Before kids, vacation = ahhh...

But these days, a vacation with kids can feel like anything but a relaxing time away. We've done the work figuring out how you can actually let your time off feel like a break from the grind instead of just an extension of the crazy with an added bonus of whining.

Here's how to to relax while vacationing with kids, mama:

1. Build in travel breaks.

When we are traveling by car for more than a few hours, we expect that there will be a break at some point to stretch legs and get some energy out. Even though it may seem obvious, this was something of a eureka moment when my son was about a year old and we were traveling from Virginia back to New York. We left at nap time, and built in a stop about halfway home, when we assumed he would be waking up, at an amazing water play area in Philadelphia. Archer was thrilled to be there, we had a blast, got lunch and continued on our way. The best part was he was so tuckered out that he slept the whole rest of the way home.

2. Choose travel times wisely.

Based on your kids' ages, try to plan your travel around usual sleep or rest times. You know best what your family can handle, whether it's the red eye flight, taking a train as opposed to a car, or an early morning car ride. But planning around your family's natural rhythms can make or break the travel portion of the trip. We generally leave at nap time for shorter trips or try to leave at bedtime for longer ones.

3. Stay in a rented home or suite instead of a single hotel room whenever possible.

You can cook an amazing meal in the kitchen, or take a late-night dip with your partner (if you're smart enough to rent a place with a pool or a hot tub), with the monitor close at hand. You can also better recreate sleeping arrangements from home, and you can even have guests over, and relax knowing the kids are safe in bed. Bonus: You aren't stuck in a hotel room whispering when the kids go to sleep!

4. Trade off days waking up early with the kids.

My husband and I switch off days getting the kids up and out while the other of us gets to sleep in. No one is sleeping until noon or anything, but just a quiet morning sleeping until 9:30am in a hotel room can give you the energy you need to have a lovely day with the kids instead of a bleary-eyed day slogging through. (If you're breastfeeding, just feed, hand off, and go back to sleep!)

You know your family's rhythms best. If the kids can handle a late bedtime, but naps are sacred, build your schedule around that. If you limit screen time at home, but want to have family movie night on vacation, or let them watch some cartoons in the morning for an hour so you and your partner can both sleep in, go with it! If they are not allowed any sweets, but want an ice cream after dinner, live it up! The point is, bend the rules when you can to make things easier and more relaxed for all, and you won't spend your whole vacation wound up and stressed out about keeping everything exactly like it is at home. That's the beauty of it, you're not at home! Think about the deal breakers for your family in advance, and otherwise let go.

5. Remember it's all about location, location, location.

If your kids love to swim, rent a house with a pool or go to the beach, where you can spend your days splashing and laughing. If you are a camping and hiking family, have fun exploring a new campsite. It can (and should!) be stuff you love too. If everyone is happy, there will be less whining and frustration, and more time spent truly making memories and enjoying being together.

6. Travel with family or friends.

We spent a week in the Berkshires with our four closest (childless!) college friends. The trip was just incredible, and one we hope to recreate every summer. Not only were there extra hands to share the duties of cooking, cleaning and watching the kids, but we made the most incredible memories for our family. Our pals were genuinely thrilled to be traveling with us and were so kind, engaged and wonderful with our kids throughout the week. I was blown away by the love my children must have felt being showered at them from six directions. And when my husband and I were a little burnt out or frazzled, in would swoop one of these amazing friends and just take over confidently. Bonus: We got to hang out with our BEST friends every day and evening for a week. It was like college all over again.

7. Try to schedule one full day at home before returning to work and school.

This can be a tough one and it's not always possible, but it's great to have a day built in to unpack, tackle laundry, and get everyone sort of back on schedule before real life kicks in.

8. Shift your perspective.

We all know it's not going to be the same sort of vacation that we took pre-kids. Let's not try to recreate jaunts in Europe drinking wine all night, or tropical vacations with nothing but margaritas and books for five days. But that doesn't mean it can't be incredibly fun for all, and even restorative. If you reframe your perspective, you will realize that this sort of vacation is great for spending time with family and away from the obligations of home and work. It's not just about sleep, seeing sites, or eating amazing food. It's about enjoying the moment, together.

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