by Monica Swanson

I am just getting settled after nearly a month of traveling with three kids (and no hubby along!) While it is fresh on my mind I thought I would share a few of the (little ) things that I've found make a (big) difference in my travels with kids over the years.

This doesn't cover everything of course, but here are a few things I had to figure out for myself, so thought I would pass along...

Embassy Suites

HAVE REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS.  We all know that traveling with kids will not really be a vacation in a "vacationy" sense, right?  So forget about it.  Adjust accordingly!  Depending on where you're going and what you're doing, you'll probably get some "vacationy" moments, but mentally prepare to still be on parent duty like any other day.  It's ok.  Just try to imagine all of the fun memories you'll be creating as a family!  (which one day, of course, you'll think of as the best memories ever.  Maybe even better than sleeping in a lounge chair by the pool, or eating meals in peace.  Maybe.)

PACK LIGHT, BUT PACK SMART.   I have always been one to overpack and then regret it.  It's no fun lugging a humongous suitcase around when we all end up wearing the same three t-shirts the entire vacation.  I'm learning to become a lighter packer, but I try to be thoughtful about what we all bring.  Which specific toiletries does everyone really need?  Narrow it down. (you can always buy cough syrup if by some rare chance you need it.)  How many pair of shoes is reasonable?  (I still struggle with that one.)  And does my little guy really need two complete Lego sets, fourteen books and three stuffed toys in his carry on?  (well, ok apparently yes.)

I love this.  Consider the things that really make you feel comfortable, whether you're couch surfing or staying in a hotel.  These will be different for everyone, but my personal list includes:

A coffee mug!  Call me crazy, but coffee tastes best out of a real mug, and depending on where you're staying, they may not supply one.
My hair-drying towel.  (What do you even call those things?...the things you wrap your wet hair in while you're getting ready?)  Having one with me makes me feel so much more at home!  I always bring one!
Slippers.  I love warm feet!
A favorite treat.  Seriously, a little stash of good chocolates or hard candies is almost always in my bag.  You never know when you're gonna want something and it's nice to have what you like along!  (Shh, don't tell the kids.)
Starbucks VIA instant coffee.  You just never know.  Like that one time, I woke up in a hotel room in a different time zone so, so tired only to find our hotel coffee maker was stocked with only decaf coffee.  I nearly died.  Via is my security blanket.  {Also side note if you're staying with a family:  Did you know that some families don't even drink coffee?  I can't explain it, but it's true.  BE PREPARED.}

PACK SOME HEALTHY SNACKS FOR EVERYONE.  Besides my hidden chocolates, I really do try to keep a stash of nuts, fruit and other healthy snacks for all of us.  If I can't travel with them, then I find a market to visit soon after I get to my destination.  (Trader Joes if at all possible! :)) It's just a plain fact that none of us will eat as healthy as usual on a vacation, so having healthy snacks along just helps compensate a bit.

REQUIRE SOME ‘QUIET WORK' FOR EVERYONE, DAILY IF POSSIBLE.  I make everyone in our family pack books, journals, and quiet work for our trips. The kids may try to fight it, but the truth is at some point in every day, we all need some downtime!  Tell a twelve-year-old to take a nap on vacation, and he'll think you're OUT OF YOUR MIND, but give him twenty minutes with a book, and you might just find him accidentally asleep.  (hehehe.)  This is good.  Regrouping, calming, and resting is good for everyone.

(When possible) DIVIDE LONGER TRIPS BETWEEN BEING A GUEST IN SOMEONE'S HOME AND STAYING IN A HOTEL.  I think this is key, especially if you're staying longer than a couple of days!  (You remember the thing about house guests and fish, right?  They're both great for about three days and then they begin to stink. haha.)

While we were in California we had a great time staying with a couple of different families, but we also spent a week at the Embassy Suites Irvine.   It felt great to have some time in our own space, and not have to worry about being in anyone's way!


Embassy Suites IRvine

You might remember that our family loves Embassy Suites from our weekend in Waikiki.  But this is actually the second summer in California that we chose to stay in an Embassy Suites during Luke's surf contests.  And here's a fact:  There is a huge difference between staying in a traditional hotel room, with two beds, (with everyone in one room together, slowing losing their minds) and a two-bedroom suite at Embassy Suites.  Two bedrooms, a living room, and kitchenette make all the difference in the world! While at Embassy Suites I stayed up after kids went to sleep and watched whatever the heck I wanted on TV, and I got up early to have coffee without waking the kids!  So nice!  Add to that a full-service breakfast, and happy hour every night (with great snacks and drinks for all ages) and the whole family felt super spoiled.  While we were there I also did laundry, worked out in the awesome fitness room, and swam and jacuzzi'd with the boys every day.  Can't beat it!  (It didn't hurt that the Embassy Suites Irvine just went through a 12 million dollar renovation and was truly stunning.)

Fitness center embassy Suites

Embassy Suites collage

Embassy Suites irvine

LEAVE THE WORK BEHIND.  When you can, let your vacation time with family be fully dedicated to time with family.  We all have work to do wherever we go, but I find vacations the most special time to just give kids the time and attention they beg for all year long.  A vacation is a great time to fill their love tanks, have some really good talks, and make memories to last a lifetime.  Take advantage of this time away from your normal schedule and responsibilities and just enjoy your family.  (another reason hotels are great-Hello cleaning service every day!)

I'd love to hear what you have learned to make family travels easier, too!
Would you share a tip or lesson learned in the comments below!?

Much Aloha, and here's to finishing off the summer with happy and safe travels!
Big thank you to the Embassy Suites Irvine for hosting me and my boys this summer!


PS  Except for the few that I snatched from the Embassy Suites website, please excuse the less-than-great iPhone photos here.  Somehow I lost the family roshambo over who got to have the camera, and my promise to you is I will not lose that one again. ??