Over the last ten days, my family had the awesome opportunity to travel to three of Utah’s National Parks. This was the first family vacation we have taken, ever.
It would be an understatement to say that it was a great trip. It was…life-changing. I’ve definitely been bitten by the travel bug, and we made so many great memories.
As I was laying in bed one of the last nights of our vacation, I thought about what I would want to tell other parents who are thinking of taking small children on vacation. What did we do right? What did we do wrong? What surprised us?
So here it is. A brief guide for those braving travel with small children.
WHAT WE DID RIGHT: 1) Be flexible. I planned one activity/hike before lunch and one activity/hike in the afternoon each day. Even then, we moved slowly, constantly stopping to get water, reapply sunscreen, check out a cool rock, put a bandaid on an owie, etc. Most of the hikes we did were a mile or less. I also sacrificed a couple of hikes because the kids were just tired, or we got caught up looking at tadpoles.
2) Have a down day. After three days in Zion National Park, we got a hotel in a nearby city and stayed the night there. The next day we did a restocking trip, and played at a great reservoir until the kids were tired. We didn’t really have any plans for that day, but we all needed a down day. It turned out to almost be necessary, since the towns next to the following national parks were TINY (no Walmarts or even standalone grocery stores for the next 5 days!)
3) Take time to explain and encourage. Chicka Chicka had SO many questions. We did our best to answer her questions at an age-appropriate level. She also had a lot of fears, especially when we were hiking in the river at the Narrows (don’t worry, it didn’t go past her shins). We would work through her fears, talk about what we were going to do, and reassure her that she could do it. Both instances were great bonding experiences, and I felt so close to her while on our vacation.
4) Turn off devices. I didn’t even bring the iPads or my computer. Heck, I barely had my phone charged. Hubby’s phone was the official camera, but that was the only technology we had. People, I think this was the most life-changing part of the trip. My kids didn’t ask for the iPad the entire trip. It taught me that I am relying on the iPad too often, and that my kids are capable of self-entertainment.
WHAT WE DID WRONG:
1)Don’t overpack. The back of our van was completely packed. Since we were hiking, staying in three different venues (hotel/camping/cabin), and swimming, I tried to bring everything possible. The glow sticks that every blog said I had to have? Still in the wrapper. The thermals I brought because it might be cold at night? Just about the only thing I didn’t have to wash. I won’t even mention the food that is still sealed in the boxes.
If I could pack again, I would pack less clothes and less food. We ended up bringing the same snacks every day, and kept a pretty simple meal plan for breakfast and dinner. We also had access to laundry everywhere we stayed, so we didn’t need as many clothes as I brought.
2) Accept that things will go wrong. I felt like I had worked so hard to plan this vacation. I had been so diligent in packing and making itineraries that when something went wrong, I became a little storm cloud. Luckily, I have a very patient husband who knows how to diffuse my emotions.
One example: I had bought sunscreen on Amazon because a friend recommended it to me. Hubby’s skin is also sensitive to certain sunscreens, so that fact that he had used it as well with success sealed the deal. Well, the morning of our first day in Zion, I couldn’t find it. At all. I knew I had packed it. It was the last straw, since our backpack strap broke and our water reservoir started leaking that morning. Hubby talked me down, and we realized that since we had to go the store anyways, we would just grab some sunscreen too.
I won’t add that I found it. That evening. So not only was I not crazy, but we also had a ton of sunscreen.
3) Always, always, always refill your water. At Bryce Canyon National Park, we were going to do a .8 mile hike into the hoodoos. But as we went down, we realized it would be really, really awful to hike back up it. In full sun. With two kids 4 and under. This particular trail hooked up onto a trail that would take us back up, with an additional 1.6 mile hike. This loop would take us through the hoodoos more, and surely the hike up HAD to be better. So we decided to do it.
It wasn’t a terrible decision, but we did start to worry about our water supply. There wasn’t a refill station on the trail, like there was in Zion. We certainly learned our lesson!
WHAT SURPRISED US:
We didn’t realize that Utah’s National Parks were international travel destinations. There were several people from European countries (a lot of German and Dutch, which we weren’t expecting), and a lot of tour buses. Of course, our kids are too small to really be aware of the different cultures, but it was good for our kids to see diversity and hear different languages.
One of the best things I bought was $1 cake covers from the Dollar Store. I used them while camping/cabin-ing to keep food hot and bug-free.
The Junior Ranger programs are INCREDIBLE! The requirements vary by age, but Chicka Chicka was excited to complete the packet and earn a badge! They also “swear” in Junior Rangers, all very official-like.
In conclusion, traveling with small kids was stressful at times, but overall it was a great trip. I encourage everyone with small kids to take the plunge and start traveling and exploring. And I don’t mean Disneyland! While amusement parks certainly have their place, there is plenty of adventure to be had outdoors, in nature, with no sense of urgency to see and do everything.
You can do it! What are your tips for traveling/vacationing with small children?