mean I’m supposed to suffer while we’re there. It’s still my vacation, too. As I prepare for the trip, I’m bringing comforts from home that I know will help me enjoy my time. And I will most certainly be making time for myself while we are there. I bought a 500-page book to work my way through. I’m bringing my yoga mat and blocks, as well as my favorite blanket and coffee mug. While my days might be spent doing activities for the kids, my mornings and evenings are for me.

#3. Involving the kids in the decision-making.

One thing I can know with (almost) certainty is that if I let the kids plan some of our activities, they’ll be more likely to have fun and not whine. So far, my kids have said they want to go crab hunting at night (something my husband and I both love doing with them!), have a treasure hunt (not sure what that means, but we’ll figure it out when we get there), and have a sand castle contest. Giving them the opportunity to help us plan our activities ensures that we all have a good time.

#4. Not micro-managing.

I have read a lot of advice blogs that say it’s useful to plan and organize ahead, making a detailed itinerary that will help us avoid last-minute stress. While that may work for other parents, it does not work well for me or my family. I don’t like feeling like we have to rush out the door to get to an event we scheduled ahead of time. I don’t like having to drag my kids who are in shitty moods to something they’ve decided they don’t want to go to just because we paid for tickets in advance. I’m learning that, at least for my family, we do better when there are no expectations. We can take things slow. As a family who struggles with anxiety, that works so much better for us.

#5. Setting up my home for a welcome return.

This is probably my favorite part of trip-planning. I like to get my house as clean and tidy as possible before we leave. I get all of our laundry done, change the sheets, clean all the surfaces, and put wall-plugged air fresheners around the house. At the end of an exhausting vacation, it feels so good to walk into a clean house that is all prepared for us to get back into the swing of things.

I know that even with all this mental preparation, the trip will still wear me out. Vacations with kids are fun, but also exhausting. At least with some good preparation in place, I’ll have the right mindset going into it so that I can absorb as much fun out of the trip as I can.

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