Tips & Tricks for a stress-free holiday vacation.
Our co-founder Erin is a true jet-setter. Since working together, we’ve developed a habit of planning last-minute family vacations via text.
“What are you doing for Thanksgiving?”
“I don’t know. Let’s go somewhere!”
“I want to go to Spain.”
“How about San Diego?”
“Booking tickets now.”
“Guess we should tell our husbands.”
As casual as we are about deciding to take a trip, we’re surprisingly intentional during the planning and the trip itself. Erin follows self-imposed rules like no social media, only one FaceTime call per day (when traveling without the kids), and no discussing major life decisions while on vacation.
“We kept saving these big conversations and heavy topics for trips when it was just the two of us,” she explains. “We thought, ‘We’ll have unlimited uninterrupted time, so let’s table it until then!’ It lead to vacations that left us feeling burnt out and tired, rather than connected and refreshed.
“We made an agreement that big, heavy talks aren’t for vacation. They’re for after bedtime, date nights, or evenings on our back patio while the kids watch a movie. Now, by the time we get to vacation, we’re already connected and our trip can be just what it’s supposed to be: fun.”
The rules in my family focus more on the planning process.
When Levon was 2 ½, I started traveling alone with him and our two dogs on a regular basis. I knew I couldn’t navigate the airport with a stroller, two suitcases, two pets and a toddler unless Levon was 100% independent, so I made a rule that he had to be capable of using the escalator without holding my hand. We spent weeks at our local mall eating ice cream and riding the escalators up and down until he was confident navigating the steps himself.
My husband is a creature of habit, so when we go to places like New York City, I have a rule that at least 50% of the restaurants we book have to be new to us. His rule: Whenever it’s affordable, he requests a room with a separate living space so he doesn’t have to listen to my hair dryer while he watches sports, waiting for me to be ready to leave. Most importantly, everyone in our family must have TSA pre-check. Avoiding security lines, shoe removal, and pulling every iPad out of our bags makes traveling so much easier. For chronically late people like myself, it’s essential.
In anticipation of traveling this holiday season, I reached out to other moms and asked them to share their travel rules and tips for successful vacations. Their answers were fascinating!
Planes & Airports
I always make it a point to reach out to someone I’ve never met before, either on the plane or during my trip, and pay it forward with an act of kindness or just being attentive in conversation. More often than not, I return home having a new friend.
This rule is obviously rooted in a lot of financial privilege, but my rule of flying is that you can get just absolutely whatever you want to eat when you’re in an airport. A $10 Big Mac at 9 am? Sure. Walk halfway across the entire airport just to get an overpriced smoothie? Absolutely. I release myself from worrying about financial or nutritional responsibilities within the confines of any airport.
Everywhere we go with kids has to offer swimming, year-round. You’d be surprised by how many hotels don’t have indoor pools. I’ve discovered that everything is smoother when energy can be burned by swimming. Also, my husband and I can tag team for a little bit of alone time.
No matter where we are or what we are doing, my children always remember trips according to the pool. Four years ago, we went to Denver and the hotel pool was closed the first day. They still talk about it.
I used to travel for work 50%+ of the time. I would always play new music in my hotel room. New artists or genres would make hotel time a party.
I will die on the hill that my children need a room with beds and a door that closes separately from ours. It can be in the main room or just a connecting room. But NO ONE is going to relax or sleep with everyone piled in 400 square feet. At least in our family.
No staying with family.
When traveling with younger kids, only one scheduled/big planned thing each day. Maybe even every other day, if they are really little.
I am a “do all the things” person and I had to learn to slow down so much when traveling with kids. At the same time, our family needs at least one major thing a day and to know what it is ahead of time because my kids don’t do well with no plans.
For older kids, involve them in the planning and choosing activities (I put my teen daughter on the task of researching condos for Hawaii because she cared so much about where we stayed). For little kids and international or big domestic travel with flights, build in a sick day or two.
My husband & son like to repeat restaurants, so we have a rule they can choose whether we go to the same restaurant but order a new dish; or we go to a new restaurant and they can order the closest thing to a burger on the menu.
We always visit a grocery store to find out what totally unexpected flavors of potato chips they have, and we always go to McDonald’s, not because we like McDonald’s — we do not — but we are fascinated by local influences on their menus. (I’m looking at you, McFalafel.)
We consciously enter vacation mode the moment we start the car. This rule came out of getting stuck on FDR Drive in Manhattan for about an hour once. We listened and sang along to tunes and told ourselves, “Hey, we’re not moving, but we are ON VACATION, baby!”
Only bring books of authors I’ve already read so I know the likelihood of liking them will be higher. Nothing worse than a bad book on vacation.
I read either a historical fiction or narrative non-fic book about the place we’re going beforehand (or on the journey). This is my rule for me after reading “The Rise & Fall of the House of Medici” on the plane to Florence: transformative!
Straight from “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” — don’t forget your towel. I literally pack beach towels because sometimes water parks and hotel pools run short. And one water park actually took your room number and billed your room if they didn’t get the towel back!! Plus having your own makes it easier to spot your seats.
The kids can only ask for one major souvenir so we tend to have them wait until the last couple days.
I love to buy a bag of coffee from a local joint and take it home as a delicious souvenir that won’t fill up my cabinets like mugs.
What are you rules and tips for travel? Share in the comments!
Jessica Butler is the co-founder of Raise, stepmother of two, and adoptive mother of one. Prior to Raise, she was a writer on USA’s "In Plain Sight" and TNT’s "The Last Ship." She and her husband, writer/producer Warren Bell, co-created the Nick at Nite series "Instant Mom," based on her life as a stepmother. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and six-year-old son, Levon.