Vacation with a toddler: Is relaxation possible?

toddler with paul bunyan statue

Safe in the crook of Paul Bunyan's crotch

We’re back! Man, I needed that. It’s been so long since I’ve had a real vacation. I started out my career as a travel writer, and I still sometimes write travel stories, so whenever I’m on the road I compulsively take notes. Either because I have to, or just in case. It’s a nice gig, for sure, but analyzing every detail—the server’s casual colloquial comments, the water’s exact shade of blue—does tend to prevent one from winding down.

So there’s that, plus the fact that we have a toddler. We really haven’t set aside vacation time for the three of us because, well, why? Why take precious time off, pack up all the comforts of home and pay good money to gamble that he’ll weather a museum visit without a major meltdown, chase him around a foreign restaurant and then sit around in a pricey hotel room all afternoon while he (hopefully) naps? It’s easier on everyone to enjoy one choice local sight and then have the boy home eating a black bean quesadilla before noon.

This vacation was an exception. We moved into a home, full of other adults just as capable of occupying a toddler as we are. The activities available were beautifully minimal. There was no plan. We were free to act moment to moment. Feel like a bike ride? Go for it. Rather take a nap? No problem. Want to plunder the mountain of snack food? Do it. It’s about time you learned what new flavors the Pringles people have dreamed up.

Roy really loved it. He loved stealing Papa’s hat and getting chased around the cabin. He loved playing trucks with Uncle E. He loved applesauce with cinnamon as doled out by GGO. He loved begging sips of water off Grandma Nancy. When I tried to put him down for naps, he’d resist, sobbing, “Boat! Boat!” Thankfully, all the activity and fresh air would work its magic against his will, and he’d eventually snooze for three hours straight. When he awoke, we’d head out on the boat.

Now we’re back, unpacked, with the last load of vacation clothes spinning in the dryer, and ready to tackle real life with fresh energy.

I’m curious about your method of tackling vacations with toddlers. Success stories and cautionary tales welcome.

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  1. by Stefanie

    On August 1, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    My family wants to go to Europe in 2013 – my folks, my sister, my husband and I. I had wondered if it might not be a nice opportunity for the other grandparents to watch him, and spend some quality time with him since they live so far away, and how are we supposed to enjoy sites with him hollaring the entire time?. My mother, however, insists the then 3-year-old accompanies us because I’d not be able to enjoy myself because I would be worried about him the whole time. Funny thing is, I remember being that age and my parents leaving us at our grandparents while they were in Las Vegas. Nobody was traumatized, but I do remember missing them. So, while I have no stories, I am anxious to see what other people say. We have time to figure it out, but its nice to hear that with others to entertain a young man, parents can still have a good time!

  2. by JessImax

    On August 7, 2011 at 9:04 pm

    We took our nine month old to the Bahamas this spring and there wasn’t much relaxing, constant chasing him on the beach so he wouldn’t eat sand, naps and super early bedtimes where I was stuck inside watching TV and of course the scary plane ride ( 2 transfers with a tonne of luggage) but the look on his face at the aquarium or with the iguanas made it all worth it! Not to mention I definetly would not have relaxed if I had left him behind!

  3. by Jessica Bender

    On August 7, 2011 at 10:50 pm

    Toddler and vacation in the same sentence is an oxymoron if you ask me! I call that a TRIP. My husband and I do one of each; one vacation just the two of us and one trip where we bring our little girl. This enables us to plan the vacation arou d our needs and the trip around hers.

  4. by Berit

    On August 8, 2011 at 9:09 am

    ooh, Jessica – one for you, one for her? that’s a tactic I can get behind.