Planning Family Vacations that Please the Masses and 4 Things to Consider When Planning a trip with multiple children especially when a teen and preschooler are on the same trip!

Be Our Guest Fridays {26}: Planning Family Vacations That Please the Masses by Heidi McCahan

Happy Friday and Welcome to Be Our Guest Fridays!

We are kicking off our weekend with my Be Our Guest Fridays weekly feature. I started this feature as a fun way to give back to the blogging community, introducing my readers to different bloggers and authors and starting some really valuable conversations.

Today I bring you fellow NC mom of 3 boys Heidi McCahan and author of Unraveled and Covering Home. Heidi offered to write a guest post about planning a trip that pleases kids of all ages. Her boys are similar in ages to mine and it can be a real challenge finding a family vacation that appeals to the teenager and is suitable for the 5 year old. Thanks Heidi for offering up some tips to keep the whole family happy on vacation!


Planning Family Vacations that Please the Masses and 4 Things to Consider When Planning a trip with multiple children especially when a teen and preschooler are on the same trip!

Planning Family Vacations That Please the Masses

By Author Heidi McCahan

As the wife of a husband who loves the outdoors and the mother of three boys ages 5, 8 and 11, I struggle with planning vacations that are both affordable and enjoyable for all five of us. We are not a let’s-go-to-Disney-every-year family. I’m not criticizing those who do. My friends rave about their annual Disney experiences. It definitely appeals to children of all ages and a fair number of adults, as well. But I want my children to see more of this continent than just Florida and California. However, I’ve come to realize there’s a lot more that goes into planning a vacation than I ever imagined.

Growing up in Alaska, we didn’t have a lot of opportunities to take big family vacations. My parents, and occasionally my grandparents, were responsible for maintaining everything our small business needed to function. If our generators failed or our pipes were frozen, there wasn’t anybody else to call to remedy the problem. It was hard to find someone to take care of everything so we could travel. I’m taking this walk down memory lane to set the stage for my expectations regarding family vacations. We didn’t travel often, for a variety of reasons. But when we went, we went big. Our adventures, rare as they were, felt like a huge deal. I have fond memories of Hawaii, Disney, Philadelphia, D.C., Colorado and New York City, as well as a renewed appreciation of everything my parents did to make those trips happen.

Until I was married and had children, I never thought about how much work is required in planning and carrying out a family trip. A vacation involving small children can be the complete opposite of relaxing and stress-free. The packing is exhausting, mobilizing five people and their stuff is a challenge, followed by the unreasonable expectation that all will go smoothly (which it probably won’t). Once you arrive at your destination, the children react to be out of their routine. Suddenly something you worked so hard to finance and plan for teeters dangerously close to being a miserable experience. It’s only through trial (and a few tears) that we’ve made some intentional choices about where and how we travel.

4 Things to Consider When Planning a Trip with Multiple Children

Given all that influences our vacation options, I’d like to share what works for us and also what some of our friends and family with multiple children have found to be effective.

1. The value of quality time with extended family and emphasis on tradition.

Since we don’t live close to either set of parents, the chance for our children to see their grandparents includes holidays and summer vacations. Thankfully, both sides of our family love the beach. So we carry on an annual tradition of celebrating the week of July the Fourth with immediate and extended family. This beach is within driving distance and we rent the same house year after year, so the boys look forward to coming back to ‘their house’ every summer. There’s always a cousin or twelve around to play with and we divide our time between the beach and swimming pool. In August, we travel to the West Coast for a different kind of beach vacation at a beautiful planned community near the Washington- Oregon border. Again, lots of pool time keeps everybody happy, especially if the weather
is rainy. I recognize that not everyone enjoys or even has the opportunity to vacation with extended family. But for us, we’ve found a winning strategy that everyone enjoys and we’ll probably continue until our parents are unable to join us anymore.

2. Disney, Legoland, Sea World and the beach are go-to favorites.

In my unofficial poll of families with children spanning a wide age range, these venues (and a hotel with a swimming pool) all rated high on the list of priorities for a successful vacation. Because here’s the thing: if the parents aren’t enjoying themselves, tempers flare pretty quickly. There’s nothing worse than coming home from a vacation feeling like you need a week to recover. Also, a moody tweener who thinks the planned activity is “lame” can suck the joy right out of a day, as well. Sometimes this requires a meaningful conversation about compromise and dangling the promise of a more exciting opportunity when the younger ones are napping later on.

3. Water parks: proceed with caution.

Some moms told me they’ve never taken their kids to a water park because it was so stressful they were afraid they’d have a lousy trip. We’ve decided that a certain indoor water park popular during winter breaks just isn’t an option. Even though we’ve heard great things, there’s nothing about that experience that appeals to us. More than one mother mentioned water parks were only doable when the older kids could pair off and hit the water slides with minimal supervision, leaving at least one parent to supervise the littles in the toddler pool. The divide-and-conquer approach wasn’t my favorite initially, because then we aren’t “all together”. There’s that unreasonable expectation rearing its ugly head again. At Disney, the beach, even in our daily living—sometimes tag-teaming means everybody has more fun in the long run.

4. Be a naptime ninja.

We’re big nap people. Renting a suite or adjoining rooms if grandparents are along—anything that allows for kids to sleep in an area separate from their parents saved our sanity numerous times. That planned down-time made the rest of the afternoon go more smoothly and we could leave the hotel knowing they wouldn’t spend the evening out totally wrecked.

Lastly, I’ll mention a couple of points that have evolved as we’ve exited the baby and toddler stage. First, ‘free wi-fi’ is an amenity that the boys view as a necessity when we’re traveling. Unless they’re hiking or backpacking in the woods, they want to be certain they’ll have wi-fi when we get we’re going. Also, we said we’d never cruise. But a cruise is currently a big topic of discussion. Third, I always envisioned a long car trip as a rite-of-passage for childhood. Now that I’ve traveled with my children for more than three hours, I don’t know that we’ll ever survive a cross-country road trip. I think a half-day might be our limit.

So there you have it: a few strategies for planning a vacation with multiple children and still maintaining your sanity. If you have any tips or suggestions about what works for you and your family, I’d love to hear them.

About Heidi

Heidi McCahan
Photo received from Heidi McCahan to use for this post


Heidi graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Sports Medicine from Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington and a Master’s Degree in Athletic Training from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. After a brief career as a Certified Athletic Trainer, Heidi married her husband, Steve. They live in North Carolina with their three active little boys.

When Heidi isn’t stepping on Legos, chauffeuring the boys around suburbia or watching one of their many sporting events, she loves to read and write heartwarming romance. Follow Heidi on her website, Facebook author page and Twitter.


Heidi is spot on with so many things in this post. We require Wi-Fi. A road trip was a rite of passage when I was a kid but now it’s darn right painful. I am totally guilty of having unreasonable expectations (but I’ve gotten better over the years with each trip disaster we’ve hurdled). Our ideal trip is one where kids have fun getting tired while Superhubby and I can just relax and watch them have fun.

But I do have a confession to make. We were totally a go to Disney every year family when we had just one kid. It was our favorite family vacation, we went with different friends, over Spring Break and even for Star Wars weekends. The second kid came along and has been twice and the youngest well, just once and he was too young to remember. To say our travel needs have changed the more kids we tack on to our family goes without saying. Disney is still a memorable trip but incredibly expensive for 5 of us now so we have to choose more frugal options.

For us, being in NC is perfect. We live a couple hours from the gorgeous white sands of our Crystal Coast and also a couple hours from the beautiful mountains and Biltmore Estate in Asheville. We don’t have to go far for a memorable trip. In fact, we are trying to plan a trip out of the country now and having trouble finding a place that meets all our entertainment and food needs…that we can afford, of course. 

This post linked up with Bloggers Brags Pinterest Party with Creative K Kids.

What are your family’s favorite travel destinations, in the US and abroad? What tips do you have for traveling with multiple children? What are your frugal travel planning tips?


  1. My children are grown but this brought back memories. My daughter with 5 children has traveling down to a fine art! We are so glad you shared with us at Merry Monday. I hope to see you at the new party beginning tonight at 9pm EST.

  2. Visiting from Mommy Monday. Great tips – we have 5 kids ranging from 1-10 so I know EXACTLY what you’re talking about. We like to go camping, but even 1-2 nights at a campsite 30 minutes away takes a full day to pack and another full day to unpack when we get home.

  3. Great tips. I hate to admit it, but I’m not a Disneyland fan. My oldest dd loves it, but the rest of the kids prefer Sea World or Knott’s Berry Farm. I think the best thing for family trips is to make sure to take breaks throughout the day with small kids or things can go bad really quick when their tired.

  4. My dh doesn’t like Disney, so I’ve taken most of the kids a pair at a time on my own. It’s a special time for me to relax with only 2 kids and really enjoy the trip a lot more.

    Our family trips tend to be road trips from CA to NV or OR to visit family. (Planning another one for July now.) It works, it’s fun, but I’d really like to see more of the world with my kids. I can’t wait until my littlest girls (adopted from China) are ready to go on a heritage trip back to their homeland. I loved seeing The Great Wall, and would like to hit a couple more “wonders” around our globe someday.

  5. We went on a month-long road trip last summer, not by choice, but of necessity. Our family is fairly spread out and we had a wedding, an anniversary, and elderly grandparents to visit (one last time as it turned out). It was certainly not a vacation for us as parents, but it was a worthwhile trip for our family of six.

    We made some fun memories along the way at a couple of state parks, and the kids got to be road trip pros by the end. They just got used to being in the car and looked forward to the hotel pools. What we’re still not feeling ready for, though, is a camping trip!

  6. Great practical ideas, Heidi! I love the “naptime ninja” concept, hahaha! I’m a big believer in naps too, for making the evening into quality time rather than a struggle. I still follow this for myself!

    We took a cross-country trip when my daughter was 9 (or was it 10?). We flew out to Denver and then drove back on a leisurely, circuitous route. She planned some of the stops, including a visit to a Laura Ingalls Wilder site in De Smet, South Dakota (on our way to Mt. Rushmore!), and I still think of this whole trip with great fondness. When I look at the photos, I can’t believe how young she looks because she was a full participant. Of course, this is the experience with one child. I admire your ideas for keeping everybody interested and happy along the way in a bigger family. But even with more children, I would say, break up a longer trip into manageable chunks, and go for it! You’ll make some great memories.

    1. That sounds like a wonderful trip, Lucy. I enjoyed Little House on the Prairie so much, I’d love to follow your route. Like Tanya said, a road trip is a rite of passage, but we’re not quite there yet. Thanks for stopping by.

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