How to Take a Relaxing Vacation When You Have Little Kids

We just... went (even with twin toddlers).

baby-beach-sand
Photo by Olivier Renck/Getty Images

Before I got pregnant, whenever I envisioned traveling as a parent, 
I would picture myself wearing a baby and walking along a hilltop overlooking the Pacific. Or speeding through the Alps on a train while the baby quietly gurgled and my partner and I enjoyed the view. 
My very first ultrasound put an end to that. Two white blobs in two black sacs. I didn’t need the doctor to announce “Twins!” to clearly 
see that my plans of whiling away 
a Sunday afternoon in a London 
gastropub while the baby fell asleep next to me were dust. In that moment, I think I decided subconsciously we were never going anywhere again. And apart from a couple of obligatory flights to see family when the girls were newborns, we really didn’t for two years.

But the summer the twins turned 2, one of my best friends invited us to stay with her in Washington, D.C. A car trip from our home in New York—no airfare, no TSA lines—seemed like a doable first family vacation, 
so we packed up the car with 85 percent of everything we owned 
 and drove down to D.C. Previously 
a somewhat haphazard packer, I turned into Mama General Eisenhower with D-day–type lists: two Pack ’n Plays, sheets for said Pack ’n Plays, 32,000 diapers, sippy cups with the hard spout, sippy cups with the soft spout, at least three changes of clothes per day per twin, so much sunscreen. When we pulled up to my friend’s house and unloaded everything into her large, finished basement, I felt like the circus had come to town, but I also felt…happy.

It took getting out of my house (and my own head) to realize that 
the fears that kept us from going ­anywhere—how they would ever sleep in a strange place or survive without the right kind of mac and cheese—were vastly overblown. Who’s completely prepared for a week away with two 2-year-olds anyway? No packing list can prevent nap strikes and public tantrums. 
It also can’t ensure idyllic memories: the joy of swimming in a pool or 
 seeing a horse for the first time. Those happen even without the right mac and cheese. You just have to snap those car seats in and head out.

After a few days at my friend’s house, we drove to a resort on the Chesapeake Bay. I wasn’t ready to spend an entire week at a hotel 
(see: sleeping in strange places), 
but since we were already on the road, I thought two nights at the shore would be a great way to end our trip. We rearranged the furniture in the room to cram in the Pack ’n Plays and hired a babysitter so we could go out to dinner. (Lesson: That poor sitter had to sit in the dark all night with two sleeping babies and no TV. We’ve stayed in one-bedroom suites ever since.) “The key to fun 
 is flexibility!” we reminded each other as we read by the light of our iPhones that night.

That trip made us better parents. We improvised, we laughed, we yelled a little bit, and we needed 
a lot of help from Disney—“Let It Go” was on repeat for hundreds of miles—but we did it. And we knew we could do it again. Without 87 sippy cups.

A few weeks after that trip, my aunt and uncle invited us down to the Jersey Shore. We didn’t hesitate. I cut our packing list in half; at the beach, there were no multiple outfits for each twin. Just a swimsuit plus boxes on their heads while they played robot with their cousin. And, yeah, still so much sunscreen.

Trip Tips for Taking the Baby

Ship supplies.

If you’re flying, don’t fill a suitcase with diapers. Order supplies like wipes, snacks, and formula to be delivered to a rental or resort. Or just hit a drugstore on your way there.

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Look up the room plan.

Some hotels have a walk-in closet or bathroom big enough for a portable crib, so you can put the baby to bed and do your own thing.

Buy extra lovies.

Kid can’t sleep without Lambie? Have 
a spare in case you lose it in a taxi.

Treat a friend.

If you’re crashing with one, get a sitter and have an adults-only dinner out.