Now that vacations are done for the season, here are my untimely travel tips from late summer trips I took with my family. If this advice is too late to be useful for you, just print out this article, fold it into the December section of your day planner, then transfer it to your next year’s day planner for easy access when you take vacations again!
I had nearly back-to-back vacations starting in late August. First, my husband, daughter, and I flew to San Francisco to visit his brother and our sister-in-law. After less than a week at home (during which our kid started preschool), we drove to Topsail, North Carolina for a week at a rented condo with four generations of my family, plus every cookie and chip available on the island. That’s two different trips with different types of planning (and two different oceans).
I didn’t want to overpack or overplan. For both trips we had access to laundry, access to a kitchen, and smart phones in-hand to make finding itinerary details more of an “as needed” search. But I still overpacked. We had to buy a plane ticket for our daughter, upping our carry-on baggage allowance to two per person and sparing us from checking bags. But we didn’t want to carry six bags and her car seat. Taking half the clothes we needed (see: laundry access) was helpful in keeping our packing lean. We only brought five bags and her car seat.
As far as the planning went, here are some ideas that worked for us.
Before we left town, I searched for plane activities for kids and landed on Delicious Baby and the best, simplest idea that I would never have thought of: pipe cleaners. On the plane, we made and played with people, fish, glasses, hats, and antennae. The pipe cleaners were easy to store and took up lots of time compared to other activities we did. A small, flat puzzle was also a hit. She played with it at the house and again using the airplane tray (tricky, but it worked). I brought new (to her) books. I took a small stack of Memory cards she already had for a mini game on the airplane tray (pieces were lost, though). I also purchased an inflatable ball for her to play with once we got to California. It was a good idea, but later my in-law’s dog bit a hole in it (lawsuit is pending).
I put snacks and diversions in our three smaller bags so that she wouldn’t open her bookbag and find things meant to last the rest of the trip. I also didn’t want to buy her too much for the plane ride, so once I knew we’d be taking the trip I started stashing away small gifts from grandparents; contents of birthday party treat bags; and cheap items from Target’s Dollar Spot.
For eating on the plane, I made a mix of cashews, low-sugar Craisins, and M&Ms,1 packed sandwiches for lunch, and brought our water bottles to fill up after we’d gotten through security. We didn’t have food service (complimentary, anyway) on our flights, but when I ordered a Sprite on our first flight, I got an ENTIRE CAN. The golden days of flying are back!
We went to a grocery store once we were in San Francisco and got cereal, snacks, fruit, milk, and juice. We went out to eat at least once a day, but a simple, at-home breakfast gave us a nice start. I also bought those probably nutrition-free but easy-to-carry applesauce pouches to satisfy snacking needs when we were running behind schedule with lunch and dinner.
For the trip home, I wanted food with protein, but options were limited since it would need to stay at room temperature. I cut up leftover pre-cooked turkey kielbasa in a sandwich bag, which I thought was probably a bad idea. Our kid ate almost all of it so it turned out to be a great idea. Also: bring spare sandwich/freezer-size storage bags. They were helpful throughout the trip–in air and on land.
The secret weapon for traveling was a game I purchased on my phone called Monkey Preschool Lunchbox. I don’t have any games on my phone for my daughter (she finds plenty to do/delete without them), but she loved this one. It came in handy as a last resort to keep her occupied before getting fussy.
I didn’t bring anything out on the plane if she seemed fine being unoccupied. We took advantage of general plane excitement. With the exception of one dramatic layover with lots of running, she had time to decompress and move around between flights. Someone even complimented us on how well she did (she’s a travelling champ). During the trip, she did great adjusting to the time change (the lax schedule probably helped). Plus, San Francisco is awesome for kids. There are so many carousels and sea lions around, and we had lots of walks on beaches (and family bonding time…also important).
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Going to the beach after our California trip was so different that I didn’t even pack until the couple of hours before we left. And I also overpacked for it.2
I’ve taken beach vacations with my parents, siblings, and assorted members of my family for all of my life, so I knew what to expect (we had the same house last year). It was a great, relaxing vacation with lots of reading, walking on flatter surfaces, and real shark sightings. Our daughter also had the rich experience of spending time with (the iPads and phones of) her extended family.
My mom basically takes care of setting up house, and my older sister brings in the rest. I brought ingredients to make s’mores and a DVD of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, so it’s not like my efforts weren’t essential. My main advice for preparing to stay at a rental house is to plan your vacation with my mom, because she’s got it all covered. If she’s not available, then reach out to my sister.
The car trip to the beach was really the only thing we had to prepare for, but it’s less than five hours. After all the Pittsburgh and New York trips we’ve had to take with our daughter, five hours is basically nothing. To my surprise, once she woke up from her nap, she didn’t play with anything other than a Slinky for a little bit. She was perfectly happy looking out the window and talking about what we were driving by. On the drive home she was more restless and needed things to do, but it never got to backseat meltdown-level.
Because of school next year, we’re probably done with post-Labor Day vacations, the time when beach houses are more affordable, beaches are less crowded, and the weather is still great. If you’re kids aren’t in school yet, hold off until September when making your plans.
And have a great summer vacation! Next year, anyway.
Photo by: thisreidwrites