Making Your Family Vacation Fun
Deanna Macioce, MS, OTR/L
Summertime equates to vacation time for many people. School is out, the weather is warm, so now it is time to get moving to make that family vacation happen. Traveling with children often requires more patience and extra time, which means less time to relax for you. When your child has difficulty with sensory regulation and attention, sometimes the fun of vacation can be harder to find. But making a vacation happen does not have to be too tough when you prepare yourself ahead of time.
Traveling: Plan trips at optimal times, whether by plane or car. Oftentimes leaving a little before bedtime so that your child can sleep in the car or on the plane, or first thing in the morning when he or she is less tired and more able to work through situations and transitions, makes a big difference. Having a well-rested passenger is also key. And although it may increase your travel time, frequent stops can be very beneficial in making time pass on the trip. Getting out and moving your body is a quick and easy way to reenergize.
Knowing what occupies your child helps as you plan activities. Whether it is watching movies, playing games on a handheld device, coloring, reading or anything else, having an ample supply of entertainment is essential. Creative and new ideas can be found on Pinterest and parent blogs and in books or magazines. In addition, make sure you are well-stocked with snacks and drinks—those seem to help parents and kids make it through many difficult moments!
Meals: If you are staying in a house or condo somewhere, planning meals that can be prepared “at home” is a great idea. However, we all know that experiencing different foods and restaurants is one of the highlights of vacation. Plan to eat meals out at “off” times to lessen the wait. Oftentimes, in tourist areas, lunch tends to be the best time. Or if planning dinner out, going in the late afternoon or choosing places that take reservations helps. Always make sure you are prepared with something to occupy your child during those waiting periods.
Attractions/Activities: Again, choosing to do these activities during off times can help. For example, fitting in a round of miniature golf in the morning or early afternoon can lessen the wait time and crowds. At amusement parks, having a plan will be very helpful in helping your child know where and what you are headed to next. If the park has the opportunity to obtain passes, such as Fast Passes, for rides that tend to have a long wait, make sure you have them. Planning popular attractions first thing in the morning or in the later evening may also help lessen the wait time. This requires some research and legwork before the trip.
Keeping a balance of fun and rest is always difficult. Knowing what your child needs will help keep the family vacation fun for all. Typically activities that include lots of movement, such as swimming, digging in the sand and partaking in amusement park rides, will help keep them stimulated. However, make sure you rest and regroup before your child hits his or her end point.
And just because you change locations does not mean you need to change the routines and strategies you use at home. If preparing your child with a picture schedule or utilizing various activities off a sensory diet works well at home, make sure you don’t forget those key helpers on vacation. As parents, we know our children best, so take the time to plan, and here’s to your vacation being as “relaxing” as it can be with children!