A Toddler’s Guide to the Perfect Vacation

Vacations can be tough, I know. You see your parents packing your clothes into a suitcase and at first you think your whole world is about to change — new house, new family, maybe this is just what happens every summer, right? After all, you were only in your last place for nine months.

But then you hear them talking, and you realize they’re coming too. And, okay, that’s a good news, bad news kind of thing. Because maybe you would have gotten some totally awesome new parents who only buy the milk that has the chocolate in it and who are totally cool with giving you your own iPhone. But you also could have gotten people like those parents you saw in the playground, who didn’t really know how to push their kid in the swing. It was really sad. Poor kid.

Anyway, so you figure out you’re all going somewhere new for a few days, and, sure, that’s kind of scary, but think about it this way: sometimes it’s not so bad to get a break from the everyday routine. Enough of all that playing, sleeping, and eating — everyone can use a few days to scream all day, cry all night, and smear your poop all over the walls, if you know what I mean. (And what I mean is smearing your poop all over the walls.)

You need some time to let out your stress, release all of those pent-up emotions, be the toddler that nature intended. And when better to do all this than when your parents are off from work, want to relax, accidentally brought the wrong size diapers, and were forced to give a security deposit for the vacation house you’re renting?

(I know, who willingly hands over a security deposit when you have an uncontrollable toddler along for the trip? Sometimes parents can be so silly.)

So here are some tips for making your family vacation into a trip you’re going to remember, at least until you get to the age where you form permanent memories and your first couple of years disappear entirely from your brain, making your parents wonder why they bothered to expend all that money and energy!

1 — Hate the long car ride? Break it up into dozens and dozens of smaller trips!

Sure, your parents may be planning on doing that seven-hour ride from Pittsburgh to Chicago without stopping — but, wow, did they forget that you can’t even sit still in your high chair for the time it takes them to cut the crusts off your grilled cheese sandwich? (And no, for the last time, I don’t want the white cheese, just the orange cheese — and I don’t like bread anymore — and, you know what, I’m actually not even in the mood for lunch at all now that I think about it.)

They may not want to stop, but there are a lot of things you can do to turn that one, long, boring ride into seventy-four much, much shorter, excitement-filled, “quick, get into the exit lane or I’m divorcing you” panics. And I’m talking about stuff beyond just screaming as loud as any human has ever screamed before, which I know can get old after the first hour or two.

Like eating all of the food they brought for you, as quickly as you can — and then, well, they’ll either need to stop for more food… or to clean you, themselves, and the car seat.

Or, if you wiggle just the right way, you can loosen that diaper enough to wet yourself — and then they’re going to have no choice.

Even better, right before you leave for the trip, go grab your potty seat — yes, the potty seat you’ve been ignoring for weeks — and pretend to sit on it. Just to give them some hope you’ve figured this all out. And then leak through every diaper they put you in. It’s just more fun that way.

2 — A hotel room is only five minutes from becoming an exciting new playground

So you’ve finally let your parents get to the intended destination — but that doesn’t have to mean the fun ends. Yes, hotel rooms can be stifling, with their limited number of rolls of toilet paper to unravel and the small selection of remote controls. But that just gives you a chance to be creative.

Who says the pillows on the bed can’t be piled up to help you reach the top shelf of the closet, where you can pull down an ironing board and use it to make a just-waiting-for-your-head-to-crack-open slide from the sink into the bathtub?

Oh, wait, your parents said no? Come on, when did you begin taking no for an answer? Just start tearing pages out of the Bible in the top drawer of the nightstand and I bet they’ll get distracted long enough to give you the chance to climb on top of the air conditioner and start swinging from the curtain rod.

3 — The best way to get out of a museum is through the window

No one actually wants to go to museums — not even your parents. They’d like you to think they’re the kind of people who enjoy this boring stuff, but you know that left to their own devices they’d just be on the couch watching terrible reality television while inhaling a pint of the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream they keep telling you is poisonous for kids (it’s not!).

They’re just waiting for you to save them from the stultifying exhibit on the history of patios, or all those sculptures that look like piles of dirty gray Play-Doh. They will thank you for trying to crawl out the window, I promise. Or at least I think I promise. And you might even set off an alarm — which is a bonus, of course.

4 — Hate the tour? Lead the tour!

Here’s a secret: no matter where a tour guide wants to take you, if you start walking somewhere else, someone is going to follow! (Or, if not, you’re going to have a whole different kind of adventure….) Don’t let yourself be limited by arrows, signs, lighted pathways, or peer pressure from your parents to quiet down and act like a civilized human being. If the nature preserve didn’t want kids to wander aimlessly through the forest, they would have cut down all the trees.

5 —Try new foods… or don’t!

Look, for some — maybe your parents, maybe not — one of the best things about going on vacation is the food. Trying new things, eating at fancy restaurants, or just gorging on ice cream four times a day. Some parents will encourage you to try new things, too. Others will plan for you to stick to the same things you love (or at least tolerate) at home. Either way, one of the best ways to make your vacation a great one is to completely subvert your parents’ expectations and make them scramble in response.

Did they bring bags and bags of your favorite cheese crackers? Then maybe all you want is to steal bone marrow and foie gras off the plates of every other diner in the expensive Paris bistro.

Or maybe you have the kind of parents who think it would be fun to put you in a high chair and hope you’ll try some sushi. Then, for you, it’s the specific brand of raisins that they only sell in the store near home — and nowhere else — or you’re not going to eat a bite. Demands like that are what keep your parents on their toes, and make life interesting — so don’t give in, no matter how many toys they try to bribe you with.

I can’t promise that these tips will make your parents stop forcibly attacking you with sunscreen — chief scourge of toddlers everywhere — but they should be able to turn even the most unfortunate vacation (Gettysburg? Why in the world would a two-year-old want to see Gettysburg?) into a perfect experience that you may only remember until next Tuesday, but your parents will never forget. Happy Travels!

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