Family vacation!

We’re in the midst of planning our first real family vacation. We’ve done plenty of road trips, staying with friends or relatives for a weekend, and of course we had a few camping trips with varying degrees of luxury. But this will be the first time we go to a city where we know no one, just for the heck of it, and actually stay in a hotel. Believe it or not, it’ll be the first time since our honeymoon (in Paris, bien sûr) seven years ago that Beloved and I have stayed in a hotel together.

We’re going to Québec City for three whole days, and I can’t wait! We’re also going to Montreal for a day, where we have an all-day playdate inked in with my frequent co-conspirator and favourite blogger, Nancy and her boys.

Beloved is teaching a course on Québec art this fall, so he’s doing a gallery and museum tour to familiarize himself with the subject matter. While I would absolutely love to tag along with him, I’m thinking that preschoolers and art galleries do not make a good mix. We’ll probably do something as a family early in the day, and either I’ll retreat to the hotel for Simon’s (ha!) nap, or I’ll drop Beloved off at a museum and drive big loops around the city for a couple of hours while the boys snooze in the back.

Planning a vacation with preschoolers is not exactly the same as planning a trip for yourself, I’m learning. When I went to Europe in 1995, I travelled by myself and chose places to stay based first on the cool factor, then on the safety factor, and finally on the cost factor. If I were travelling to Québec without the kids, I’d stay in the old city in a little B&B with period furniture and lots of charm and character. Where we’re actually booked is a Holiday Inn about a 20-minute walk outside the old city, with a pool, wi-fi, cable and lots of Internet reviews that say things like “family friendly” and “boring but serviceable”. Because Simon the Terrible and period furniture just don’t seem to be a good mix, ya know?

I’ve never been to Québec City before, and I’m looking forward to it. Everyone who has been there tells me it’s the closest thing to a European city this side of the pond. I absolutely love the idea of letting the boys run rampant on the Plains of Abraham, and I think there will be more than enough to keep everyone busy for a few days. And who knows, I might even get to practice my French.

Any thoughts on vacationing with preschoolers? You guys were positively inspiring on the whole “what should we eat when camping” issue, so now I’m not making a move without consulting you first!

Author: DaniGirl

Canadian. storyteller, photographer, mom to 3. Professional dilettante.

14 thoughts on “Family vacation!”

  1. Just take BIG ASS note that hotel life with children is so NOT hotel life without.
    We are very excited to see you. Just give me a heads up so I remember to clean the toilets.

  2. Yeah for you, Dani! Vacations are the best and the boys will love it. Unfortunately, I’ve never been to Quebec City, so I’m of no help. BUT, if you come down south, you can count on me!

  3. I’ve only ever travelled with one preschooler, not two, so grain of salt here…
    1) Snacks. Pack them, dole them out regularly. Not so much for rewards or to buy quiet, but to ensure even, constant, blood sugar. This limits meltdowns. Feed before meltdown commences.
    2) Eat out at lunch and plan low-key dinners, possibly in your hotel room. You can get take-out or premade sandwiches, or even pack a cooler of food you can have in the room. Lunch is not only cheaper to eat out, but restaurants are more likely to be child-friendly at lunch, so you can get better food while keeping kids happier (see blood sugar issues above)
    3) Plan dinner early, no matter what yoru usual schedule (see #1 above).
    4) dont’ try to cover too much ground. Be prepared to stop and let the kids explore something they’ve found, since that makes them feel more involved in the trip.
    5) Don’t underestimate kids’ ability to handle activities, either. Way too many people have a “Kids like disney, not art” attitude, that generally results in kids not liking art. Take the kids to the museums with dad, at least for awhile.
    6)At places like #5, involve the kids. My DS loved the Museum of Ireland at age 2.5, because we got him up in a backpack so he could see, and then pointed out nifty things, patterns, weapons, etc. The “ooh! Shiny!” approach works well in museums with kids. A lot of European museums have Kids Guidebooks which are great (all the Roman Fort ones, for example, are sure to include info on “what did the romans use for toilet paper?” which the grownup guidebooks tended to skip. Look for similar kid-centric activities.
    7) Tschotchkes. Bring some new ones for the trip (small, of course), and look for tiny toys/souveniers in museum gift shops, etc. My DS on the aforementioned Ireland trip was enthralled by a tiny pig with googly eyes and a shamrock emblazoned on its arse, and he *still* treasures it at age 6! A 50c postcard can be more than enough to satisfy the avarice of a preschooler, and it gives them something for Share Time when you get home.
    8)If you can get a hotel “suite” with a separate bedroom, more the better. You can put the kids down at a reasonable time and kick back and chat, read, watch TV with DH.

  4. Sara said it first:
    5) Don’t underestimate kids’ ability to handle activities, either. Way too many people have a “Kids like disney, not art” attitude, that generally results in kids not liking art. Take the kids to the museums with dad, at least for awhile.
    I couldn’t agree more. I think that too many people write off art galleries as not being kid friendly. But I think you have to start early. But keep it reasonable.
    No one wants to deal with tears by the end of it. (I’m talking about the parents… not just the toddlers!)

  5. Agree with the take the kids to the gallery. Our toddler/preschooler love the National Gallery – with its wide open spaces and art placed well out of reach, it’s nearly perfect for families… as long as you go early.
    Also agree on staying at a suites hotel which we have always done. The extra room is well worth it for both privacy and personal space. If it has a kitchenette, even better… snacks, juice, milk and cereal at the ready!
    Last tip is for the car/van:
    Buy a couple of cheap small cookie sheets which can be used as magnetic lapdesks – great for magnetic letters or playsets as well as a surface for colouring or playing with small toys. A bit of chalkboard paint on one side adds even more potential!

  6. Give your kids their own backpacks. We did that on a week-long trip to Mexico. I thought it was a terrible idea, I was sure my son would lose his and then cry about it for the remainder of the trip, but in fact it was the best thing we did. For Blake it was the one part of the trip that he felt like he could control. It was a reminder of home for him also. And he loved picking out things to take home with him from the trip, and packing them up over and over. Also, on day 5 of our trip he packed his backpack and said, “I packed my stuff, I’m ready to go home now!”
    Good luck — sounds like a great time!

  7. Wow! I love you guys – these are great tips!!
    Yes, I know, we shouldn’t underestimate their capabilities for the galleries and such – it’s just that Beloved has to actually assimilate a lot of information, make notes, etc, so we can’t just breeze through if the kids are getting squirrelly. We’ll see!
    Sara, you can be our vacation coordinator from now on! Myra and Jennifer, those are great tips, too. I *love* the cookie sheet idea – dollar store, here we come!
    Hey, now I’m really excited! Thank you so much!!

  8. Oh that sounds like so much fun! AND a playdate with nancy too!
    Quebec City is so cool. I’ve been a gazillion times but all before kids. The plains of Abraham and the adjoining Fort. Chateau Frontenac and the boardwalk overlooking the river. Those little old streets. Horse-drawn carriages. Lots of room for those boys to run around. Bring your walking shoes!
    As for travelling with preschoolers, you’ve gotten a lot of good advice. All I can really add, veteran that I am ;), is to go with the flow, leave the schedules at home, enjoy each other’s company and have fun exploring new sites and experiences together and when the meltdowns happen take a DEEP breath and remember, its your vacation!

  9. Well -we are taking our kidlets to the west coast of France for 8 days in July – to bridge the gap between us leaving Germany and coming back home. The nice part about the coast is…well…the beach. And if ever there was a place for our kids, it is the beach. And of course watching as the British tourists lobsterize themselves is also fun…

  10. 1. Find a park that you can escape to and let the kids run around – a hotel room gets quite cramped.
    2. If the hotel has a swimming pool, use it.
    3. See if you can have a fridge in your room; then you can keep it stocked with milk, fruit, cheese, sandwich stuff – cheaper than running out to the corner store.
    4. with young kids, we have always had little gifts that they could open each day (if driving to Florida) or at the destination (if camping nearby). The most successful one was a set of bubbles and paraphenalia that Damian gazed at for 2 whole days while we drove to Fl. I felt almost cruel watching him dream about opening the 2.99 package at the end of the trip, but he had as much fun dreaming about the bubbles as he did with blowing them.
    5. We bring our own pillows – the best sleep is with your own, not some crummy hotel ones.
    Bon Voyage!

  11. 1. Books on Tape are great for long car rides. You can borrow some from your local library.
    2. Those magna doodle boards you can write on and erase are great. The pens are attached so they cant be lost and they don’t melt in the sun like crayons. You can even find small ones at the dollar store. Get one for each kid (big if you can afford)
    3. Car bingo, make cards or lists of items you think you’ll see along the way, church, barn, cow etc…
    4. If you’re leaving on Saturday stop in Finnigan’s flea market in Hudson. Antiques, yummy homemade food, lots of other stuff and a HUGE tree the kids can climb or sit under. My kids love it and there’s a candy vendor.
    5. There used to be a real sit down (or drive in) A&W in Drummondville on the way to Quebec. They had the big icy mugs for root beer that you could refill yourself at big (fake) barrels on the wall. They served the chicken in real baskets. Not sure it’s still there but we loved it when we were kids. Or you could visit the “big orange” as my kids call it. It’s the Orange Julep on Decarie in Motreal. A bit pricey for juice but totally worth it.
    6. In Quebec city there is a mall with amusement rides inside. They also have a big indoor skating rink This would be a great way to cool off one afternoon if it’s really hot. The prices were quite reasonable.
    7. mont-sainte-anne is also very nice for hiking etc.
    8. Parc de la Chute-Montmorency – Gotta see the waterfall…
    9. Chateau Frontenac used to have a small Museum in the basement. Very quiet and cool.
    10. I had to get to 10. What’s this about passing through Montreal and not stopping in the Mother-Hood 😉
    Enjoy your trip! Sorry this was so long.

  12. Have fun! I have to agree on lots of new toys/colouring etc. Dollarama is your friend. I also brought along outlet covers but I think that your boys are more sensible than my two year old (who in spite of our childproofing efforts, nicked herself with my razor). We did the extra room thing because the kiddos nap but we tended to go to bed when they did so it wasn’t an issue then.

  13. Moe, you are now in competition with Sara for best trip planner ever!! A real drive-in A&W??? Be still my heart! Unfortunately, we’ll miss the antique show in Hudson, as we’re travelling Tuesday through Friday. But I love the rest of your tips!
    Ingrid, I know that look of longing (for the bubbles) – too cute!!
    Yoda’s Papa – west coast of France, eh? (Jealous sigh…)
    Jen, you’ve cursed me now. I’m sure the boys will come up with *something* to rival Baby Girl nicking herself with your razor. Who me? No, I’m not laughing…

  14. Wow! I’m so glad I checked this out! Great ideas from everyone!
    I can’t agree more with the advice on the art gallery, again, in small doses and at key times of the day.
    My experience is travelling with one toddler, but we just drove to North Carolina for March Break and were successful. This is what worked for us:
    1. Car entertainments are key. Books, art supplies, a large roster of sing along songs, and tonnes of really great snacks.
    2. Schedule at least one activity each day that is completely focussed on the kids. It gives them something to look forward to.
    3. Prep them each morning with the things you are going to do. Toddlers tend to get overwhelmed by being away from home and the departure from all that is familiar. If they have an idea of what to expect each day, things go more smoothly.
    4. Try to come back to the hotel for naps. It’s a huge interuption during the day of sightseeing, but we found that Erich was far more reasonable if he got a solid nap each day.
    I think that’s all I can add. I’m sure you will have an awesome time!

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