If you were an avid traveller before kids, make no mistake, travelling with kids is DIFFERENT. That’s not to say it’s bad or even that it has to be hard, but that there are other things you now need to take into consideration if you want to enjoy your vacation.
If your child isn’t setup for success, your vacation could be less than ideal. Luckily, I’ve learned through a combination of copious amounts of research and personal experience and I’m here to share what I’ve learned.
Tip #1: Location, Location, Location
When deciding where to go on vacation with kids, you need to take their age into consideration. As much as I want to go on safari in Africa, I’m going to wait until my kids are old enough to appreciate both the beauty and danger of wildlife (READ: I don’t want to spend vacation trying to stop a little one from trying to hug a fluffy lion).
If you have younger kids, (I’m talking under 5 years old) a single destination is recommended. Young children thrive on routine so if you’re moving locations every few days, they never get the chance to settle into a new place and new routine.
I’ve experienced all-inclusive resorts, basic hotels, and bouncing between multiple destinations. The more you can get out of a single location the easier. If you’ve always done the adventure style travel, you may lean in that direction (as I did in Hawaii a couple years ago). It can be incredibly rewarding, but it will not be easy.
Tip #2: Keeping it All-Inclusive
If you’re narrowing things down to the one-stop shop of an all-inclusive, there are tons of blogs each year on the best all-inclusive resorts and best for family vacations. One thing I’ve found especially useful is being even more specific on what you are looking for.
Last year I was travelling with two kids under the age of three. There are a number of all-inclusive resorts that pop up on every Best Family Vacation Resort lists (Nickelodeon Punta Cana, Paradisus PDC, and Beaches) but what you don’t realize until you look deeper is that they are focusing on what’s best for older kids and pre-teens (think 8-14 year old’s). While these may be amazing resorts for that age group, my under 3’s are not looking for a resort with the best waterpark or video game room, they want simple, smaller, easy.
If you’re looking for young kids while searching, use phrases like: best all-inclusive for babies or best vacation for infants these specifics will change the focus away from the aforementioned huge waterpark to things like:
- Nanny service
- Black-out curtains
- On-resort cribs
- Bottle warmers
- Baby food
- White noise machines
All things you might consider trying to fit into what now seems like a tiny suitcase.
Tip #4: Setting Priorities
Once you’re looking at the right resorts, there are a number of things to consider. What are your priorities for this trip? For some, it’s down time, so a nanny service may be your number one priority (look into Franklin D Resort and their free Vacation Nanny) or the baby concierge at Grand Velas Rivera Maya.
For others it’s having a separate sleeping area for your kid(s). Some resorts offer suites with an extra bedroom so you don’t have to pay for a second room or go to sleep at 8PM every night (Finest Playa Mujeres or Finest Punta Cana Resort).
Another consideration is size of resort, when you have to carry 20 lbs of wiggles everywhere, you may not want the biggest mega-resort. Two alternatives would be go so big they have shuttles and golf carts to get you anywhere you want to go (Look at Grand Palladium Bavaro - it has 4 resorts in 1 and plenty of shuttles). OR something smaller might be just fine (look into Mia Reef Isla Mujeres). For older kids, separate spaces, teen clubs, activity options and many food options could be a more suitable focus for your vacation (Hard Rock Punta Cana).
You know your family best, so you have to decide on your priorities. No matter what they are, there is a vacation destination right for you. If you spend a little time understanding your vacation priorities and get specific in which resorts you’re looking into, you’re more likely to pick the right destination for you and your family.
Tip #5: Packing Must-Haves & Carry-On Favourites
Packing for a trip with young kids can be overwhelming. They’re not old enough that you can let them pack on their own, unless you want to show up on vacation with their fav-colour crayon and 15 stuffed toys.
You have so many items at home that help you navigate the many different events of the day. Items for when they’re upset, items for when they’re too excited and distractions for when you just need time for yourself. How do you narrow down what you actually need?
Most little ones need a few key things to be happy:
Start by thinking of the things that will help ensure your child is getting enough rest. Do they need a sleep noise machine or a certain “stuffie” or “lovey”? A special blanket? Whatever it is, pack it first. The last thing you need when you arrive is a tantrum on your first night, starting your vacation off with poor sleep.
When it comes to food, you might be travelling with a baby who comes with many mealtime requirements or a toddler who is partial to a special spoon or plate. These are typically small items that can make mealtime more familiar to them in a strange place. That small comfort can mean the difference between a full happy toddler and a hangry one.
For kids who aren’t yet accustomed to restaurant etiquette (thank you pandemic for shutting that down), I find a tablet is super helpful. You can download some of their favourite shows and can even let them pick some episodes to download. You already know what those episodes will be, but it’s important for them to be involved as you’ll see in the next point.
You’re their biggest source of security, so bringing them on vacation is a great start. Another thing that helps them feel secure is giving them some semblance of control. While letting them pack an entire suitcase may not end up with great results, let them choose a couple outfits or items to bring. When they arrive at a new destination they’ll feel they were involved in what came with them.
When unpacking at our destination in Mexico last year, my 3-year-old was so proud she helped pack, she showed us that she was taking care of the toy she chose and an outfit she picked ‘Look daddy this is my cute dress. I picked it!’ When your packing takes these big 3 things into consideration, you’re setting yourself up for success.
And Remember…Always Come Prepared!
My final tip for this blog is to put some emphasis on the above. Do a little research on the best way to prepare before you book and have a plan. I’ve seen countless people get on a 4-hour flight with their kids and have planned a total of 15 minutes of “distractions.” They’re not prepared for a nap or food or the other 3 hours and 45 minutes. Remember the big 3 for your travel days!
You might also be surprised how many times I’ve seen families show up to spring break party resorts, and honeymooners show up at resorts that cater to families with young children. Don’t let this be you. Use your specific searches on google and with a little research you’ll be enjoying an AMAZING family vacation.
To get started, you can check out my curated list of family friendly locations on Trip Advisor! On behalf of nowly, we wish you safe and happy family travels, full of living in the now!