On our most recent trip to Hawaii we wanted to see and do as much as we could. But at the same time, we also wanted to relax and enjoy our holiday. We were traveling and staying with another family, good friends of ours. Between us we had 4 adults and 3 little kids aged 1.5, 3 and 4.5. We opted to take things easy and gave up some of the activities we wanted to do in order to not over-schedule ourselves and the children. Letting go of the idea that we must do everything allowed us to have a much more relaxing time in Hawaii with our small kids. Here are my three tips for a relaxing vacation with kids (even if you have to give up some plans in the process).
Don’t over schedule activities
If you have children then you most likely know that everything takes so much longer with them. Getting out of the house, driving to your destination (potty stop anyone?), leaving your destination, planning your travels to accommodate naptimes… You get the picture. And what more, the amount of time things take grow exponentially with every child added to the mix. It doesn’t seem to matter how many adults you have helping them.
For this reason we tried to limit our activities to just one scheduled activity per day. Between the time to get ready, drive there, take everyone to the bathrooms, get snacks and lunches, a 2-hour activity became a day trip. And that’s alright. Come to think about it, kid-time and Island time have a lot in common.
We did three day trips while in Oahu. The Polynesian Cultural Center, Dole plantation and Iolani Palace, which turned out to be a more emotional experience than I anticipated. Since we had to drive through the North Shore to the Polynesian Cultural Center we did take in some of the North Shore, enjoyed delicious fresh shrimp tacos and watched surfers. We didn’t get to spend as much time in the North Shore as I would have liked but if you want to know more about North Shore with kids, check out this post.
Having a rental car at our disposal was instrumental for this tip as well. It was great to be able to go where we wanted when we wanted without relying on tour companies or rides. It is also infinitely more relaxing to vacation with kids when you know that you have an out and can leave a place at any time. Of course that also meant traveling with two carseats, which can be a huge hassle.
Want more tips? Here’s everything you need to know about how to travel with car seats.
We didn’t rush the kids in the mornings, giving them time to play and ourselves time to relax. We spent lazy afternoons playing on the beach. We didn’t have any appointments or tours so we didn’t have to rush anyone to be somewhere on time.
Relax with free play time
This one is probably the most important of my tips for a relaxing vacation with kids. Kids get tired of having plans. They need free play in a safe place. Even when we do kid-friendly activities. On the days when we did go out for the majority of the day, Lulu was begging to “go home and play”. It didn’t matter how much fun she had eating dole whip and riding the pineapple express. She needed a chance to let her hair down so to speak.
This is especially important if you have a shy and sensitive child like Lulu. We’re lucky with her because she has always been pretty well behaved in public. Not because she’s some unicorn of a kid and never has temper tantrums (trust me, we’ve had our share and then some). She’s shy and reserved around new people, hates attention and therefore rarely makes a scene or tries to run off. But all of that good behaviour takes a toll on her and comes at a price for us.
No matter how well behaved she is, she is still a little kid. All of that emotional control and keeping herself in check can be hard. She needs to be in a safe place surrounded by safe people in order to relax and let go, to be silly, to run around and talk – she’s such a chatterbox at home and I’m sure it’s difficult for her to not feel free to speak her mind with everyone. Even to freak out a little bit if her mood calls for it.
So scheduling free play time where the kiddos don’t need to “behave” is very important to having an enjoyable and restful holiday. Too much free play and staying in one place, the kids start driving you mad. But not enough of it, and the same thing happens. Striking a balance is key to having a relaxing vacay with your children.
Have a kitchen available
This one is not always possible and we’ve had our share of trips staying in hotel rooms with barely a kettle to heat up water (like the time we were in Seattle). But if you can have a kitchen it makes a huge difference. Little kids eat, on average, 5 times per day (3 meals and 2 snacks). It’s difficult to eat out with children for every meal of the day.
Personally I don’t like cooking on vacation. I definitely did not make elaborate family meals in Hawaii. But with children, sometimes it’s easier to cook something quick yourself or to warm up leftovers – I don’t know about other children, but the kids’ meals in restaurants are huge for mine and we tend to take a lot of leftovers home. Mac and cheese heats up really well in a microwave.
Usually I don’t advocate for kid food and separate meals. At home, the kids eat what I give them or they don’t eat. But on family vacation everyone gets more freedom to choose and eat what they want. Having a kitchen this time made it easier for us, the grownups, to eat what we wanted as well. We felt good getting Poke or Korean BBQ when we knew that we could make a quick batch of mac and cheese or hotdogs for the kiddos. It was a nice change of pace for the parents to be able to eat whatever we wanted without limiting our choices to food courts and restaurants that served chicken fingers and fries.
A fridge – which some hotel rooms have without kitchens but not always – is very useful as well. It allows for much more variety of snacks. Most of the time we worked meals into our plan but not snacks. Snack time happened on the go and was often whatever we could bring with us. Having the option to pack healthier snacks to take with us, like meat, cheese, fruit and yogurt for example, made me feel better about all the car snacking.
There you have it, my three tips for a relaxing vacation with kids. Taking our time and keeping our plans fluid as well as having a place to call “home”, even temporarily made what could have been a stressful family vacation much more enjoyable. We got a chance to have a fun trip even with our little kids.
I definitely think renting an apartment or house makes traveling with kids a little easier with a kitchen and a separate sleeping area. I really don’t need maid service to change our towels every day. I came across this great post about choosing an airbnb instead of a hotel for your family vacation that goes much more in depth.
I’d love to hear from you! Do you vacation with small children? What tips do you have to make the trip more relaxing all around?
Are you planning a family vacation soon? Check out this post about how to start your trip out right at the airport.