June 6, 2016

8 Hard-Learned Tips For Mindfully Vacationing With Kids.

J.K. Califf

Putting vacation, mindful and kids in the same sentence, minus the additional “blow my brains out without leaving a bloody mess” sounds like a challenge.

Which is why I began with “hard-learned” (that’s polite for “my family could’ve been featured as the freak show on the nightly news”).

I’m the co-parent of a set of twins, my single production in propagating our illustrious species. From the beginning it was obvious my husband and I were ill-prepared.

The hospital staff was negligent in allowing us to leave the building without a nanny cam, a lactation specialist and a twelve month prescription for Xanax. We were parenting newbies—the type snickered about behind hands covering horrified faces.

When my husband and I hadn’t maimed or misplaced the kids by their third birthday we figured we could handle a family vacation to Cape Cod—which would require a plane trip, a rental car and all the child holiday accoutrements.

Tip #1: Never think you know anything when it comes to children. They are unpredictable, inflexible, and without an off button.

That first trip slapped my ego around a few times. It taught me how to cope when a three hour drive turns into six because someone won’t stay in their carseat, the food is “yucky” at every meal and no one will sleep because of the time change.

It took until our kids’ twelfth year before my husband and I finally hit stride turning mindful vacation and kids into something not only possible but highly probable.

I share what we discovered with the intent that more families high five after driving two weeks and six thousand miles together.

Tip #2: Invite children to participate in the planning process. I hear you. That sounds like hell and a jalapeño popper. Involving grumpy no sayers takes time, but it’s worth the investment. When the twins felt they’d been consulted, they became more amenable on the trip.

Tip #3: Make everything a game. Not a marathon of “sorry”, instead turn practical matters of food and lodging into a participatory process. Both kids were skeptical when my husband and I budgeted meals and motels at $200.00 per day. They became our pocketbook assistants when we announced that if less were spent, they would split the difference.

One night when a motorcycle festival hogged all the hotel rooms, we camped in the car at a rest stop. Not having slept well, everyone was cranky the next morning until the twins realized they’d made $100.00. They were disappointed when their father refused to comply with a request that we sleep in the car for the rest of the trip.

A few days later the little misers nearly stroked when after a week and a half of eating in diners, their parents splurged on a bottle of wine at a seafood restaurant. Our daughter ordered a side salad and her brother made a meal out of a baked potato.

At the end of the trip each child walked away with a lesson in keeping vacations affordable and the tidy sum of $85.00.

Tip # 4: Create a contest. Our family searched to and from the Midwest to Oregon, for the best pie. The consensus was a Marion berry with a flaky crust, at a little joint near the entrance to Crater Lake.

Tip #5: Allow kids to use a fairly good camera with a memory card. When the drive got long the twins became Martin Scorsese and Sophia Coppola, their hilarious outtakes have gone on to become family heirlooms.

Tip #6: Let go of time. It doesn’t matter when or if families meet destination deadlines—they’re arbitrary. Take side roads, stay overlong at the pool, dine slowly and have conversations about the journey. These are the mindful moments never to be forgotten.

Tip #7: Be spontaneous. Stop along the side of a river and break out the bathing suits, run screaming into the ocean fully clothed, taste a bite of pie and fall out of the booth as though struck by lightning, move from one lodging to another because the new one has a better pool.

Teach children that life is unpredictable, a vacation has no rules and a family can evacuate a lousy hotel room in under ten minutes for a good enough cause.

Tip #8: Tell stories. Late at night when the time change is making sleep impossible, share horrible vacation memories from childhood, hysterical renditions about adolescence and giggle over a lifetime of mayhem and screw ups.

Kids need to know they aren’t the only ones who say or do the wrong thing. Seeing grownups as human becomes a gift children will carry with them until they age into adults, who like their parents are ill-prepared for everything.

Vacations aren’t about perfection, either in experiences or destination.

Vacations are opportunities for mindfulness.

There are no deadlines, work requirements or “have to” lists. Instead, an open road unfurls as does an opportunity to mentor children in how to simply be.


Author: Deb Lecos

Editor: Sarah Kolkka

Image: J.K. Califf // Flickr

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