Men's Journal

How to Survive a Summer Vacation With Your Kids

"Kids are not rational. They don’t realize the road trip rainbow ends with fat lobster rolls and a plunge in the hotel swimming pool. There’s no future, only now. And no, we’re not there yet." Getty Images

"George, daddy! More George!” my daughter, Violet, screamed from her car seat in our rattling red Subaru, waving the iPad like a drunk failing to snag a bartender’s eye. “George!!!”

I hate that monkey. My wife and I were halfway into a seven-hour road trip from Brooklyn to Portland, Maine, and proceedings were going as well as one could hope with a two-year-old. Our (mostly) potty-trained daughter hadn’t pooped herself, she’d slept a bit, and was narcotized on cartoons like Peppa Pig, a family of fun-loving British swine, and havoc-wrecking Curious George.

I cued up another misadventure. Violet’s eyes glazed like a doughnut. Only four hours left till I could kick back and crack open a beer. Or was that three?

Before Violet, my wife and I were carefree travelers. We’d cruise Morocco’s coastline, then fly to Vietnam to slurp phở. Our plans were looser than decade-old sweatpants, emphasizing off-the-cuff adventures over rigid itineraries.

As a parent, that method quickly falls short.

During Violet’s first 10 months, she was content to be strapped to our chests and flown to North Carolina weddings and Ohio family reunions. Sated with milk, clean diapers, and sleep, Violet was only slightly harder to care for than a Cabbage Patch Kid.

Her calm was land-mined by learning to walk, confinement a fate worse than losing her blanket. We discovered her hard-wired wanderlust — chalk one up for heredity — on a 10-day road trip to Asheville (beer, mountains) and Nashville (hot chicken, honky tonk). Like a pissed-off, lassoed bull, our 13-month-old kept fighting to escape her car seat. She wailed as miles melted glacially, her tears endless salty rivers.

That might be the moment in my mid-30s when I started going gray.

Did that disaster deep-six future summer travel? Nah. Escaping sweltering New York City is a necessity. So is being smarter about travel. Our daughter’s needs, no matter how maddening (George!), come first. Her comfort level and our sanity sit on the same teeter-totter. It’s in everyone’s best interests to let her burn energy at a playground, devour rest-stop pizza, or watch a tiny monkey’s idiotic misadventures. Kids are not rational. They don’t realize the road trip rainbow ends with fat lobster rolls and a plunge in the hotel swimming pool. There’s no future, only now. And no, we’re not there yet.

Here, a handful of survival tips on your next kid-equipped summer vacation.

The Beach

Provide plenty of shade, a chair, and an array of sand tools and toys. True story: During a recent trip to Pawleys Island, South Carolina, Violet spent hours in the beach daily making “dinner” for everyone out of sand while we drank frosty beverages.

Woods and Outdoors

Aching to hike with kids? Be prepared to carry them back. Children might seem like Energizer Bunnies, but their batteries run dry when least expected. Keep nature strolls short, bug repellant plentiful, snacks at the ready (puréed food pouches are a godsend), and sticks plentiful. They allow your kid to transform into everything from a chef to a wizard.

On the Road

No shame: The iPad is your best friend. Load it with your kid’s favorite shows and let them watch until the cows come home. It’s a treat, not our everyday M.O., so it doesn’t feel like feeding our daughter fistfuls of candy for dinner.

Breweries

Everyone loves a drink on vacation — except your kid. Skip the industrial-park beer maker and seek spacious breweries that are all-ages friendly, such as New Belgium, Hopworks, and Burial, and keep visits to the daylight hours.

Restaurants

Keep it simple. My wife and I once icily battled after she insisted that we feed our famished kid at a travel plaza (McDonald’s, Subway, subpar pizza, sadness) instead of my favored century-old hot dog restaurant, miles off the highway. The extra time would’ve merited a meltdown, I later realized. And unless you’re a glutton for pork belly and punishment, nix the multicourse meal at that hip new spot.