Is it easier just to stay home? Yes. Is it complicated to take your family out? Yes again. If I had to take a family vote about staying home versus going anywhere, staying home would always win. Yet I drag my family out all the time (and sometimes it’s more painful than others). The road to joy is not without its challenges.
Friends always comment that it’s amazing how we do so much as a family. Yes it is. It’s amazing… and sometimes it’s not so amazing. Whatever the case, we make the effort. What’s our survival secret? How do we do it? Here are 7 tips for whether you’re planning a vacation or just touring your own city.
1) PLAN AHEAD
The more you plan, the less chances of headaches later. It’s great to be spontaneous and go with the flow but when you want to do anything as a family, to avoid drama it’s best to plan ahead. It’s much easier to think of ideas beforehand than to be scrambling while enroute somewhere.
Whether we’re travelling by car or airplane, I ensure everyone has their entertainment. Movies, music, whatever it may be, all preloaded and ready to enjoy. There are plenty of suggestions of activities and games to play. Google it, you’ll find great ideas online (LOL, I don’t have any unique ideas of my own to share). I always tell my kids, “Just sleep! It makes time pass faster!” Love them when they are unconscious and not asking “Are we there yet?”Before even venturing out, research your destination. There are so many travel websites, blogs and YouTube videos, the work is already done for you. All you have to do is narrow down your personal interests. Determine what are the key places you want to visit, the attractions you wish to see, restaurants to try. Make reservations and buy tickets in advance so there’s no disappointment about not getting a spot. Prepare a day-by-day itinerary so you can balance the activities too. Balance a busy day with things that exert more energy with a relaxing activities for the next day. You can also schedule a “no plans” go with the flow day. Block it off in your itinerary to make best use of your limited time off.
Print a copy of the final plans, tickets etc. and put them in an easily accessible folder or large envelope. It will be a quick reference with all addresses, contact info, reservation details, etc. I always have a digital version that I email to myself so I can also refer to. Prep work is work, but you know the saying, “work hard, play hard.” Do the work first so you can focus on the fun after.
2) SPECIAL REQUESTS
Get everyone in the family involved. Ask them to do their own research and share suggestions of places they’d like to see. If they take an active role in planning, they will be more enthusiastic and hopefully cooperative as well. My daughter will share general ideas like, “I want to find cute stuffies” while my son will have a full fledge list of sneaker shops and restos. I try to incorporate something for everyone so we’re all equally excited about our destination. For the mommy-chosen places, I share pictures and interesting facts that I’ve found online so the kids see why I’m excited to go there. Usually the excitement becomes infectious. Make them part of the process!
3) MAP IT OUT
There’s nothing that bugs me more than zig-zagging across town and being inefficient with our time. Once I determine all the places we want to go, I map it all out then divide our itinerary according to geographic proximity. Yep, it’s the A-type personality in me. Day one will be all east end stuff, day two west end, day three central, etc. You want to eat where? No, you’ll have to wait 2 more days, it’s not in today’s scheduled zone. LOL! This all sounds like a lot of work, but trust me it’s better than wasting time driving endlessly with complaints coming from the backseat.
If you’re extra like me – I’ll even screenshoot my route for the day from various points. Sometimes internet connection isn’t ideal and GPS doesn’t work. It’s good to have technology but I still want to have a sense of direction, especially if we’re in an unfamiliar city. If there’s walking involved, I’ll even make note of the minutes between places to manage the cries of “Are we there yet?” Suck it up, it’s only a 3 minute walk! 20 minutes? Umm, let’s get an ice cream while we stroll…
4) PREPARE FOR THE HOT & HANGRY
If you’re not familiar with the term, hangry is feeling angry due to hunger. Nothing sucks the joy out of an experience than a bunch of hangry peeps. My husband is probably worse than the kids when he’s not fed. The beast comes out! Whenever I can, I try to make reservations in advance of places to eat lunch and dinner. If not, I try to have multiple options in mind so we can make quick choices. I also insert lots of snack breaks, little pit stops at cool places I’ve found online. Food is always part of our sightseeing itinerary. Plus, like Dora the Explorer, we always have a backpack with us. Drinks and snacks are close at hand to avoid growling tummies and tempers.And not hunger related, but equally aggravating is heat. Living in a cold climate, when we go away we look for as much sunshine as possible. Searing temperatures often accompany. While we try to balance the great outdoors with air conditioned places, an unexpected saviour has been dollar store spray bottles. Fill and refill them with water, and kids can mist themselves to stay cool. They also act as water guns so they get distracted from the heat by spraying each other. Yes, they’ll have soaked spots all over their outfits in the pictures but at least you made it to your destination.
5) LIMIT EXPECTATIONS
What you see on social media is the edited version. It’s the highlight reel which usually does not include the meltdowns and mishaps. Remind yourself that happy moments go hand-in-hand with chaos. Acceptance of this fact will help you embrace the experience as a whole. Yes, there will be challenging moments but recognize the joy that also comes along. Don’t expect everything to be picture perfect. When things take a negative turn, deal with the issue but then try to get back to a positive headspace. Don’t give up. Maybe you’ll have to cancel part of the plans, but give yourself and the family some breathing space then continue on. Even change things up. So maybe a couple of activities have to be cancelled, but what’s something else you can do to salvage the day? Joy can pop up in Plan B or C and D as well.
There’s countless times I’ve had to readjust our plans, cancel all activities. While disappointing, we still found a silver lining in our back-up plans. One time we cut our day short and decided just go back to the hotel. We stopped by a grocery store on the way. Never would we expect that to turn into a whole experience in itself. Yes, a grocery store. But it was a grocery store in Singapore, and not like any we’ve had been to in Canada. Next thing I knew, joy was brought back to life as we explored the aisles and found a feast for our impromptu hotel party. Now when we reminisce about the trip, surprisingly, that very grocery shop ranks as one of our favourite moments.
6) THE HATERS
Embrace the haters. In our family of 4, there will always be a moment someone is unhappy, bored, tired. You can’t please everybody. I’ve succumbed to the fact, “there’s always a hater.” No matter how well you planned, how much you hoped everyone would have fun, sometimes there’s a hater. Some days there are two haters. Some days no one likes anything. It happens. If 3/4 of us are relatively happy, it’s a successful outing.Forget about complex vacation plans, some days we go on a walk around the neighbourhood and it’s an adventure in itself. There are days it’s absolutely blissful. The kids are holding hands, laughing, making jokes. Other days we can’t even make it around the corner without some drama. Tears too. There are times it gets so bad that I take a few steps away, pretending I don’t even know my kids. Like who are they? Their mom should really get that situation under control! Me, I’m taking pictures of pretty flowers, I don’t hear the screaming kids at all. True story.
Celebrate the moments of joy, even if they are brief.
7) TRY, TRY AND TRY AGAIN
Even if all doesn’t go to plan, the outing was an utter #FAIL at least you still made memories of some sort. You’ll have stories to share about that “dreaded time” and it may even be funny in retrospect. It may take a few years, but you may find the memory amusing later on. One time we had gone to a park and saw a dead fish in the water. My son decided to poke it with a stick. Before I could stop him, he fell in. Getting up close and personal with the dead fish did NOT help his mood. He went on a tirade about hating the fish, hating the park, hating this day, hating life. Drama. Not the happy stroll in the park I had planned. But fast forward to today, we all lovingly refer to the park as “dead fish park” whenever we go. The memory of his close encounter with his fishy friend still makes us crack up.
So take heart. Keep trying and trying again. Keep looking for joy and it will find you.