vacation with kids

Can You Have a “Real” Vacation with Kids?

July 31, 2019

It’s 9:30pm, hours after my kids normal bedtime.

My daughter has just burst out of the back door screaming and crying for her daddy to wait for her. She wants to watch him help her grandpa skin the fish he caught when they went fishing after dinner.

My son is screaming and crying on the floor because I wouldn’t let him follow his sister. He is also calling me a bad mommy and tells me he doesn’t like me.

Just an average evening on our vacation.

Ever since having kids, I’ve said to anyone who will listen that there is no such thing as going on a vacation with kids. Especially if you have young kids.

I still mostly believe that’s true.

I also think we, as parents, need to reframe what vacation really means to us.

Recently I read an article in a big time lifestyle magazine written by someone I went to high school with who was writing about this exact question.

Can you have a “real vacation” when you go on vacation with your kids?

Her answer was a little mixed.

Yes, it’s possible, she wrote. It’s also complicated and not always perfect and really nothing like what vacations were like, pre-parenthood.

That doesn’t mean that they can’t be wonderful and fun.

It just means different.

I tend to agree.

We also need to get more clear on what a vacation really is, which is not always so straightforward, especially as parents.

After this most recent vacation with my family, I decided to create some basic criteria for what vacation means to me.

The first thing I had to address was the basic definition of vacation, which I think can change based on what you want or need.

The most basic way to define vacation is that a vacation is a break from something.

This might mean that a vacation is a break from your normal daily routine. A vacation can also be a break from the summer heat and going to a place where it’s cooler or taking a break from the deep chill of winter to go somewhere warm and sunny.

You could take a social media vacation and unplug from facebook or you could unplug completely and take a vacation from the relentless news cycle by going somewhere without any internet service, television, radio, or access to newspapers.

My point is that the idea of vacation can be really broad or really, really specific.

If you’re going on a family vacation however, and are hoping for a break from your kids, you will likely be very disappointed.

So know what your vacation is giving you space or time away from and you’ll already start in a healthier, more honest place.

Knowing all of that, here are my top 5 criteria for a vacation with kids:

The Opportunity to Explore, Adventure, and Do Things We Wouldn’t Do Ordinarily

This one is important to me because I love the idea of exploring a new place and learning more about the world through that experience. I also love sharing that exploration with the people I love the most.

It’s not that I have to go to a new place every time we go on vacation or do things I’ve never done before. It’s more that I want to do things that I don’t always give myself the time for at home or that I don’t have the opportunity to do because of where we live or time restraints.

Lots of Time to Do Nothing

This is one is important to me because I am terrible at doing nothing in real life. So terrible at it, in fact, that I also struggle with doing absolutely nothing on vacation, too.

I tend to push myself and work hard and constantly have a full plate of activities or work or responsibilities. Clearing my schedule to just lie on my couch and rest or read a book or simply stare out the window of my back porch does not come naturally to me. It’s also super essential for me to give myself downtime like this because otherwise I will burn out or get sick or both.

No Work

As someone who is a solopreneur, meaning I own and operate my own business, not working usually means I am also not making money. It can also mean that people will turn their attention to someone or something else while I am not actively working.

This is part of why I feel pressure to work 24/7.

It’s also not super healthy. (see #2)

Less Rigidity with Routines and Schedules

I am a person who loves her routines and schedules. They keep me on track and in control. I can also be a little rigid with them, on occasion.

In a recent blog, I wrote about the importance of maintaining certain routines while on vacation to make sure you are actually still taking care of yourself. I meant basic self-care routines like daily movement, journaling, or brushing your teeth.

What I didn’t mean was to force your vacation to closely resemble your routines or schedules from non-vacation.

For me, this meant letting my kids stay up way later than they would at home. It meant not doing much food prep for meals and not organizing my day with a to do list.
It also meant not waking up as early as I usually do at home, but still getting up early so I could have time to myself. Because I love my morning self-care routine, which offers me a little solo time before my kids wake up.

Some routines are great to keep. Others are entirely unnecessary.

Have Actual Fun with My Kids and Husband

This one is simple. And it’s not because I don’t have fun with my kids when we’re not on vacation. I do. I just don’t always make time for it or build my days around it. Maybe I should. And maybe that’s a bigger goal for future me. More often than not, my days at home are built around getting work done, getting kids fed, changing diapers, doing laundry, and trying to pretend that I am capable of keeping my house clean.

On vacation, I worry less about most of those (except that “getting kids fed” business). Instead I spend more time actively seeking out ways we can enjoy our time together.

I’d love to build this more into my ordinary life and am working on it.

For now, it’s a hallmark of a successful vacation.


On our most recent vacation, my family and I spent nearly 2 weeks at our cabin on a lake in Michigan. As a family, we spent hours in the lake swimming, canoeing, and paddling. We went an explored a few places locally. We foraged for wild blueberries. Also, we played a few games, read lots books, and created art. I did a little bit of work. I also went to a yoga class, took a few long naps, and read an absolutely amazing book.

There were some stressful moments. The oven didn’t work. Our kitchen sink faucet was leaky and needed to be replaced. I forgot a deadline and had to bust out some work last minute when I could have been swimming with my kids.

Despite the stress and the work and not always getting enough sleep, this vacation was really amazing. Not perfect, but memorable and wonderful.

I’ll take memorable and wonderful vacation with my kids over a “perfect” vacation every single time.


What does vacation mean to you?

Let me know in the comments below!

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