If you live away from extended family, or if you travel on business with kids from time to time, it's likely that you know that not all "vacations" are created equal. Disneyland is not the same as Winnipeg for example, nor is travelling to visit elderly parents the same as travelling to a water park.
Having just returned from Winnipeg to visit elderly parents, I got to thinking how I often read articles about how to survive air travel with kids, but found very few that offered tips about what to do with your teeny tots once you've landed. Growing up in an age where we, the parents, spend countless nights exactly repeating the same routine with the same book, and the same song, with the same bath bubbles, all carried out in precisely the same order; a vacation away from these many familiar things is a monkey's wrench if I've ever known one.
Whenever we travel, we do three things that seem to help the kids adjust to their new 'bedroom(s)' and surroundings with ease:
1. Arrive Early. We always try to arrive before a nap or at least well before bedtime. Naps are great trial runs and allow kids to 'practice' for the big show at night. If we arrive mid-afternoon we always try to set up their new beds and show them where mom and dad will be sleeping. We reassure them about how close we are to them. We also try to spend a bit of time there to acclimate them to the new space; have a special snack, make a puzzle, read a favourite book, have baths.
2. Bring fun activities for near'ish to bedtime. I found finger flashlights at Dollarama (the dollar store) in various colours. The kids LOVED them. I have also brought a flashlight for a make believe camp out. Other ideas include bath crayons / paint and glow in the dark planets / stars stickers. These are all things I don't do at home so that when we vacation, the kids will be excited and immediately feel comfortable in their home away from home through play.
3. Be Flexible and Relaxed. If you know me at all, you know that in my world flexible and bedtime are normally oxymoronic. In other words I take bedtime pretty seriously and I do so because my kids have always responded really well to a regimented bedtime ritual, whereby 8 pm is lights out. Period. However, when you can demonstrate being sooooo relaxed that a few extra minutes of play or one extra book is totally fine. Kids are very smart, and highly in tune to our emotional states. They will mirror your attitude. If you're stressing, chances are your going to have more tantrums and more naughtiness (it's been the case for us). When we demonstrate that "we don't mind" - a favourite phrase in our house, the kids will follow our lead. They'll feel confident and overall, we all vacation better.
As a bonus tip, we do a lot of communicating and planning with and around the kids. We tell them that we are going to visit Oma and Opa and afterwards we will go to the park. We ask them what they want for dinner, on occasion, so that they feel like part of the plan. We constantly set expectations by discussing what is about to happen and what will happen afterwards. By doing this, there are no surprises and they can transcend their bouts of 'boredom' when there are few toys or activities and when the adults are 'adulting' by knowing that 'soon' we will be doing something else.
I hope that all of your travels are full of blissful ruckus. I hope this post helps.