When my daughters were small, we took a summer trip with extended family and stayed at a little cabin on a Minnesota lake. Little cabin on a Minnesota lake sounds dreamy doesn’t it? It brings to mind a peaceful sunny day spent lounging on a boat, followed by a cozy night snuggled around a campfire. But with a three year-old and one year-old in tow, I quickly realized my lakeside weekend was going to consist of much more turmoil than tranquility.

It was kind of like those movies when at first you think the cottage is just secluded, but the creepy background music leads you to believe it’s actually haunted and you have anxiety of something going terribly wrong the whole time. I’ll spare you the gory details, but basically the vacation was this: me constantly guarding the door so my three year-old would not run out to the dock surrounded by deep water, while juggling a sweaty baby who only wanted to eat sand, and then trying to put everyone down for nap and bed time with lots of overtired screaming had by all.

At one point while I was passing out goldfish crackers to people who were just starving even though they had eaten breakfast a mere 30 seconds ago, another family with kids pulled up to the beach. Ah, finally, I thought, someone who will understand me. Misery Loves Company after all, am I right?

But it wasn’t meant to be. Out of the cleaner-than-mine van hopped three children between the ages of 7 and 12. They ran to the dock, baited their own fishing poles, and began unwrapping sandwiches that I can only assume they packed themselves. And do you know what their mom did? That precious woman went directly into her air conditioned cabin carrying an I-pad and a brown bag that I know housed a cold bottle of wine.

Now listen, my first instinct was to absolutely loath and despise her. I can only imagine how far my jaw fell to the floor in utter disbelief that anyone who birthed three humans could ever actually relax and enjoy her vacation.  But once I got over my shock, the truth is that seeing this mom gave me the bit of hope that I so desperately needed at that moment.

I suddenly could see myself a few years down the road, on that peaceful boat and by that cozy campfire, and knew that while everything was chaos right now, if I could just hold on and wait these tiny people out, that they would grow up, and our vacations would become a little bit easier on us all. Someday this madness of soggy swim diapers and tantrums over every sunscreen application would pass. There was a bit of light at the end of the tunnel that hadn’t existed before.

This summer my kids are ages 4, 6, and 8. We went to the lake for the 4th of July and I was fully prepared to not spend the holiday visiting with friends and to instead be fastening life jackets and jumping out of the pool for potty breaks. But do you know what? The most amazing thing happened. My three kids swam in the lake for hours with their friends while I sat nearby watching and talking to my sister-in-law.  It was so simple, but it was a little slice of heaven to me because for the first time in 8 years I finally felt a little bit like I-pad and wine mom on her vacation.

So mommas of toddlers and babies, know that it will get easier, so much easier. You are in the trenches now, but your work will be so worth it. In the meantime, here are six tips for enjoying your vacation with your little ones:

Lower your expectations. I know you see your friend’s friend on Instagram, climbing mountains with both her baby sling and makeup on and she looks fabulous and you’re thinking: How in the world does she do it and why is my vacation with a baby so not like this?  Listen, that picture is just one moment of the whole thing. You’re not seeing the baby crying all the way down that mountain, you’re only seeing the good part. Traveling with young kids is 90% stressful and 10% fun. Anyone who tells you otherwise isn’t being honest, so if you’re not always having the best time, you’re doing it right.

Remember your sense of humor. Things are going to be crazy. Crumbs and chaos will follow you wherever you go and you might get some strange looks from the proper business gentleman sitting in front of you on the plane after the baby throws her bottle at his seat. Again. Don’t take any of it too seriously; it’s just another imperfectly perfect day.

Try to stay on your normal schedule.  I know this is tough and sometimes impossible to do while traveling, but if you can stick as close as possible to your usual nap and bed time, things may go more smoothly.

Travel light. Again, I know this is tough, but carrying a million things through airports or searching through your car’s trunk for the missing pacifier will be so much easier if you can just take less.

Pack fewer clothes and don’t drag diaper genies around or haul all the toys. Chances are you will be able to purchase any forgotten necessities once you reach your destination. Bring extended family. Some of our best vacations have been spent with grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Not only do we get to spend quality time with these people after the kids are asleep, but there are extra hands to help love and entertain the kids during the day.

Lastly, just go. I know all the worst case scenarios of everything that could go wrong are running through your mind and making you doubt even trying to travel with your kids, but my best advice is to just go anyway. I’ve spent flights pacing up the aisle trying to sooth crying babies, sleepless nights with toddlers who are not used to strange hotel rooms, and long car rides with cranky kids. Looking back, I regret absolutely none of it because along the way I’ve not only experienced a bit of the world, but shared it with my kids as well. Stepping outside our own neighborhoods and getting to know others in a time when media reports can make us convinced we should fear people we don’t know is ever important.

There you have it, six tips for traveling with your babies and toddlers. Now what are you waiting for? Book that summer trip before it’s too late!

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