I’ll be honest, it sounded a bit crazy to me. Taking a 4 year-old and a 6 week-old on a 7 (that was more like 12) hour car trip to a location with nothing but sun, sand, and water. One is very energetic and excited, the other can’t put on sunscreen, nor can she regulate her body temperature very well. But alas, we decided to go with my family for a week of a beach vacation.
We left bright and early on Saturday morning. Daughter snoozing in the backseat, son enjoying the views and looking at a road atlas. To be honest, the first 4-5 hours of the trip were very smooth. Our daughter eats every 4 hours or so, so we just scheduled stops and used it to stretch while she ate. Shortly after we began the last few hours of the trip, we learned our son, who never previously had this problem–gets carsick. So that was a blast, as we were completely ill prepared for that. Then the traffic hit–and a 2-3 hour trip stretched on for almost 6. I’ve been going to the beach for a long time and never saw traffic like that. It was horrible. Of course, by this point, the daughter is hungry, but there’s nowhere to really pull off because we’re just stuck in traffic. After almost 13 hours, we pull into our condo and have a chance to get settled in.
Thankfully, the rest of the week went swimmingly. Our son LOVED the ocean and sand (probably too much, as it took a lot of coercion to bring him in every day). We were also battling no naps the entire week for him, and he actually rallied pretty well with few incidences.
For our daughter, we wanted to be outside, but also wanted to make sure she stayed out of the sun, and also cool the entire time. Thankfully, the beach was fairly cool all week and being near the ocean provided a nice, consistent breeze. We purchased a large, 100 SPF umbrella and she wore protective SPF clothing all week. We set up a travel bassinet in the sand on top of a towel, and then had a battery-operated fan on her keeping a nice breeze. We also had a spray bottle of water in case, but rarely used it.
We did get confronted by one older lady (whose obesity provided for an incredible hypocrisy) who asked if we were putting sunscreen on her. She seemed shocked that we wouldn’t put sunscreen on our 6 week-old (spoiler alert: you shouldn’t on any child under 6 months old). We gave her a solid dismissal of her concern (“She’s fine.”) and didn’t have any other run-ins (in fact, we were complimented several times throughout the week for our innovative setup).
When we were out in the evenings, we had an extendable shade for the stroller which provided her with complete sun protection, and then had a clip-on fan to attach to the side of her stroller (one passerby commented, “See that? Brilliant”). Both kids slept very well during the trip. Our son slept on a pull-out sofa in the living room and our daughter slept at the foot of our bed in a Pack N’ Play.
While all in all we had a great time, I won’t lie, vacationing with children is a lot different than vacationing without them. First, there’s sort of always an overwhelming concern about where your child is. Thankfully, we went with family, so there were always extra eyes, but I always kept a watchful eye, especially on my son near the water, and of course, our daughter couldn’t be left alone. And with two parents and two kids, it takes a bit of effort to make sure that everything is okay and the kids are being adequately supervised. I think it would have been not much fun to go by ourselves with just our kids.
Secondly, we are schedulers, and have found schedules that work for our kids that optimize both their and our happiness. However, that’s really easy to do at home, and not so easy to do on vacation. Our son, as I mentioned, skipped naps, which made our time more flexible, but also ran the risk of having a grumpy kid (thankfully, this wasn’t really the case). With him though, being nearly 5, he is able to entertain himself, be reasoned with, etc. There’s also a certain level of responsibility where he can do things on his own.
For a 6 week-old, the challenge is unique. Eating every few hours means scheduling beach time, dinner time, and activities somewhat “around” eating. Additionally, sleeping is still of utmost importance. Sure, we could have laid our daughter down every night at 10 and then stayed up with family until midnight or 1 having fun, but our daughter is waking up a 3 am to eat whether you went to bed or not, and she’s going to be ready to start the day by 7, whether you got 8 hours of sleep or 2, so it certainly cut into evening time, but it was a sacrifice necessary to make our days go better. So others may want to stay out late, but you’re saying, “We need to get to bed”.
And of course, you’re never not a parent. And so disciplining, consoling, assisting, snuggling, etc. is still ongoing, even on vacation, which certainly takes a notch out of the “relaxing” column. You don’t want to have to scold your kid on vacation, but you also can’t have them throwing sand that’s getting in people’s faces, or puts themselves at risk to get hurt.
But seeing your son see the ocean for the first time, to be able to snuggle your newborn on the beach, to spend time with your family for an entire week, it makes it completely worth it. We certainly look forward to doing it again next week and hopefully, by then, we’ll be even more seasoned.