Things I Learned from a Family Vacation that Went Downhill Fast

downhill vacation
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The whole trip wasn’t terrible. Looking back there were some great moments. But by the end, as the crying and my embarrassment increased, it was terrible. During our three hour car drive home I fought back tears wondering how our annual trip to the State Fair went downhill so fast.

A little background information: We live in Iowa, the State Fair is a big deal. We have gone every year for the past five years. The first time my daughter attended the fair, she was three months old. I strapped her on and we had a great time with an infant and three year old. Every time we go, we have a great time. Until this year.

So there I am, driving down the interstate playing back the weekend in my mind. How did this happen? We travel a lot, especially in the summer. The previous month we took an amazing 10 day road trip. Said road trip inspired the creation of this blog. I then started to question why I thought I was capable of writing a family travel blog in the first place. After all, here I am on a mini vacation three hours from home and my kids are a mess. Why oh why did I pay for a year of website hosting? Maybe I should just quit now.

Then I took a couple deep breaths and remembered that I am not a quitter. No one is perfect. This is an experience to learn from. And I am NEVER taking my kids to the State Fair again (ok that one was an exaggeration, but I was thinking it at the time).

So here I am openly and honestly telling you that we have frustrating moments of traveling with kids too. We don’t have it all figured out and we never will. Life doesn’t work like that. But what I can tell you is that I learned some valuable lessons from this trip.

I pushed my kids too hard
We got back from our 10 day road trip and 5 days later had out of town visitors. The next weekend, we visited my family and friends in a neighboring state. Then a few days after that, we headed to the Fair. What was I thinking? That was a lot for me, let alone a three and six year old. My thought process was this: we always go to the fair, 3 hours in the car is nothing compared to 18 hours, it will be great. WRONG. What my kids needed was less travel and more time at home. Maybe we all needed more time at home

I didn’t pay attention to warning signs
My son can be, let’s say…..moody at times. His attitude and crabby pants weren’t completely out of character. However, the behavior of my free spirited easy going daughter was completely out of character. I don’t know why I didn’t pause to question what was actually the matter with her. I attributed all the crying and whining to lack of sleep or too much fair food. But the truth was she was getting sick. By the time we got home and I carried her sleeping from the car, her little body was on fire. During the car ride home she spiked a fever. She had a viral infection. Great parenting there.

My son needs some independence in making decision
The days are over of telling my son things like: “We don’t have extra money for ice cream today”, “No, you can’t have a $20 inflatable Minon that will not last long enough to make it to the car.” “No, you can’t have…” “No, we won’t buy…” He’s not a little tike anymore that you can distract and redirect easily. He also needs to have some control, however small. What we should have done was let him bring some of his chore money from his piggy bank. Then he could have spent $5 or $10 of his own money on one thing. I think that would have saved us a lot of begging and complaining. We did this on a recent trip to the Lego Store in Chicago and it worked well. He saved up money and bought something within his $20 budget. He knew going into the store that he had $20 to spend. There was no begging for some ridiculous $150 set.

I need to let go of the plans in my head
We probably should have left a day early. Things were going well until the last day. My husband even questioned if we should just go home that morning. He could sense things were getting dicey. But there were things we hadn’t seen, food we hadn’t eaten off a stick, and tractors we hadn’t sat in. These were all things that we would see, eat and sit in again. There was no need to force “one more fun filled day” just because that was the original plan.

You may have noticed that this post has no pictures of the trip. I have pictures of the melt downs. We took a couple for some comic relief. But that’s not really who my kids are or how I want to document our trip.

Will we stop traveling with our kids? Never! Will I think twice before I push the family too hard? Absolutely! Nothing in life is perfect, especially traveling with children. However, we can learn from our experiences to help make the next trip better.downhill vacation

Author: Kim

Kim is the founder of Kids and Carry-Ons. She works as a director at a nonprofit organization. She lives in Iowa with her husband and two children. Kim and her husband have always loved to travel and share their advice with anyone who will listen. Having kids didn’t stop their love of travel, it just meant they had to adapt. Follow along on their adventures.

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