It's no secret that for parents, traveling with children is often more of a "work trip" than a "vacation." Taking children out of their natural habitats and routines is not always conducive to relaxation, and it can be easy to give way to the stress and exhaustion and never look your spouse in the eye or even finish a sentence with another adult the entire trip.
But if you are going on a family summer vacation, never fear: we asked veteran parents for their best tips on carving out adult time — not necessarily that kind of adult time, but just a few moments to connect and find peace amidst the chaos — while vacationing with kids. Their tips:
1. Live the suite life.
If it is at all in your budget, book a hotel room (or an apartment, or an Airbnb) with a door between your bedroom and your kids' to preserve some space for you, said parents.
"We always get either a two-bedroom suite or adjoining rooms when we travel so the kids sleep in a separate room and we get to have some downtime after they go to sleep — which usually amounts to falling asleep while watching Netflix, but hey, it's something," Boston-area mother of three Alix Campbell told TODAY Parents. "This sometimes means we compromise on the quality of the hotel so that we can afford two rooms."
2. Find a way to "wine down," even if you have to get creative.
An alternative to the suite idea is to book just one room, get the kids to sleep, and sneak out to share some adult beverages — an escape hatch for many parents traveling with small children who can't be left alone.
Baby Rabies blogger Jill Krause said she and her husband have spent many hotel nights with their four children "sitting in the hall outside the door, pouring wine into hotel styrofoam cups." Even better than the hallway? A view. "Get a hotel room with a balcony if you don't have the option of a suite," advised Los Angeles mom of two Kathy Franklin. "After the kids go to bed, just go out there with a bottle of wine and shut the door behind you."
Family-oriented indoor water park resort Great Wolf Lodge recently launched a program at their 14 properties across the country that takes this strategy to the next level: the "Wine Down Service," which pairs wine, cheese, and desserts for parents after long days on the slides. The resorts' guest services departments will even text parents before they deliver the treats instead of knocking on room doors so that they won't wake any sleeping children.
"As a father of three ages 3, 7, and 10 myself, I understand the need for parents to find those peaceful moments when they can," Great Wolf Resorts representative Jason Lasecki told TODAY Parents.
"The guest feedback to this program has been overwhelmingly positive. Parents love creating cherished memories with their family...but parents also crave a bit of 'me' and 'us' time," he said. "Our Wine Down program is the perfect fit, because parents get that bit of time in the comfort of their suite."
Great Wolf Lodge Wine Down Program packages, with names like "Kids Snoring, More Pinot-Noiring," range in cost around $35-45 each.
3. Road trip!
Turns out, the open road can lead to more than a destination. "Road trips seem to give us more time together than we have at home," Adriene Huddleston, mom of two, told TODAY Parents. "The kids are entertained in the backseat, so it's like it's just the two of us for miles and miles. We will listen to radio shows together or have actual uninterrupted conversation."
Amy Moon, who has 13-year-old twins, agreed. "Just this week on the way home from vacation, they slept for a couple hours and we had a really nice, personal, and uninterrupted discussion," she said. "I even commented on how fulfilling that discussion was, and how content it made me feel!"
4. Phone a friend (or a grandparent).
The key to grabbing some couple time on a trip? "One word: grandparents," said Veronica Wetherill, a mom of two from Langhorne, Pennsylvania. "We went to Europe with my mom this summer and escaped for a few dinners alone while the kids had screen time and she had a glass of wine back in the apartment. Multigenerational trips have their pros and cons, but I feel like in the end, the pros win."
But perhaps even more fun for families is to travel in packs. "Travel with another family with kids the same age and rent a house, so all the adults can hang out after bed or while the kids are doing something," said Boston dad Joe Corkery. "Making dinner together is a nice quiet time once you've given the kids a pre-dinner snack and let them run off with their friends to do whatever."
5. Create "kid buffer zones."
Mom of two Tara Nardelli told TODAY Parents she and her husband strategically plan to create happy time together at the beach near their home in Central Florida. "We set up the kids' space on the beach 10 feet from us," she said. "It allows us to enjoy our time together and still keep an eye on the kids. Plus, you can't hear them arguing. We call it the kid buffer."
On a recent trip with friends and their own three boys, Michelle Greenwald found peace by creating a game for the older children with her husband, Jeff. "Since all the kids are a bit older, we handed them a phone and sent them on a photo alphabet scavenger hunt," she said. "They had to stay in the hotel and take pictures of things for every letter of the alphabet. They had a blast and we had a bit of quiet adult-only time — except for my baby!"
6. Join the club.
If all else fails, seek the help of professionals: kids' clubs. Several parents mentioned they enjoy cruise vacations because of the kids' clubs available, and some resorts have them too.
Allison Baer said that with five young children ages 6 to 8 in her blended family with wife Deb, a hotel with a kids' club is now a requirement. "We send the kids for a few hours a day so we can get a break," the New Jersey mom told TODAY Parents.
Even the most beleaguered parents can hang on to this: the kids will get older, and when they do, the possibilities are endless (sort of). Older tweens and teens can babysit while parents sneak off to actual hotel bars for cocktails instead of stealth sips of wine in the hallways, and when all the children reach a certain age, they crave their own space and eagerly give it to their parents. The goal for parents, then, is to make it to that milestone with relationships — and sanity — intact.