A friend of mine once aptly said: “A family vacation is really just relocation, but without all of your stuff that makes your life easier.” And after our recent jaunt down to Orlando to introduce our daughter to her grandmother, I realized just how right she was. Seeing the family was a hit, seeing this as our vacation, however, was decidedly a miss.
While traveling on a vacation is about taking a break from work and normal routines (think: Waikiki beach with colorful umbrella drink in hand and blissed-out look on face), when you are traveling with children, you are bringing your work with you.
Don’t get me wrong. I do love so many things about getting away, like eating out and having someone else serve me dinner. But when I had to stop the third glass of water from spilling all over Grandma’s main course while my son exercised his artistic abilities by coloring in his kiddie placemat, eating out, and some of the other “perks” of vacation, lose their charm.
One way to make family vacations work better is to completely change the way you think about them, reframing them as a journey as opposed to a destination. Judaism has a lot to say about journeys. Every time you set out on a journey beyond the city limits, there is an ancient prayer that is said, called tefillat haderekh, or “a prayer for the road.” The prayer was originally composed for wayfarers to ward against obstacles they might encounter that would sabotage their trip (wild beasts, robbers, enemies in unchartered territories, you get the idea). Today, there are all sorts of other ways our modern day journeys are sabotaged.
Using the language of the traditional prayer, here are a few tips to keep in mind before setting out for your next family vacation:
Tip #1: Clarify expectations with your partner.
From the prayer: “May it be Your will, Eternal One… that you lead us toward peace… and make us reach our desired destination for life, gladness, and peace”
I know that the one thing that makes these family trips not peaceful is when my husband and I have vastly different views on how the trip will play out. Have a talk with your partner before you set off. Get on the same page about what this vacation is, what you need it to be, and how you can set things up so that it meets your expectations.
You’ll get time to relax, we promise.
For example, if your partner expects this to be a relaxing getaway where you have time to reconnect with each other, check into whether there is a babysitting service at the hotel so that you can have a night out once or twice. If there is a spa nearby, maybe each of you can get a treatment at some point while the other one watches the kids.
You might have slightly less ambitious goals…maybe all you want is to work out for 30 minutes each day, or read two more chapters in that book. Negotiate what you need ahead of time to avoid some conflict and experience a little more “gladness.”
Tip #2: Keep routines with your kids.
From the prayer: “May you rescue us from the hand of every foe…along the way”
The biggest foe that I know is my 2.5 year old when he turns from being the funny, chatty, and easy going kid that he is to a whiney one who challenges me on everything and keeps us up all night with erratic sleep patterns.
While staying overnight somewhere new will always be slightly uncomfortable for your children, try to stick to your routine with your kids as much as you can. (Going to bed 30 minutes later won’t kill anyone, but missing a nap three days in a row might end up sending you and your toddler over the edge.) Be sure to pack the bedtime books, special blankets, or stuffed animals that will make even the strangest new places feel like home.
Tip #3: Embrace your inner calm.
From the prayer: “Grant us peace, kindness and mercy in Your eyes and in the eyes of all who see us.”
Take a deep breath (or several) when encountering a difficult situation with your children, so that when your child rips off his own diaper in the airport’s bathroom and insists on running around the airport as “naked boy” (this really happened to me), you can approach him with calm, knowing that your firm and restraining (if need be) behavior will contain him, and that you can be assured all of those eyes looking at you and your red-faced child are the eyes of kindness and graciousness, not the eyes of judgment.
Traveling with kids is no picnic. But even after a long plane ride home (how could three hours feel so long!) and a slight migraine, I know that the alternative, staying home, would be worse.
Creating memories and connections with relatives and friends is so important to me. With some practical tools inspired by an ancient prayer, hopefully my next journey will be a bit more peaceful.