Photo: Alice Seuffert via Diningwithalice.com

I typed away at my desk. It was my first day back at work after a family vacation. Reentry after vacation is never easy. Just yesterday, we donned flip flops and our favorite swimwear. Today, I helped the kids into their boots and snow pants, they were not pleased. My own transition from afternoon rum drinks to Folger’s coffee was just as unpleasant.

Upon returning to work, my coworkers singularly paraded into my office. Their mission was to recap my vacation with me. My bronzed skin and sunburnt lips shared a glimpse into my tropical adventure. The first question out of the gate was always, “Did you go with your kids?”

There is a motherhood/old wives’ tale that suggests that you can’t actually have an enjoyable vacation with your children and in fact, it should just be called a “trip.” A trip because you do all of the same things you do as the mom in command at home, just in a new location.

Maybe it’s because my vacation days are limited or the funding I have to take these trips is also limited, but I reject the notion that moms can’t have an enjoyable vacation with their kids. The truth is, I have taken “trips” with my kids and it took time to soak in those “mom on location” trips to figure out how to actually pivot to relaxing and enjoying time with my kids on vacation.

What’s my secret? Our vacation is just for us.

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The first thing I learned about moving from trip to vacation is to identify the vacations that fit us and our kids. What we do on vacation should not fit all families. And most importantly, just because other people go certain places or engage in certain activities on vacation, doesn’t mean that it is right for us. There may be nuggets of wisdom in places or activities from vacation review sites, but we plan for a vacation just for us.

How We Make Food Less Stressful

I’m a foodie but I release my foodie expectations on vacation. I write recipes and help moms with meal planning and easy recipes for their families. On vacation with my kids, I release my food rules, the need to meal plan for the week or even go to fancy restaurants. It doesn’t work well when we have someone else tell us when we eat our meals, we learned the hard way on that one.

On a recent vacation, our dinner time was scheduled for us at 8:30 p.m. and my son promptly placed his head down on the table and fell asleep mid-dinner. On vacation, we do what’s easy and enjoyable when it comes to meals.

On our latest vacation, we sought out early dinners that were buffet-st‌yle or kids eat free. Gourmet for every meal? Nope. However, I didn’t cook a single meal—and that’s a vacation for me.

How We Make Activities Work for Us

On one of our “trips,” we were given a sheet of paper with no less than 100 options for the day’s activities. That doesn’t work for us and it was only until I totally overbooked us did I learn from this epic trip failure. Vacation to us is relaxing which is defined by no pre-booked early morning activities (sleeping in is not yet an option), swimming, spontaneous activities and fun activities with my kids.

I make a point of having at least one meaningful, fun activity with my kids each vacation. What’s funny is I inevitably have more than just one fun experience, however, it gives me the connection I crave with my kids.

We Always Make Time for “The One Thing”

Before every vacation, I check in with each member of my family and establish The One Thing they really hope to do on vacation. It’s like vacation goal-setting. And I honor their request and have one of those activities happen on vacation. Ironically, each members’ “one thing” usually seeps into our other family members’ joy on the trip.

Other Helpful, Sanity-Saving Hacks

While there are a few key pieces that have helped me move from trip to vacation in motherhood, there are also a few other things that we’ve found significantly help our level of enjoyment. The first is that we plan for adult-only vacations and not try and combine those vacations with our children.

If we can swing it financially, it is worth us having a separate sleeping space from the kids. Again, if we logistically and financially can swing it, a direct flight always seems to be a better travel experience for all of us and for us, even worth extra money. Finally and perhaps most important for us, kids club.

We recently traveled and stumbled upon our hotel’s kids club. During our vacation the kids spent one hour a day and it meant my husband and I could talk without interruption, enjoy a Pina Colada together or even read our books in peace.

Are our vacations perfect? Absolutely not. We battle kids fighting, illness, cancellations and even adult temper tantrums. Hello, guilty! Our trips are not perfect, but perfect for us. And I think when you can find that place, you can move from a trip to vacation in motherhood.