A family vacation can be a wonderful diversion from the ordinary. It gives everyone the opportunity to visit new places, affords the adults a chance to take a break from their daily routine, and allows Mom and Dad to spend some true quality time with their kids. Yet, when you're ready to hit the road, how do you make sure that everyone will have a good time, especially when you have older children and a baby on board? Should you put life on hold and wait until everyone is mature enough to enjoy the same activities, or do you make the best of your current situation and go ahead with your travel plans?
Lisa Cohn, co-author of One Family, Two Family, New Family: Stories And Advice For Stepfamilies, has four children ages seven to 17 and says that having a little one along didn't stop them from going on vacations. "It was never a problem," says Cohn. "We took her to places like the Oregon Coast and Mt. Hood. When she was a baby we carried her to the beach, the pool, and the basketball court, and took turns holding her when we hiked. When she was old enough to walk, she was anxious to keep up with her older siblings, and they generally included her when she followed them along."
If you make up your mind that traveling with older siblings and a younger child won't pose a problem, the first step is to discuss all aspects of the trip with your kids. Dr. Cindy Dormer, a family communications expert and author of Hold That Thought For Kids, has three children, ages four, 14, and 17. Before her family sets off on their journey, she and her husband pull out a calendar and a map and talk about three things: when they're leaving, where they're going, and what they'll be doing once they reach their destination.
"Involving the older children is a good way of making them feel as if they are an integral part of the family," says Dr. Dormer. "Parents should also find out if the older kids have ideas about activities that would be good for the baby. If the baby stuff is their idea, they're less likely to fuss about it when it's time to do it."
The next step is to decide on how you will reach your destination. Will it be by plane, train, boat, or car? Will you arrive at your vacation spot in just a few hours, or will your trek take several days? No matter what mode of transportation you decide to use, or how long it will take, the key to making travel time less stressful for little ones and older siblings is to bring along diversions that will make your passengers happy.
Supplying "survival kits" for your children is one way of keeping them from getting bored. We know that it's important to keep babies' tummies full and their bottoms dry in attempts to achieve maximum happiness, so pile their bags with food, formula, wipes, diapers, pacifiers, clean clothes, and bottles. Bring age-appropriate toys for babies and toddlers, too.