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Tips for Trips: Mickey Mouse, Meltdowns, MMM’s and M&Ms

Recently I was in my local bank branch, exchanging some currency when I overheard a well-dressed man, who appeared to be in a hurry, talk with the teller about his recent trip to Disney. For me, fond memories of Disney trips with our four kids made me smile. He, however, was not so happy; maybe he did not get the memo that Disney is known as the greatest place on earth! He loudly exclaimed, “It was the worst trip we have ever taken with my kids! It was way too hot! The lines were so long, and we didn’t want to wait an hour to ride a ride! It is the most over-priced place I have ever been! We will never go back! Horrible!”

For some time that short conversation that I wasn’t even involved in, has stayed with me. I couldn’t help but wonder what made it so bad, and why he had such a different experience from our family travels. Not knowing this man but feeling for him, I started to think about what might have made it better. In fairness to him, I don’t know his story, but it still made be think of thing we have learned along the way.

When we had all four kids at home, we loved to travel, and treasured “memory-making moments (MMM’s)” along the way. That’s not to say every moment was rosy; sometimes MMM’s include getting rained on, experiencing the unexpected, or recalling a kid whining for 50 miles when he has to pee and there is no exit in site. To shift the kids out of whine mode, which could spread from one child to all four, my wife would say, “Oh, kids, we are making memories.” Truly, when our kids get together the story that is most retold is the one when we hiked a mountain and got soaked in the rain – not the plan and it was cold, but memorable.

As our kids got older, and we got more experience, we learned that during travel – when kids are out of their habitat -- their reaction will change, and may even surprise you. Since I don’t want any other dad to have a “horrible” vacation experience with his kids, I thought I would share some of the knowledge that I have learned:

  1. Snacks and drinks are vital to keeping kids engaged. Bring a backpack and carry quick snacks like M&Ms; and open the package before the kids actually ask for them. That way you can fend off meltdowns before they even happen. One of our four children got HANGRY (hungry and angry) often, so I got pretty good at anticipating those moments. Even today we locate the snack shops or stores that we can visit when our other snacks run out.

  2. Take breaks to give the kids some downtime. (My wife took a long time to learn this one as she wants the kids to take in every moment – hence some additional MMM moments ensued with tantrums and kids doing “sit ins” on long walk moments.) Whether you find a bench in the shade, an air conditioned car or just sit down in the grass, kids need to decompress and just do nothing for a few minutes.

  3. Sometimes the kids are going to whine more than normal, and this is normal because it is outside of the routine. Don’t let their short-term attitude derail a perfectly good trip. Just use tips 1 or 2 to get the kids back to feeling like themselves. Usually our kids were ready to go after a short time relaxing. On one trip Number 3 had a meltdown, and then my own mom -- his grandma -- had a meltdown. It happens to all of us.

  4. When you go to an amusement park, expect long lines and be prepared. We have enjoyed Disney a few times, and planning ahead makes all the difference. Before our first trip, when we still had two in strollers, I did a lot of research on line, read books and spoke with others. Here are a few tips: a) Get in the park early to beat the crowds; by 10 am the park is packed; b) Use “Fast passes,” or whatever the park calls it, to limit your wait times; c) Download Park apps that shows current wait times; and d) Use the single rider option when the kids are old enough.

  5. Speaking of wait-times, bring Ipads or games to play to pass the time. The kids liked a group game called Heads Up (app on the phone), and we played it many a time, waiting in long lines. Line waiting also is a good time to hand out snacks. When our kids were younger, we had them hang out in their strollers with a drink and a snack and that usually worked pretty well.

  6. Trips can be expensive. That is why you don’t take one everyday. Plan ahead, and get the family involved with a money or change jar collection in advance. After learning the hard way, and my wife keeps reminding me of that MMM, I set a budget to manage it proactively. Vacations are a good thing, so enjoy it and try not to get caught up in the cost of everything.

  7. Know when enough is enough. When the kids are done for the day, they are done. This also is something I learned the hard way. The first year we went to Disney and the kids were young, I had a 5-day agenda from morning to night –ooopps! Remember this is a vacation, and you can call it a day whenever you want. Maybe a relaxing time in your room or by the pool is all the kids really need to feel happy.

  8. Don’t underestimate the importance of the unexpected. Those are the most priceless MMM moments, and the ones the kids look back and remember most. We planned a big trip to the Appalachian Mountains with another family. On day one hike, it not only rained, but the sound of the thunder was ominous among the echoes of the mountains. The kids were a little afraid, but pushed on, and by the time the kids got back to the car they were wet and hungry. We opened the van door and had a picnic. To cheer the kids up my wife and I danced and entertained them in the rain. The kids don’t remember the trip to the Mountains or any other parks or water parks we went to that week, but they do remember the picnic in the van.

For our family, it is an awesome experience to get away from the house, forget the worries of home/school/work, and travel. Our kids remember most of the trips we have taken – and the MMM’s -- much more than any presents they have gotten from year to year. A little planning ahead, anticipation of hunger, and built in entertainment will help the journey of traveling with kids go more smoothly. Hopefully this advice will come in handy, and you won’t ever turn into that angry guy at the bank who may never travel with his kids again.

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