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As soon as we pulled into our parking space I knew we were doomed. I could sense it as I unstrapped our 2-year old from the car seat and transferred her to the stroller.
This magical day I had planned was not going to end well.
There were too many people.
It was too loud.
There wasn’t any shade.
Sure enough, the excellent family adventure I had dreamed of sharing with my daughter ended with screaming, flailing, and whining. By the time we threw in the towel, my husband and I were both exhausted and cranky. He was irritated that I had dragged him out to yet another fun day failure.
I was crushed. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Everyone raved about this place! It was billed as a top family-friendly destination.
What went wrong?
As many parents with young children know, family friendly does not necessarily mean young child family friendly. The rules are completely different if you have kids under the age of 4 or 5. I have heard (and lived) so many stories of great memory-making family fun trips that end in disaster:
- The weather doesn’t cooperate
- The crowds make it impossible to relax
- Blood sugar drops
- Over-tiredness ensues
- Screaming commences
10 Tips for Fantastic Family Day Trips
You’ve been there, haven’t you? Well guess what? I have come up with 10 Tips for Maximizing Fun on Family Day Trips. You can’t control everything, but if you implement even a few of these tips, you will greater increase your chances for a scrapbook worthy, memory making, family day… as opposed to an experience you need Excedrin to recover from.
- Know Your Child: This might seem obvious, but so many family trip disasters could be avoided if Mom and Dad stopped to think about an event from their kid’s perspective. Is your kid temperature sensitive? Maybe a trip to ICE is not the best idea right now. Do they have a problem running off? If so… do you really want to bring them somewhere where they can easily get lost in a crowd? Just because something is billed as family-friendly, that doesn’t mean it will interest your child. As a toddler or preschooler, your kid is probably willing to branch out… but the activities still need to be age appropriate. If they get bored, the event will quickly succumb to the law of diminishing returns.
- Game the System: With any event or attraction, there are great times to go… and then there is the worst time ever. Case in point, this Fall I took Sweet Pea to a great Fall Fun Festival. We went on a Sunday afternoon in September (opening weekend), and spent hours taking in all of the activities. There wasn’t a line for anything. Sweet Pea could take her time at the Rubber Ducky Races, build a log cabin, take 15 turns in a row on the slide. It was amazing! However, I can guarantee you that just a few weeks later, that same attraction would have been a nightmare for a 3-year old. A few weeks later we would have to stand in a 15 minute line just to take one turn on the slide, or the hayride, or anything else that was fun. Preschoolers are impatient. There are ways you can game the system. Go at the beginning or end of the season. Take an afternoon off of work to go during the week and avoid crowds. Get there when the gates open. Go in the off season. Basically, if you have a toddler or preschooler, you want your trip to be as seamless as possible. Avoiding crowds really helps cut down on the chaos.
- Have a Strategic, Long-Term View of Family Fun: This tip is really difficult for me because if I hear about a fun event or place to visit… I want to visit now. I am inclined to jam as much family fun into every weekend as I can. Unfortunately, life is not compatible with the ‘Go! Go! Go!’ family fun mentality. Face it, you can’t go to every holiday lights display in a 100-mile radius of your house. You can plan every weekend of the year, but invariably your kid will get sick, or there will be birthday parties, or you might want to just stay in the backyard and run through the sprinkler. I have to tell you.. that is fine! If you can’t go to a certain beach this summer… put it at the top of your bucket list for next summer. Don’t try to do everything in 1 year. Remind yourself, and your schedule, that you don’t have to do ‘all the things’ now. You are in the business of making memories.. and you don’t get a prize for busiest Mom. You want to be a connected Mom.
- Be Prepared to Spend a Little to Avoid a Meltdown (or 2 or 3): Ok, here is a hard truth about family fun trips with young children. You are more than welcome to die on the hill of ‘walking is good for you,’ or ‘we aren’t spending good money for that.’ However, I have to tell ya… your demise on that hill may very well be slow and painful. Sometimes you just need to budget the money for a little convenience. Are you in a big city? Maybe hailing a cab or calling an uber will give your 3-year old enough of a break that they will be refreshed for the next museum on your to-do list. Are you attempting Sesame Place on a Saturday in June? You better have that fast pass.. or you will stand in line for 20 minutes at every. single. ride. Is your kid hungry? Maybe sharing a $5 pretzel will get their blood sugar up enough that they won’t flop down on the floor sobbing because you didn’t let them get a drink from the water fountain for the 20th time in an hour. If your family fun trip is worth doing, it is worth spending a little $$$ to ensure the trip ends as well as it begins. Just think about it.
- Know What to Bring: This might sound obvious, but seriously… pack accordingly for family fun. Here is a quick list of items we never leave at home:
- Stroller (yes, our 3-year old still gets the stroller option if we think there will be a ton of walking or large crowds. She is contained in the stroller. It works)
- Sippy Cup and extra water
- Hat or sunscreen (in the summer)– mittens and winter hat (in cold weather)
- Extra clothes in a ziploc bag. Actually if you will be gone all day, you might want to consider two sets of extra clothes.
- The iPad (or other portable device). Great for the drive. Great for restaurants. Great if you have to wait.
- Build in Downtime: If your family outing is projected to last more than 3 or 4 hours, consider planning a mid-trip break for your kids. Ideally this downtime would be relatively calm and quiet, and there would be a minimal amount of ‘chaos factor.’ Here are a few ideas:
- Let them just run around in a field.
- Take a long walk and let them chill (nap?) in the stroller.
- Find some water to dip your toes in.
- Just Roll With It: Go into your family fun day with low expectations. If I bring my daughter to a music concert, I am not expecting she will leave with new found love of Bach or the violin. However, if she had fun, if it was positive, if she is smiling… that is a win. She is too young to ‘get it’ most of the time. However, that doesn’t mean she can’t still have a fantastic time.
- Sometimes Simple is Best: Remember last Christmas when your 2-year was more fascinated with the box than the doll that was in the box? The same idea holds true for family fun as well. If you want to do something with your kid but you just can’t muster the energy to plan a big day trip, why not just take them to a local playground and get fro-yo afterwards? Or maybe instead of a trip to a crowded museum, you could just stop by the local firehouse or animal shelter. Your toddler or preschooler will be thrilled… I promise.
- Keep Your Fun Calendar Balanced: You can’t plan something huge for every weekend. Plan at least one weekend a month to be low-key. That doesn’t mean you can’t plan anything for that weekend. Just recognize that everyone (especially your preschooler) needs ‘do-nothing’ time. Make your special family trips more special by not trying to do too much.
- Know When to Call it A Day: Be prepared to walk away early. You know what triggers your kids. You know the signs that things are about to spiral out of control. It is better to leave the festival before the hayride, than to stay for the hayride and carry your child kicking and screaming back to the car. Sometimes, the best way to ensure your trip is fantastic is to remember the maxim, ‘Less is More.’
So, did I learn my lesson from the early mishaps we had? Absolutely! We have honed our family fun trip strategy to a fine science. Now, when Sweet Pea and I embark on our weekend adventures, the good days vastly outnumber the bad ones. Now, even the bad days are not horrible. I know these tips will work for you because they have been tried and tested by me personally.
I hope you found the tips useful and I would love to hear any other tips you have as well!
Thanks for reading and have a great day!