Traveling with Kids: Salvaging Some “Vacation” from Vacation

by Camille on August 11, 2013

A few weeks ago, we loaded Herdest (19), G. (17), G.’s friend (18), Ellie (2), Charlie and me into the minivan and set forth on an adventure to the beach….more than 8 hours away.


 photo (2)

We had to get a luggage pouch for the roof.

station wagon

Image Source


Yup. We’re now that family. Move over Grizwolds; the Lebels have arrived.


Image Source

We joined our good friends, Jason and Janet, and their two children, Natalie (4), and Brandon (2).


So, in case you’re not good with math, that’s four adults, three teenagers, and three toddlers all sharing one condo. In other words, the numbers weren’t exactly in our favor for a stree-free, relaxing week.

Here’s a Facebook status I posted early in the trip:

“Things I’m learning about vacationing with three toddlers: Someone is always in timeout, just pooped or peed on the floor, is screaming, is crying, wants juice, wants a snack, just stole your snack, just hit/kicked/pinched someone, or threw a truck off the balcony.”

For the teenagers, I would add:

Someone always wants money, wants food, complains about the food, wants more money, wants McDonalds, wants Taco Bell, or complains about not having money.

And while to some, this may sound like  torture rather than vacation bliss, I’d like to offer hope to those of you who may be contemplating travel with a large group of kiddos. You can still find some vacation in your vacation. It’s just going to take some planning, teamwork, and a few of these.

photo (3)

Just kidding! (Sort of.)

Anyway, here are some observations, tips, warnings, and other random thoughts from our week…

Bid Adieu to the Pre-Kid Beach Life

Leisurely mornings sipping coffee on the balcony and watching the waves crash against the shore. Carefully applying tanning lotion before settling into the perfect position for a nap in the sun. Slipping into a sundress for a relaxed dinner of fresh seafood. Late to bed and late to rise.


Charlie’s “early to rise” face. 

Sorry folks, but the jig is up. Adjust your expectations. If you’re traveling with kids, better to enter the fray with an understanding that a beach vacation and a beach vacation with kids are two ENTIRELY different entities. Kids wake up early and most have two volumes: LOUD or asleep. Suntan lotion is applied to squirming, screaming bodies with moves rivaling professional wrestlers, and Mom and Dad are lucky to apply a few patchy smears of protection before diving into the pool to prevent assured aquatic doom. Sundresses are eschewed in favor of yoga pants or a damp swimsuit cover-up, because hey…you’re just going to be dumping poop out of a swim diaper in a minute anyway, and for dinner, you’re having Velveeta shells and cheese in the condo.


Poor Herdest asleep on the foldout in the living room….a few moments prior to being pummeled by three toddlers. A morning beach trip ritual for our crew.  

Kids Eat in the Condo

One of the paramount offerings of a beach trip is the opportunity to dine each night on fresh delicacies from the sea. Butter-drenched sea scallops, fried crab claws, seared tuna drowning in hollandaise. Be still my heart.

However, Janet and I quickly decided the finest gourmet offerings in the world wouldn’t be worth the tantrum-assured hassle of taking three sun-soaked, swim-weary toddlers to a crowded restaurant to wait an hour or more for a table.

Thus, we planned simple, kid-friendly meals including spaghetti, hot dogs, grilled cheese, breakfast (eggs, bacon, and biscuits), pizza, etc.

Brandon Eating

The kids were happy and didn’t complain once about missing the chance to eat swordfish.

Tag-Team Like a Boss

Of course, the rest of us still craved a bit more than Oscar Meyer for dinner. Thus, Janet and I made a schedule to divide and conquer that included a date night for each couple, a girls’ night, a boys’ night, and a couples’ night on which we bought pizza for the teens in exchange for babysitting.


Girls’ Night


Date Night #1



Date Night #2

Thus, each adult got to go enjoy a quiet, kid-free meal three times. The teenagers were invited to eat out on boys’ night and again on the way out of town.

Trading child-care responsibilities also allowed everyone to pursue individual interests during the week. Through careful bartering, Janet and I managed to escape for

–        The MOST AMAZING pedicure EVER


–        A day of outlet shopping

–        Dinner and a viewing of “The Heat”….which led to squealing laughter and a new appreciation for certain words. Ahem….

And don’t feel too bad for the boys. They managed

–        Dinner and chilling on the pier

–        Deep-sea fishing (Hey, Jason even managed to cut his finger on fishing equipment and after three stitches, will likely have a scar to forever remind him of this trip.)

–         (Okay, feel a little sorry for them. They skipped the pedicure.)

And utilizing toddler naptimes and bedtimes, we managed lots of activities with the teenagers too, including go-karts, the arcade, pier fishing, card games, and movies. Do NOT let me fail to emphasize the importance of spoiling your teenagers. Happy teenagers are more likely to help you chase the toddlers.

Thus, while they’re doing this:


You can do this:



Other random advice?

Check on your kids during nap.

They are in unfamiliar places, and instead of taking a nap, your sweet angel might decide to explore the bathroom, remove his or her poop-filled diaper, turn on the sink and tub faucets, and create a poop-a-geddon just for you. Hypothetically. 

Bring LOTS of coloring books.

Because if one kid is coloring, they will all want to be coloring. They will NOT share coloring books. Or crayons. Ever.

Also realize there’s going to be that one kid who colors outside the lines. As in, on her face. We’re choosing to call this creativity, mmmkay?

 photo (5)

Don’t leave fruit unattended.

Certain two-year-olds have been known to abscond with 2-lb bags of grapes and eat them all in one sitting.

Puddle Jumpers are a gift from God.


Ellie is fearless, and as of yet, she shows little appreciation for the necessity of oxygen to life.

While she still requires constant supervision (I’ve seen the Puddle Jumper slip off more than once; NEVER take your eyes off your kids in the water), the float allows her to jump into the pool wherever and whenever she wants without requiring me to be there to catch her. Also, according to her swim teacher, the jumper is designed in a way to encourage swimming better than traditional floaties or rings as it forces toddlers to lie forward in the pool and kick their legs behind them.

The water park is worth it.

While $32.95 per person isn’t cheap, Waterville USA is worth the investment. Toddlers 2 and under are free, and the park has activities for all ages. We arrived around 10 a.m. and took turns watching the little kids play in the lazy river, the wave pool, and the elaborate water playground, Shrimp Boat Village.


The teenagers all bravely faced the dangers of water wedgies and total wipe-outs offered by other park attractions:



The park offers a hand stamp option so families can leave and return later in the day. Once Ellie was worn OUT, we all left the park for an economical lunch. Charlie returned with the teenagers for more fun while I stayed with Ellie in the condo while she napped.

Eat early at Lamberts.

If you come within 100 miles of a Lamberts and don’t eat there, it is a tragedy. Fried okra, apple butter, macaroni and cheese, molasses, and warm, buttery rolls of celestial perfection flying toward your face. Amazing.  And all that’s before you even order a meal.

We made an effort on girls’ day around 2 p.m. The wait was 1.5 hours. We tried again on our way out of town at about 10 a.m. (the exact moment the restaurant opens, mind you), and there were about 50 people standing in line in the parking lot. Fortunately, the wait only ended up being about 30 minutes, but you may want to consider bringing a tent and camping out for a number.

No, I’m not kidding. It’s that good. Throw some rolls!

Beware of family beach pictures. 

There is no tradition with more pressure than the color-coordinated, perfectly timed with sunset, family beach photo.

Dear families everywhere: Why the HELL do we do this to ourselves? We know how hard it is to just get the little people in clothes at all….much less matching attire, combed hair, and happy smiles at a time when all they really want to do is EAT NOW MOMMY!!

Some people take really nice pictures where mostly everyone is looking at the camera, giving non-serial killer smiles and appearing genuinely thrilled to be on vacation. Kudos to my lovely friends.


Then you have a selection of our sad attempts:


Ellie, camera this way babe. And Charlie, what’s up with the crazy smile? 


The one in which Ellie rips off Charlie’s head. 


This might have worked, except for Herdest. Chapped lips? Loving the camera? I don’t even know. 


I would like to point out that G. and I maintained our composed awesomeness through this entire debacle.

We then decided to take pictures of the kids together.







Yeah, so that went well.

Embrace the beautiful moments. 

In any case, despite the craziness, there were many silly, joyful moments full of laughter and life. And when vacationing with toddlers and teenagers, the real trick, after all,  is enjoying the heck out of the good moments.


Finding mermaids in the sand…

photo (7)

Running from the waves…


Finally getting that one perfect picture.



Building castles…



Sharing hugs and making memories.

photo (6)



So, what did I forget? How do you survive vacation with multiple kids? What’s your craziest vacation disaster or greatest triumph? Feel free to share!


Update: Our daughter’s name is Karlos. I used an initial to refer to her in these earlier posts before her adoption was finalized to comply with foster care privacy policies. 

Janet August 12, 2013 at 5:54 am


Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: