Planning your Family Vacation

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With March Break fast approaching and many of our families excited to get away for some much needed rest, relaxation or excitement we thought we’d share some of our tips for making it through the ordeal! Let’s face it with five kids I’m not expecting to have much down time but I do hope to make our trip as stress free as possible.

Start with the planning, what type of vacation are you looking for? An all inclusive getaway with children’s programs or a plan it yourself kind of adventure. Are you flexible with your dates, can you travel mid-week and are you ok with not knowing the name of your hotel before you book? If you answered yes to any or all of these questions there are certainly some great deals to be found! Check out priceline or hotwire if you want to get a great deal but don’t mind being surprized with the name of the hotel after you pay. We use this option regularily and I have to say I’m rarely disappointed because you still get to choose the star level and general location. The deal is more exciting to me so I’d rather give up some of the control of choosing the perfect place in order to get the perfect deal. Be careful though, they only promise room for two adults so if it’s a longer trip with kids it might not be your best option in case you are stuck in a room with only one bed. It’s only happened to us once and they brought us a cot so for the two nights we were there it worked out just fine! Another new site I’ve found is and it seems to have alot of different options from just the hotel to a full all inclusive price with airfare from your closest airport. Tripadvisor seems to be another favorite for reading about potential locations to see what other vacationers have said after staying there. When booking a longer vacation consider something with a kitchen if possible. I don’t want to cook either when I’m away however with a family this large even breakfast can be an expensive outing. We let the kids have treat cereals when we are on vacation and buy some fruit, yogurt and bagels to have on hand. Juices, waters, and pop are always expensive to buy one at a time so we fill the fridge with those as well.There’s always bread, cheese and peanut butter for quick lunches and then I’m not so grumpy about spending money on a really nice dinner each night.

If you are going to be flying, consider crossing the border by car first for the best deals. Check out Spirit Air’s $9 flight club, even with the taxes and fees each round trip $9 flight came to $50 per person. Sign up for their emails and get on the site as soon as you see the sale starting for best availability. The flights are fairly limited so it’s only good if you want to go where they are flying but we’ve been to florida twice now for less than $350 for all 7 of us. It’s also a good idea to check the individual airlines websites because sometimes they offer a better deal that you will find on the travel websites. We always use a park sleep and fly hotel on our way down to eliminate the stress of delays crossing the border and getting to the airport on time. When you factor in the cost of parking your car for the week you can usually get the hotel room for next to nothing anyway and it often comes with at least a continental breakfast for the whole family.

Make sure you know what you are allowed to bring on the plane. Many people are surprised by items they didn’t think would be prohibited. For example, I know alot of people who packed sunscreen in the baby’s diaper bag so it was accessible only to have to throw it out before boarding. Make sure you seal it in a Ziploc bag and put it in your checked luggage if it is over 100g in size. Most regular sunscreens are over this size but you can find the sticks or travel sizes if you want to make sure you have some handy when you land. I also managed to lose a lovely bottle of perfume because it was packed in my make bag one trip so I try to remember to bring the cheap stuff and put it in with the checked luggage. For those of you travelling to an amusement park somewhere, you’ll l ikely be bombarded with requests to purchase souvenirs by your kids and if you are anything like me you will wait till the end of your trip before letting little Johnny pick the perfect momento. As much as little Johnny will beg to bring that cute little snowglobe or whirling toys with liquid inside it you need to remember to put it in your checked luggage. Imagine the scene that will occur when the snowglobe is tossed at security because of the liquid inside. It’s going to be a long flight for you and everyone else if you don’t head this tidbit of information!

Getting through security without holding everyone else up can seem like an impossible feat however we are getting pretty good at it. We try to remember to pack our coats into the checked bags once we are inside the airport and only wear a sweater onto the plane. It’s one less thing to empty pockets from and place in a bin. You also want to think about what shoes you are going to have everyone wear. Avoid laces if at all possible. This is one time when I think crocs are a great idea because they are easy for everyone to slip off to place into the bin and slip back on once you make it through to the other side. When we all travel together we have the first adult go through security then the five kids followed by the second adult so we don’t lose anyone.
While my bigger kids are pretty good at sticking close we still go over what to do if they become separated from us. Make sure your kids know your first and last name, asking mommy to come to the security desk is not going to be helpful in the event of a lost child. Point out where to go to ask for help. I usually tell my kids to find an employee, usually in a uniform of some sort to ask for help or in the event that they can’t find anyone they should approach a mother with children as a safe stranger. Of course you’ll want to teach your children whatever makes you most comfortable. For the younger ones though I do still wear them whenever possible or use a small lightweight stroller. I have a cuddly wrap that is just one long lightweight cotton wrap that I can use to tie my baby or toddler on my back for a piggy back ride. Be prepared to take it off through security although they did let me wear my son through it the last time as there are no metal parts to it. You can usually take your stroller right to the airplane and they will check it there for you at no charge.

Most airlines allow for one carry on each plus a purse, diaper bag, or laptop bag. Since I travel with 5 children we have to make the best of our space so each child has a carry on with their clothing and needs for the trip that is stowed above and then I have each of the children pack a small backpack with their flight survival items! This usually includes their DS and games, snacks, paper and markers, the DVD player, some hot wheels etc. It is so much easier to have the small bags separated from the rest of our things and light enough for the kids to have on their backs while they wheel their carry on through the airport. They tuck them under the seat in front of them when not in use and I don’t have to keep opening up the overheads everytime they want to switch toys. If your kids are old enough you might want to have them make a list of what they put in their flight survival bag so that you can have them check the list to make sure everything is back in the bag during the landing. It will also give them something to do in their seat if they get a little nervous on the way down. We learned our lesson the hard way when a DS was left on the plane and never recovered one year.

When I’m packing the kids snacks I try to choose a variety of items that range from treats to not so treats. If your kids are anything like mine they will want to eat through the entire flight so bags of candy might not be ideal. We always have suckers and gum for take off and landing but we also try to pack some cheese strings, crackers, granola bars dried fruit, or other somewhat healthier options. I save the treats for the end of the flight so I have something to hold over their precious little heads when I’m trying to get them to stop kicking the seat in front of them! Did you hear that Mr. Grumpy in front of us?….I really do try to get them to behave! Bring something for yourself too, I always think I will be fine but end up eating the kids snacks so I might as well have something I enjoy.

When it’s time to get off the plane I usually have my family wait until everyone else is off, I know they are exciting but let’s face it they are safe here in their seats and we all know that it will be twice as hard to keep track of them at the luggage terminal when it just looks like way too much fun to jump right on and take a ride with all those suitcases. Have a buddy system and know which parent is watching which child, it’s far to easy to assume your partner had that one in a moment of panic. Communicate with each other by saying “I’ve got Susie, you have Johnny”

Now that you have made it to your destination, please don’t forget to have fun! Try not to overschedule yourselves because if your kids are anything like mine, they just want some time to swim and horse around. You’ll appreciate this when you make it home and don’t feel like you need a vacation to recover from your vacation!

So now that you have heard my tips, I’d love to hear yours. Please join us in the forum to share what works for your family vacation or where you found that awesome deal!

Websites to check out for booking or researching your vacation ($9 flights)

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