There you are, cruising along through life with your toddler when you think, "Hey! We should take this show on the road!" Suddenly, you're researching beach destinations and ski hills and planning the ultimate family getaway. Great idea, but not a step you want to jump into without some preparation.
Travel is the ultimate disruptor. You promise your kid beach time, then it rains. You sing the praises of mini-golf, then the place is closed. You were told the macaroni and cheese looked like Kraft dinner, then it was gourmet. (Yes, these are real-life examples.) Trust me, any one of these things holds the potential of ruining your trip if you let it. Don't let it.
Instead, head into your family vacation with the goal of implementing a few core rules. Then voice them loudly and often before you go so that everyone is on the same page. By the time you get to your third or fourth trip, they won't be rules – they'll just be your family's holiday reality.
Souvenirs are for suckers
Used to be that whether the kids were with me or they weren't, some sort of trinket or tchotchke for them would find itself in my bringing-it-home bag. It didn't take long for the practice to wear thin. Play this card wrong and you're the mom tearing up the airport shops in a frenzy as the loudspeaker announces your departing flight. Or the dad pulling out the credit card to pay twice as much for the stuffed toy you can get in the shop at home. And once you've set the expectation with your kids, it becomes the burden you can't shake … even when you don't have the money, time or inclination to make it happen. Skip the stuff you buy for the memories you make. Start a tradition of creating a family jump-shot photo in every destination you visit. Build a family sand castle together or always carve your family's names in the snow of the hilltops (yup, even the bunny hill) that you conquered. Skip the T-shirts they'll outgrow and focus on the moments you can count on enjoying for years to come.
Mommy gets a vacation, too
There was a time when I'd scoff at the idea of parents who drop their children off at the kids' club while on vacation. "Take them away from home, travel all the way to a destination only to be separated from them for hours at a time? Who does that?" I do. Look, the point of a vacation is to get some relaxation in, right? If you were relaxed at home, you wouldn't need it. So, no harm, no foul in carving out an hour (or six) in your vacation day to unwind. I'll go to my grave swearing it makes you a better parent and it only takes one great kids' club outing to have your kids ditching you without a second glance.
You bring it, you carry it
Much like the parent who, when their child announces they are running away helps them pack an oops-that-is-too-heavy-so-I-guess-you-better-stay suitcase – when it comes time to travel, give school-age kids the job of packing their own bag. They'll attempt to carry their entire toy chest and quickly realize they can't. Negotiations can begin from there. Even toddlers should have their own bag. The act of packing it and talking about what they truly need is a good lesson that will serve them well as they get older.
Don't bring it unless you can lose it
It's not just about what they can carry, it's about what they can stand to lose. You've bought two identical "special blankets" for them to drag everywhere at home for this very reason. If you can't talk them into leaving their one-of-a-kind teddy bear at home for this trip, be prepared to be on constant teddy bear surveillance. Consider adding a less valuable toy to the trip – something they can lose without tears when it opts to stay in the new destination. And use the time you would've spent cursing and looking for it on actually enjoying your trip.
Locations change – discipline doesn't
My parents lived by a "wherever, whenever" rule of discipline and as kids, we knew it. It didn't matter who was around, if we acted out or needed to be corrected, we could expect the discipline to be swift. I did the same with my kids and while it once meant giving my youngest a "timeout" on a very skinny ledge of a very tall mountain in Peru, we did it. His was the shame witnessed by tourists for miles around, but he got the point and behaviours improved. Wherever, whenever. Kids are smart: If they believe you, you won't have to fight the "I'm out of the house and can do as I like" monster that enjoys vacations as much as you do.