We went to Disneyland last week. Boo is 3-1/2, and we always said that we would take her when she was old enough not to be carried all day (interestingly, “old enough” is not the same as “willing”, but whatever). I’m a notoriously anxious traveler/over-packer, but I tried really extra super hard not to make everyone else crazy. I made it until about Thursday afternoon, I think. More on this in a minute.
Now that we’re home and unpacked and the laundry is done and put away (!!!), I think a wrap-up is in order. Chances are, this isn’t our last trip to the Magic Kingdom, and we learned quite a bit about how we are when we take our show on the road.
Here are my Top Five Questions to think about when you’re planning a trip.
1. What’s your priority? What’s the purpose of the trip?
Mr Incredible and I were on board with making this about Boo–her first time to Disneyland was going to revolve around her schedule, her moods, her interests. Not every trip is going to be a pure child-focused family vacation–most of our travel is to visit family or attend events. Those trips have a different dynamic and we have specific expectations for them. When we’re in visiting mode, we want to be on our best behavior. We don’t see relatives as often as we’d like (unless it’s WAY TOO FREAKING OFTEN, and stay tuned for some future musings about dealing with family…) so there’s a lot of talking and not always a lot of action.
Last fall, we flew to Arkansas to attend my cousin’s wedding, and we learned that it’s important to scope out where the fun is when you get to somewhere new. You’re going to have down time, and you can’t depend on good weather. We spent a lot of time driving around in the rain on our way to sit down and chat and eat. That can be tough on kids, and they get bored fast. Most towns have indoor play facilities, and you can sign up for a free “introductory” tumbling or dance class if you have shorties who need to burn off some steam for an hour or two. Don’t be above Chuck E Cheese (OMG, seriously, it’s its own level of hell, but it can be a lifesaver).
2. Just how much do you actually need to do?
A family vacation can have such a sense of urgency. You don’t go away often, so when you do, you want to get a lot of bang for your bucks. And you run yourself and your family into the ground trying to do and see ev.er.y.thing. Don’t do that. Don’t be Clark Griswold. If you’ve never been to where you’re going, do your homework. Find out the must-sees and must-dos. Ask your friends if they know anything about your destination. Chances are, they do, and they can give you invaluable tips.
Another thing, don’t over-schedule your days. Carve one thing in stone per day, and other stuff can fall into place as it will. Downtime is important, even for the most enthusiastic travelers. Will the kids take naps? Are there places to go during downtime that don’t include locking yourself in the hotel bathroom for five minutes of privacy?
3. Is all that stuff really necessary?
I’m a notorious over-packer. Back in the glory days, I would pack a suitcase of just shoes because you just never know if you’re going to need three pairs of black stilettos. Now? I’m pretty confident about my stiletto needs. If I’m not home, I’m not going to want to stomp around in 4-inch heels for 12 hours.
Mr Incredible travels quite a bit for business, so he’s an ace when it comes to packing. He can fit five days of clothes in a duffel bag and a quarter of our big suitcase. Love him. And now that Boo is old enough to sleep in a bed and eat from regular plates and use a bathroom, her packing has gotten seriously lighter.
Check the weather before you go. Pack for layering, use jackets with hoods instead of umbrellas, bring at least one nicer outfit every time, and extra socks and undies are never a bad idea. Beyond that, less is more. It’s not like you’re going to the moon. If you forget something, or find that you didn’t anticipate something, chances are, you’re not far from Target.
4. What are the dealbreakers?
Before you back out of the driveway, make sure that everyone, or at least the deciders, is on the same page about key elements of the trip. For example, I have a pretty firm “No IHOP” rule. Mr. Incredible knows that barring some unforeseen disaster, our family breakfasts are not going to happen at IHOP while we’re on the road. We have conversations about wake-up calls and how and where we’re going to spend our time (Park Hopper tickets make this an essential discussion). Everybody in the group, even the non-deciders, has expectations about what will and will not be a part of the trip, and communication about this is so important.
Which brings me to my previous point about The Crazy. I tend to get hyperfocused (NO! really? Nuh-uh.) and I sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture in my pursuit of whatever I think needs to happen.
I’ve gotten better. Yes I have.
But it still happens. A dealbreaker on every trip you take needs to be manners: we are kind to each other. Not just superficial and passive aggressive and “OK fine whatever you want to do.” KINDNESS. As tired as you are, so is everybody else, and chances are at least one person in the car is about to go all stabbity if they hear someone say or do XYZ one. more. time. Pay attention to the people you’re with, not just to where you are.
5. Can you take extra days off from work before and after the actual trip?
We left town on Monday, came back on Friday. Our Disneyland adventure was bookended by weekends, and I think that’s the way to go. Ideally, we also have part of at least one business day when at our disposal, just in case. Like, when we were coming home, we discovered that the brakes on our car needed work (no emergencies, just rough stopping). We hit town, and there was (technically) time to take the car in before the end of the day. Of course, it’s important to keep the Dealbreakers in mind when you start piling errands on before and after the trip. Does someone in the group prefer to stay close to home once we get there? PERHAPS.
I think my point with all of this is, don’t force perfection upon your vacation. You’re not going to Hawaii so you can tell people you went to Hawaii. You’re not dragging your family on a cruise so you can have the best family picture in the Christmas card out of everybody who puts pictures in cards. You’re not taking your 3 year old to Disneyland so you can jumpstart her love of Pirates in the Caribbean (true story). This isn’t a show you’re putting on. These are memories you’re building, and when your kids are grown, they’ll remember how they met ALL the princesses (even the elusive Princess Tiana).
They’ll remember walking across the highway to the beach instead of jumping right back into the car after lunch and going to the next stop.
And so will you.