Having a successful vacation with children requires setting your expectations beforehand.

Friends of ours (who now have grown children) recounted the first time they went on vacation with their newborn.  The wife ended up sitting on the beach all day with the baby while the husband went surfing and sailing. It was a disaster.

She said, “ If it’s going to be like this, I may as well stay at home where at least I’ll be more comfortable.” And no – he’s not a selfish guy. They just hadn’t counted on how much having a baby would change things, and they hadn’t communicated what their needs would be in order to relax.

I think the latter is more essential than packing a toothbrush.

My husband and I were both rather intrepid travelers before having children. As a young teenager he hiked the four-day Machu Picchu Inca trail in Cuzco, Peru with his friend in just two days. The rushed trip might have had something to do with the fact that it was colder than expected, and he and his friend hadn’t brought tents or warm clothes. They had also neglected to bring enough food.

As for me, I lived and studied in France, and then ran around Asia – living there for two years and then later traveling there frequently on business. As a couple, we were only married for two months before taking a sabbatical and moving to Africa for a year. Once on the continent, we changed countries four times, and got used to the less-than-comfortable living conditions.

Our first trip with our daughter was when she was six months old. As chance would have it, our week away was a successful one. We were still living in New York, so we decided to fly to Florida for our vacation. We rented a cheap suite in a hotel on the beach, rested and read while the baby was napping, spent time at the pool and the beach when it was not too sunny, and brought our baby to sleep in the stroller at the Cuban restaurant where we ate every night.

So with this first trip under our belt, nothing prepared us for the week we spent in Majorca, Spain when our daughter was 18 months old.

She was no longer content to nap twice a day and sit in one spot.  No – she needed to be constantly moving, with us bending over and holding her hand as she walked everywhere. I was also pregnant and nauseous, and found the catered food to be atrocious. This created our first vacation tension as we had both been hoping to rest and swim and lay in the sun whenever the fancy struck us. We realized with deepening dread that gone were those days of peaceful vacation – for the next eighteen years or so.

We just returned yesterday from a trip to the French Atlantic coast near Bordeaux. It was a challenge to feel carefree as vacationing parents, even with the package deal we had that included meals and “kids club,” where we could drop the children off at the play center and go off on our own. The conditions were not the most luxurious, and neither of us had communicated what we needed out of this trip.

Actually – I’m not even sure either of us knew what we needed, and that added stress to our dwindling week – watching our expensive vacation being gobbled up without either of us actually enjoying it.

We’ve learned a few things.  In our family, vacationing with our children requires basic elements to be met in order for everyone to have a good time. My husband and I each need alone time in order to relax, which means that the other is “on duty” with the children. We need to agree on how much alone time we need, and at what point during the day we’re going to get it.

As little as we are able to go out on dates throughout the rest of the year, we also need to spend time as a couple at least once during the vacation. This means that we either leave the children with our extended family, if we are traveling together, or we take advantage of the kids club option.  Right now we are forsaking luxury just so we can go to places that have a kids club, which is a fairly common vacation option in France. Or at the very least, it means having a date night together in the bungalow when the kids are asleep where we talk about anything but the daily routine.

We also need to make sure we’re taking active time to play with our kids in the activities available, depending on location and season. The year passes us so quickly, and we spend so much time yelling at our kids or rushing them from one thing to the next. These vacations are essential in re-discovering their joyful personalities and letting them see our playful side.  “There shall be no fun or joy in this family!” jokes my husband when things get a bit too rowdy.

We need to talk about all these things and prepare our minds for what our vacation is going to be, and when we do that, we are set up to enjoy ourselves no matter what situation we find ourselves in.

And if we can tack on exploring a new city so that our children can expand their horizons (and I can write about it for the tourist section in my blog), well, all the better. But that is less important than creating the space each one of us needs to be able to relax.

This is the advice I have for you, dear readers. Then again, I’ll bet you’ve already figured all that out and are better able to instruct me.  So – comments? Advice?

This is an original post to Worlds Mom Blog by our writer in France, Lady Jennie.

The photo used in this post was taken by the author.

Lady Jennie (France)

Jennie has lived in Taiwan, New York City and East Africa, and currently lives just outside of Paris with her French husband. She speaks rudimentary Mandarin, passable French and has had a varied career in Human Resources, Asian financial sales and humanitarian work. She is currently a mother to three young children, with writing and teaching gigs on the side, and blogs at A Lady in France.

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