Since becoming a mom five years ago, one of my biggest challenges has been trying to figure out how to “do” family vacations. Things changed so much with the birth of our daughter and then the addition of my son brought with it twice as many things to pack and another little human to look out for. We also go on yearly family vacations with my husband’s side of the family too, so over the years it has become difficult (and a little frustrating) to make everyone happy. Last year, I felt a bit overwhelmed. I was clueless as to how to make my immediate family happy, while still spending quality time with the family members we do not get to see that often. It was a delicate balance that I just could not seem to strike. But I think this is the year I have finally realized that the most critical element to making vacations enjoyable and happy for all (including mom) is to: Keep it simple!

I look back at my first family vacation with my daughter and can’t help but chuckle because I packed everything imaginable: The pack-and-play, the baby whale tub, tons of blankets, toys, towels, even our own baby laundry detergent! This year I packed clothes, diapers and wipes, body wash, some small snacks for the road, and of course, the kids. It felt so much better to travel lightly.

After a few years we have even figured out that some vacations just don’t work for our family. For example, this year we turned down a cruise through my husband’s work because we knew it would be too daunting and unenjoyable with a five-year-old and a one and a half-year-old.  With a different stop each day, we knew it might be too much for our little ones to handle. We do not have the ability to leave our children with family, so they would’ve been with us and we have now come to a point where we can easily recognize our limits and know not to push ourselves and our kids into situations that are logistically difficult.

Another thing I realized is: eat simply! I think we ate grilled ham and cheese sandwiches and cheddar bunnies for lunch on the beach everyday for ten days straight. And everyone loved it! Besides, everything tastes better at the beach. And Stop & Shop rotisserie chicken is just the gift that keeps on giving.  You have warm, yummy chicken and mac ‘n cheese for dinner, chicken salad sandwiches the next day, and then chicken soup for the rainy day. Super easy and leaves extra room in the wallet for going out to dinner the nights I didn’t feel like cooking (which were many).

I also figured out that I should plan some activities, but do not overplan.  This year we brought along our niece and nephew on our family vacation, so I thought should plan activities every day before we all got incredibly bored of each other. Also, since my daughter is five, I knew this would be the year she would appreciate more structured activities. Thankfully we were traveling to Martha’s Vineyard which has tons of family-friendly activities, and I planned our week out before we left with some pretty cool events in mind. We got to meet Carol Spinney the man behind Oscar the Grouch and Big Bird. That was a big hit for all of us.  I must admit I was a little starstruck with meeting my childhood icon.

The man, the legend. Photo: by M. Peak

The man, the legend.
Photo: by M. Peak

Yet, even though I had several activities planned, we only did a couple of them. The kids really just wanted to spend time at the beach digging for shells, catching fish, and searching for sea critters, and then have a nice family dinner at night. Very simple.

Cousins spending quality time at the beach. Photo: M. Peak

Cousins spending quality time at the beach.
Photo: M. Peak

This year we also decided to spend a week with just our little family, before joining up with my in-laws. It was great to have the quality down-time together.

Impromptu dance party. Photo: M. Peak

Impromptu dance party.
Photo: M. Peak

And to be fair, I finally realize that connecting with extended family is so important and special for my kids. I am not much of a traditionalist when it comes to vacation, as I like to mix things up and see different sights. But I now understand that the annual visit to Cape Cod means that my children will get to connect with their cousins and grandparents and make many fond memories that will stay with them their whole life.  That is priceless.

In keeping with our simple theme, we chose to stay in a place that is directly on the beach so we did not have to schlep the kids and their beach stuff. But that meant smaller living quarters. Here is the one-bedroom cottage we managed to cram 6 people in:

Our humble abode, was more like a clownhouse. Photo: M. Peak

Our humble abode, was more like a clownhouse.
Photo: M. Peak

But you cannot beat this view! Photo: M. Peak

But you cannot beat this view!
Photo: M. Peak

Finally, the most important secret to a happy vacation is: Just be nice to each other. It seems so simple and easy, but this was the hardest for ME to do. No matter how difficult the journey or how small the living quarters, I had to keep reminding myself to act in a loving manner, especially toward my husband. It was hard living with a teen, a tween, a kindergartner, and a toddler, but these kids are my greatest gift in life. Sometimes they got on my nerves, but most of the time, it was me just sweating the small stuff.  I think by Day 8 I mellowed out a little and cut myself and others some slack. Hey, I finally figured out that the secret to enjoying vacation is simple, but I didn’t say it was easy 🙂 togetherness

ahhhh….family togetherness