First and foremost, remember that you are creating permanent memories on this trip. What happens in Vegas (or wherever) will likely stay in your child's memory as something exceptional whether it's good or bad. So put your mindful parenting hat on and keep it on for the duration of the trip. Things are likely to go sideways at times on the trip, and how you react can make or break that memory. As our good friend and OG Smarty, Amy, always says, "making memories is hard work." And if you do that hard work, you can make those memories good for everyone.
Stuck in Manhattan rush hour traffic for 2 hours like we were? By all means, DON'T throw your usual road rage tantrum for the kids to remember forever. Instead, why not start up a game of I-Spy, make up stories to tell your kids, find some dance music on the radio to bop around to, or sing songs together. Will it annoy you? YES, OF COURSE IT WILL. Will it redeem what otherwise could have been a dark spot on your kids' vacation memories? YES, OF COURSE IT WILL. And that's what makes the annoyance worth it.
2. Be Flexible.
Along these lines, consider in moments of contention which rules are worth bending on vacation and which you absolutely must stick to. Pick your battles, parents, and wisely decide on which hills to die during a family vacation. Because it might be important to maintain regular bedtimes and eating habits at home, but those might not be fights worth marring vacation time with when traveling.
Our bent rules were nutritional (Snacks, snacks, all the time! Sure, you can get fries with that! They're known for their milkshakes here - THEN LET'S EACH GET ONE!) and bedtime-related (You want to chatter for hours in your adjoining hotel room? We don't care! We're watching HBO and ignoring you!).
Our strongly held rules were kindness-based (No, you can't pick stupid fights with each other, hit, or otherwise be a terrible human) and safety-oriented (Yes, you must stay within my line of vision in Central Park, and, yes, we will hold sweaty hands when rushing the Staten Island Ferry at 5:00 pm on a weekday).
Go, on, kid! Enjoy your second hot dog of the day! (Seriously, though, you should all eat at Moo Burger. It was delicious!)
Also, word to the wise, time-ins work better than time-outs in strange places. Being away from home can already heighten feelings of unease and anxiety. Being alone and all riled up while away from home is not a prescription for calming down and sagely realizing one's mistakes. Chilling out with a parent for a few minutes before talking about mending one's ways is.
3. Slow Down.
When traveling with kids, you are traveling at The Speed of Child. This means that you are doing once, at most two, activities, excursions, or adventures a day. Don't overplan. Things will take longer than you think they will because kids are squirrelly and slow. This is actually good for you, too, since so much of your energy will be spent on taking care of the kids. Moving more slowly and doing fewer things gives you an opportunity to take care of yourself, too. A family is only as happy as its least happy member, so try to keep everyone on an even keel with a reasonable itinerary.
When we tackled the 2,000,000 square foot American Museum of Natural History we did so with a kid-sized itinerary: see the dinosaurs, blue whale, leopards, and hall of gems and minerals. Anything beyond that was gravy. And we managed to achieve a lot of gravy, but if we hadn't been able to we'd have been satisfied seeing those 4 exhibits on our family wish list.
Looking at taxidermic leopards while wearing leopard-print pants - both meta AND creepy!
4. Feed the Children (And Yourself) Well.
Did you pack snacks for the flight? You're going to need more snacks than that. No, it doesn't matter how many you packed. You will need more. Either buy more than you think you'll need at the grocery store before you leave, or be prepared to buy more at a premium in the airport or on the plane. Treat snacks (gummies, sugary bars, etc.) keep kids busy and happy during transit. Healthy snacks (cut up fruit and veggies, trail mix, cheese sticks, nuts, wholesome bars, etc.) keep their blood sugar on an even keel and prevent crazed grumples. So pack both. I promise you, they'll all get eaten. Get some for yourself, too. No one likes you when you're hangry.
What about snacks to accompany you on your adventures once you've reached your destination? Ha! You'll need more of those, too! Toss twice what you think you'll all eat in your car or backpack, just in case. If you can prevent hunger-based meltdowns for any member of your family, then do it.
5. Fewer Clothes, Carried More Frequently.
If you have access to laundry facilities, then only pack a few changes of clothes and wash them while you're away. It'll save on the weight of the luggage that you'll have to schlep and it'll simplify getting dressed every morning. But do go ahead and pack a change of clothes for the kids if you're going on a day trip away from your destination hub. It won't weigh much in a backpack, and it'll save you from the spilled ice water or too-hot day, as it did us.
6. Don't Take a Vacation from Organization.
Keep your things organized at your destination. We didn't do this, and it was super irritating figuring out which clothes were whose, which clothes were clean, and where all of our things were as our suitcases seemed to have exploded their contents willy-nilly in our rooms. Pack or find a plastic bag for dirty clothes, and keep your clean clothes folded and separate from each other's and the dirties. Sure, you're on vacation, but maintain some order.
There you have it. That's the sum total of my wisdom right there.
Please, oh, please share yours in the comments! Let's make ourselves good travelers and good stewards of the little travelers we drag along and indulge along the way. Let's help one another make our voyages truly bon!