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Get the most out of family vacation time

In this week's Mom of the House, Brianna Bell shares her family travel secrets
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I’m writing my column this week while on vacation in Muskoka. I’ve found some relief from the heat wave in the air conditioned lobby of our resort. From where I sit I can see beautiful Mary Lake, with the stunning views of craggy rocks and lush trees, and a steep hill that leads to the blue lake and sandy beach.

I figured, what better time than now to sit and reflect on what it’s like to travel with kids, and share some of our travelling tips.

Here are my top six tips for travelling with children:

    1.    Lower your expectations: Every single year upon arrival to our family destination I experience a minor breakdown of sorts. The kids are acting up, we’ve been booked in the wrong room, naps have been skipped, the baby is running a fever, whatever it might be, there’s always something. By day two I usually get hit with a reality check. I need to lower my expectations, a lot. Travelling with kids does not equal a restful vacation for parents. Things are going to go wrong: kids will be cranky, someone might get sick, sleep will be interrupted, and the list goes on. When I reduce my expectations I have a smaller margin for disappointment.
    2.    Recreate routine: One of the biggest mistakes we made on this trip was forgetting to pack my oldest daughter her favourite cereal. She LOVES Multigrain Cheerios, and nothing else will do in the morning. We experienced a very avoidable meltdown when she realized that our resort doesn’t carry her cereal. We’ve learned that we need to recreate our most valued routines, which means reading familiar books at bedtime, bringing favourite snacks, and packing beloved stuffies. Whatever it is that your kids cling to, bring those familiar pieces of home to them.
    3.    Pack new toys: In addition to some of my kids favourite books, a box of Duplo, and some stuffed animals, I bought a few new toys for my kids to play with. Nothing excites a kid more than a shiny new toy, and the few dollars spent on new toys made the few extra hours of peace this week worthwhile. I picked up some new $5 Barbies at Walmart, as well as a painting craft that my kids enjoyed for some quiet time. Whatever it is, make sure it is something that they will love and will keep them busy.
    4.    Roll with your mistakes: Don’t beat yourself up when you forget things, just roll with it. I forgot a hat for one of my kids, and water bottles. I ended up picking up the missing items at the start of the week, but I just found lots of shade, sprayed sunscreen on my kid’s head, and got plastic water bottles in the meantime. There’s very few things you could forget that can’t be purchased upon arrival to your destination, and there’s some things you can just do without. I’ve washed underwear in hotel sinks, and let my kids sleep naked when we’ve run out of pajamas. Can you tell we forget things often?
    5.    Step away from the camera: My husband loves photography and could easily spend an entire vacation just taking photos. We try and carve out special moments for him to get some photos, but we focus on creating lasting memories without a lens for the most part. Ditto with our phones. Although this weekend hasn’t been 100 per cent unplugged, we have left our phones out of sight for most of it, and it’s made for more intentional time together as a family.
    6.    Record your memories on paper: This is a new and unique idea that we have just started, but consider buying a travel journal (you can buy ones specific for travel, or just go to a Dollar Store and pick up a notebook), and have each family record their favourite memories from the trip. If you get into the tradition of it, your family can have an entire notebook filled with memories from years of travelling. We will have our middle daughter tell us her memories, and our oldest will be able to write her favourite memories in the notebook.

What are your tips for getting the most out of a family holiday?