I have a 16 year spread between my oldest child and my youngest child. When planning a family vacation I am dealing with different ages, different stages and vastly different interests! I have learned through trial and error a few ways to make vacations more enjoyable for all of us.
Planning Vacations for Children of Varying Ages and Interests
Plan Vacations Around Common Interests:
Water based activities are popular with all of my kids. So oceans, lakes, rivers, and water parks are common destinations for us. Swimming, fishing, and boat rides can all be adapted to meet the different stages my children are in.
Everyone in our family enjoys nature, so we plan easy hikes in the mountains and trips to botanical gardens.
We have discovered that outdoor events are easy to take our whole family to. Rodeos, hot air balloon races, baseball games, and outdoor musical performances allow my youngest to wiggle around and make noise without disturbing others like he would if we were at an indoor venue.
Find One Venue that Offers Different Age Appropriate Activities:
My kids all enjoy amusement parks, science museums, and aquariums. But not at the same level. The youngest can't go on roller coaster rides and the oldest is not entertained sitting in front of a fish exhibit for an hour. We divide up by interest, age, or ability. How we break into groups varies by each attraction. We also establish meet up times to do some activities together.
Divide Up for Special Interests:
On our last vacation to San Francisco, I was pretty sure my youngest son would not be interested in the DeYoung Art Museum. So my husband (who was also not interested though old enough to know how to behave) took our youngest child to the California Academy of Sciences which was also located in the Golden Gate Park. After we were done visiting the separate museums, we joined back up and went to Fisherman's Wharf as a family.
Trading Off Favorite Activities:
Even though my oldest two children are only separated by 2 1/2 years, they have very different interests. My son sat quite patiently through a day of horse races at Belmont Park, knowing that the next day we would spend the day at the American Museum of Natural History. And my daughter displayed amazing patience the next day while viewing all of the fossils with her brother.
On our recent trip to San Fracisco, my youngest son was rewarded for his patience at the “grown-up” venues by a trip to the zoo. And the whole family went at his pace and rode the train with him.
Helping Little Children Participate in Older kids' Activities:
While we let our youngest out of a visit to the DeYoung, we did take him with us to the Legion of Honor. Prior to visiting the museum, we studied some of the artists and their work, so he would have a better understanding of what he was seeing. He was quite proud of himself when he knew who some of the painters were.
When we walked up to a painting I asked him to find a detail (kind of like I spy). This allowed us to enjoy the painting while he searched the painting.
We use a camera to slow my youngest son down. When we are at museums where photography is allowed, he can entertain himself taking pictures, allowing us more time to enjoy the exhibits.
Encouraging Older Kids to Help Out with Younger Children on Vacation:
My older kids are pretty good about going along and doing “childish” activities with their younger brother. They are now mature enough that they can enjoy watching their younger brother enjoy an activity.
Ask an older sibling help the younger child with an activity, i.e. assemble something at a discovery museum, build a sand castle, or go with him on a ride.
Put an older sibling in charge of taking photos or videos.
Let an older sibling be in charge of buying snacks or tickets while you watch the young children.
Choose Accommodations that Provide Enough Room for the Whole Family:
Although our family isn't that large, it is difficult for us all to fit in one hotel room. And the older kids do not like it when I say lights out at 9:00 pm to help the youngest one fall asleep. We have found that we can often rent a home or cabin for less than the price of 2 hotel rooms. When vacation rentals are not available, we stay in a 2 bedroom suite at a hotel. Once again, a 2 bedroom, 2 bath suite is often less than the price of 2 hotel rooms. Suites and vacation rentals also include family rooms and kitchens which can make for a more relaxing down time between attractions.
Dining with Children of Multiple Ages:
One of the benefits to staying in a home or suite is that you can prepare some easy and healthy meals while you are traveling. Eating a few meals in makes it easier to feed rambunctious toddlers who don't want to sit still at a restaurant. It also allows you to feed them foods that they are accustomed to and pack lunches to take with you on your excursions.
All of my kids are gluten intolerant and one is lactose intolerant. I take steps to ensure that they have a safe and fairly healthy diet when we are on vacation, but it is harder while traveling. And when my youngest son has any digestive discomfort, the whole family is miserable! Since I can't always find his favorite yogurt while we are on travel, I brought along Culturelle Kids Packets for my youngest son on our trip to San Francisco. Each day, I added one of the single serving packets of probiotics to his drink at breakfast to boost his digestive health. We did not have any illnesses or digestive upsets on our trip. Healthy children make for a much more pleasant vacation!
When dining out, I try to find a restaurant that serves food that my older kids enjoy, but has some kind of activity that will amuse my youngest while we wait. A restaurant with a great view can keep a young child entertained for a long time.
I am also a huge fan of restaurants that cover their tables with paper!
Tips for Keeping Young Children Entertained While Waiting:
Cameras can keep young children entertained for a long time. Just let them take pictures of everyone making silly faces or take pictures of them being goofy.
If you are willing to share your smart phone, there are tons of apps to keep young kids entertained. My son's favorite is star finder, but he is really into space. Most kids can be kept entertained with Angry birds.
Time spent waiting can actually be a great time to bond with your children. Have fun and play I Spy or 20 Questions. Take the time to ask them what was their favorite part of an earlier activity. Which activities would they like to do again. You can even use the time to start planning your next vacation.
By combining these different strategies, we have been able to plan enjoyable vacations for our family. If traveling with children of vastly different ages and interests seems overwhelming to you right now, consider planning a staycation instead.
More Tips for Traveling with Kids
- Tips for Traveling with Teens and Tweens
- 5 Tips for Traveling with Children
- 7 Tips for Road Trips with Kids
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Culturelle. The opinions are entirely my own.