You want to have a dream vacation with your kids? One that you will all remember and cherish for a lifetime? You will need stitches, a thief, and a ham & cheese.

traveling with kids in san diego

You see those two precious kids on that bike thing in that photo? It looks like they’re having a ton of fun on that Princess Cruiser. That’s my sister and me circa 1988. We went on an amazing family vacation to San Diego. Sun. Surf. Ice cream. Stitches.

That photo was taken just moments before we completely lost control of that contraption, went hurtling down a hillside, and crashed into a tree. We had to rush my sister to the ER where she got a ton of stitches in her leg. I got a couple of bruises and one of the biggest frights of my life.

That vacation was nearly 30 years ago but I can remember it like it was yesterday. That was one amazing vacation.


My mom always says you can learn more in one week of traveling than you can in an entire year of school. She also says no great family vacation is complete without a trip to the ER. The absurdity of the second phrase severely hurt her credibility on the topic.

But, she is completely right. I didn’t really understand what she meant until I had my own kids and we started taking trips.

When you have a kid, your life changes in countless ways. Vacations are no exception. Gone are the days of reading trash mags on the plane (stars really are just like us!!) Now, you have to cart car seats, snacks, sippy cups, diapers, ten million changes of clothes, and stuffed animals through airports and in and out of hotels. Kids melt down like a popsicle on a summer day – they’re exhausted, jet-lagged, and starving since they can’t find any of their favorite foods on the menu.

It’s a HUGE pain. Enormous.

But, it’s a pain worth enduring.

The key to turning that pain into enjoyment is to throw every notion about the perfect family vacation out the window. Give it up. Completely ignore all those cute, adorable photos you see of other families on Facebook. Those photos were taken moments before disaster struck. Like this one:


kids on train in paris

Wow! Look at those kids having so much fun on a train ride. That photo surely would have gotten 50 likes had Facebook been around back in the day. (Ignore my ’80s, chlorine-damaged hair and tween awkwardness, btw.)

That photo was taken on a train in France.  Just moments earlier we were in total vacation hell. We were late for the train and running through the station as fast as three little kids, a grandma, and a mom schlepping 20 pieces of luggage could. We were in full meltdown mode – tired and starving having missed breakfast and lunch. Like an angel from heaven, a man in a large gray overcoat and hat graciously offered to help us. Then, out of nowhere, came the piercing scream of whistles and a band of angry policemen. They yelled something in French. The angel took off running with the police in hot pursuit.

Turns out our angel was a known criminal whose M.O. was to help travelers then steal their luggage. We looked so pathetic, he didn’t even try to take ours.

Another amazing vacation. And, the best ham and cheese sandwich in the entire world.

Things haven’t changed much for me since my travels in the ’80s. Here’s a family photo from a vacation last year:

family vacation in hawaii

That photo was taken after the fourth sleepless night (Cole had a horrible cough and kept us all awake the entire vacation), and just hours before Dan had to take Ben on an hour-long taxi ride to the local Mexican hospital because of a horrific ear infection.

Amazing vacation. You know what Ben talks about the most? The hospital.

It doesn’t matter where you go. Your vacation with your little kids will probably be exhausting. You’ll need a vacation from your vacation. But, one thing is for sure, every vacation you take with your kids is the most amazing vacation ever because you share adventures, build memories, and they learn more life skills – empathy, tolerance, coping when things don’t go as planned, and how to beware of thieves- than any other experience you could give them. And that is a dream vacation.