21 Things That Inevitably Happen When You Travel With Kids During the Holidays
My family usually hits the road for the holidays, heading to the beach with my extended family for a vacation that only in the last year (when my son was almost 4 and my daughter was almost 7) began to feel like one. Before that, it was a stressful trip that took so much time and energy to execute that if it wasn't for that alluring Florida sunshine, I might not have gone.
Between buying and wrapping gifts early so I could ship them to our destination in time for Santa's arrival to renting baby supplies we couldn't fit in our suitcases to throwing our rules about screen time and sugar consumption out the window, traveling with kids for the holidays is a jolly sh*tshow. But hey, the holidays are all about togetherness, right? And nothing brings more togetherness than being stuck in a tiny condo for a week (or even better, a car for an eight-hour-plus drive) with your toddlers. If you're planning a trip with your kids over the holidays — to Grandma's house or somewhere more exotic — here are 21 things you need to prepare yourself for.
You Prepare Yourself Thoroughly
You've made the decision to celebrate the holidays away from home, but that doesn't mean you can't make this the most special, magical Christmas ever. You start making lists of important holiday items you'll need to pack (stockings, matching pajamas, extra ribbons and gift tags), along with the 5,000 or so things your kids will need on your trip. Then you'll head to Target and Amazon to buy it all.
You Come Up With Some Serious Santa Tales
The biggest hurdle your kids will see to your holiday travel plans? How Santa will possibly know where they are! You'll devise some clever tales to ensure them that the big guy and his bag of gifts will be able to locate their whereabouts and deliver that wish list.
You Start Packing a Month in Advance
Take your normal holiday stress plus the stress of traveling with kids, and bam, you're in overload long before you hit the road. To counter your anxiety (and make sure you don't forget anything), you start packing a month in advance, turning a spare room into a staging space you add items to every five minutes or so.
You Forget That Your Destination Probably Has Stores, Too
The downside to packing a month in advance: you'll think of everything. Medicine for every potential ailment, clothing items for every kind of weather, those Christmas books you just can't not have on Christmas Eve, toys for before the presents are unwrapped . . . you're starting to wonder if you're going to have to rent a U-Haul to get it all there.
You Do the Drive vs. Fly Debate
Fly and you get there in a few hours, but you are also stuck in a tin can at 30,000 feet with children who may or may not take that time to be their very worst selves. Driving takes much longer, but you can stop when they need a break and pack at least three times more stuff. How to choose between these alluring options?
You Pack Books . . . and Never Read Them
For a second, you'll forget you're traveling with kids during a time when there literally is no downtime (thanks, Saint Nick!), and you'll throw in that book you've been trying to read since Labor Day. You'll bring it home still unopened, if it even makes it out of the car.
You Wonder If You Should Bring Your Elf on the Shelf
Your Elf on the Shelf has helped you a lot during the holiday season (nothing like the threat of Santa's helper constantly watching), but now he's put you in a pickle. Do you covertly pack him and hope your kids don't see, or should you make up a story about why Buddy had to fly back to the North Pole early this year?
Screen Time Rules Will Go Out the Window
Maybe you monitor your kids' screen time like a boss at home; on a trip (and during the holidays in general), those rules are most likely as forgotten as is your vow to eat healthy. Whatever makes your kid as quiet as a mouse — even if it's three straight hours of YouTube — is just fine with you.
As Will Sugar Limits
Maybe you're with Grandma, whose presence pretty much requires the loosening of all dietary restrictions when it comes to your kids. Maybe you're at a resort that has a stash of free cookies at all times. Maybe you just really need ice cream as a constant bribe. Regardless, no one's limiting your kid's sugar intake over the holidays, so prepare for the inevitable crashes.
You Appreciate WiFi More Than Ever
WiFi at your house is smooth sailing, so easy in fact that you barely even think about it. But at the grandparents' house, at hotels, and at rental properties, suddenly connecting to WiFi — both for yourself and your kids' devices — seems like an impossibly difficult task. Why can't Grandma remember her network's freaking password!?
You Learn That Diapers and Road Trips Don't Always Mix
If you're going the driving route — and bringing along a kid or two still in diapers — you'll feel like you're driving with a ticking time bomb of the exploding nappy variety. Pack extra wipes, people!
You Become a Holiday Hype Gal
Maybe your kids really don't want to spend Christmas at Uncle Bob's or you're feeling guilty (see below) about not delivering a picture-perfect Christmas at home. Either way, you'll find yourself hyping up a holiday that you didn't think could be hyped any more. Who's excited for Christmas, kids!?
You Get Even More Desperate to Make the Holidays Special
Traveling over the holidays means you're giving up most of the control over holiday decor and traditions, so you'll try to pick up the slack in the most ridiculous ways. Matching Christmas pajamas, Santa hats, light shows, extra gifts, perfectly wrapped presents, and awesome Advent calendars are sure to make this your kid's favorite holiday yet, right?
You Feel Guilty About Something
What's a holiday season — or motherhood in general — without a side of guilt? Odds are at least one of your kids is going to express disappointment over a gift they didn't get, Grandma's lackluster artificial tree, or having to miss their friend's Christmas party, and even though you know you've worked your ever-loving tail off, you'll still feel a twinge of guilt.
You Experience Air Travel Anger
You know what's less fun than flying with small children during the busiest travel time of the year? Umm . . . we're still thinking. So get mentally prepared (and prepare to order a couple bad glasses of airplane wine) in order to make it through in one piece.
You're Forced to Childproof All Over Again
Grandma's house might look lovely for the holidays, but she still hasn't gotten the memo that all those crystal vases and glass bowls displayed at toddler height just aren't going to survive your kids. And that rental condo you scored on the beach? Well, it's basically a death trap with exposed wires, sharp corners, and a rickety old crib. Don't forget to pack those outlet covers!
You Bring On the Holiday Cheer (Starting at Noon)
Just like your usual screen time and sugar limits are null and void over the holidays, so is your usual rule about waiting until 5 p.m. (OK, maybe 4:30) to have that much-deserved glass of wine. When stuck with your family — or even worse, your in-laws — a morning mimosa or lunchtime glass of Sauvignon Blanc might be all that's keeping you sane.
You Forget Something Important
One thing's guaranteed: you're going to forget at least one thing. Best-case scenario, it's something you left at home that can be replaced on a quick run to Target or CVS. Worst case? You leave your child's iPad on the plane and can't recover it, or, even more tragic, you somehow misplace the stuffed animal your child hasn't been able to sleep without since birth.
You Get More Creative Than Ever With Gifts
If you're traveling by plane, you have two options. One, buy, wrap, and ship all your gifts far enough in advance that Santa (and UPS) can deliver them on time. Or two, get super creative with what constitutes a gift. Going to the beach with a kid who's grown two inches since the Summer? Guess who's getting new swimsuits and sandals!? Flying across the country to see the grandparents? Bring on the gift cards! Compact, packable, and functional are on your wish list.
You Accumulate So Much Stuff, You'll Have to Ship It Home
Even though you were so smart about buying easy-to-pack gifts and lining your suitcase only with the necessities, everyone else in your life wasn't as thoughtful. Hence why your kids got a 1,200-piece Lego kit, two pairs of snow boots, and a stuffed animal that's taller than she is. You find yourself spending more to ship your gifts home than they actually cost. Genius.
You Remember the True Meaning of the Holidays
Sure, your stress level is at an 11, you've been surviving on broken Christmas cookies and gifted wine, and you're thinking about revealing the truth about Santa just to take some of the pressure off next year, but then you have one perfect moment, laughing with your family in front of a fire or watching White Christmas cuddled on a couch, and you'll think, yeah, it was all worth it.