By Guest Blogger Laura Simon

Four weeks before I delivered my first child, my husband and I booked a vacation at a hotel in south Florida…a vacation we figured we’d need after six weeks with a new baby. That’s right, we scheduled an eighteen-hour drive (one way) and five nights in a hotel to take place when our first baby was six weeks old.

Our decision was based on a few assumptions. One, we thought all babies slept around the clock, especially if they were placed in car seats. No one wants to talk to a pregnant woman about colic, and I was still under the impression that it was something horses get. I wasn’t expecting a horse, thank goodness, although I felt like it.

And two, we thought that taking a vacation with a child would be, you know, relaxing. Because up until that point, our vacations had been relaxing. I didn’t have experience with stopping every three hours to feed an infant or filling a small SUV with enough baby gear to cover the entire state of Florida.

I learned my lesson. I’ll spare you the details, but you can just picture lots of crying (adults and children), and very little sleep and you’ll get the idea.

Since then, I’ve found that a big key to happiness is managing expectations. Hence, I no longer refer to time away from home as a “vacation”. I call it a “trip”, or if I’m feeling brave, an “adventure”. That way, when I find myself with (now) three rioting children at 10 pm because hotel rooms are clearly not places to sleep, I’m not stuck mourning the hours of uninterrupted rest and quiet walks on the beach that I was expecting.

Yes, even after that first disastrous adventure, we still travel. And even though I wouldn’t go so far as to call it relaxing, I still need it.

When I look back on our first little family trip, I remember more than the crying and the diapers and the drive from, well, you know. I also remember resting on a beach chair under an umbrella with my infant sleeping blissfully on my chest. I remember walking the beautiful grounds at our hotel with him snuggled in a wrap. I remember pushing the stroller on the beach and beginning to wrap my mind around our new reality as a family of three. I remember the (really amazing) salads that room service snuck into our room while he slept. I remember being grateful for a few days in a space that I didn’t have to clean. It was expensive, but warm sunlight, sand, and a sea breeze went a long way toward restoring my soul.

I love our home, but when I’m here, I can’t detach my brain from the “to do” list. There are fingerprints that need to be wiped down. The piece of trim that needs a new nail. The laundry sitting in the washer, desperately hoping I’ll remember it before mildew sets in. I need to weed the front flower beds and weed-eat the back fence. And when did I last mop the laminate floors? I don’t remember.

When we travel, I can’t do any of those things, and it frees my heart to focus on just my family.

Yes, I still have to cook. Our travel budget doesn’t typically include fancy meals out for all five of us, so we stay in condos with basic kitchens. But no one expects me to produce a culinary masterpiece on vacation, so I get away with popping a frozen lasagna in the oven. I don’t mind that. And once or twice, I’ll throw some spaghetti in front of the kids, and my husband will get carry-out for us from some amazing local restaurant that the kids won’t even appreciate. The kids watch a movie. We eat. It’s all the joy of eating out without the embarrassment of a child melting down on the floor.

And yes, there’s still laundry that has to be done. But it’s vacation laundry, and I don’t even feel the need to fold it before I throw it back in the appropriate bags. There’s something about laundering tiny swimsuits that makes the whole process markedly better.

The packing is a bear, yes. But after a few years of traveling with kids, I’ve begun to figure out how it works. I actually managed to pack for an impromptu beach trip a few weeks ago in one hour…and I didn’t forget anything! I’ve also discovered that you can do without when you travel, and slowly but surely, I’m learning to travel lighter. It makes all the difference.

My husband and I together have figured out that everyone is happier when we choose low-key locations, like a quiet beach or a mountain, instead of touristy hot spots. Let’s face it: our kids don’t want to tour an ancient mansion. They want to throw sand in each other’s hair and chase seagulls. This will be how we travel for the next few years, and that’s OK.

And we’ve definitely discovered that staying in a slightly less-flashy hotel with multiple bedrooms is well-worth it. That way, kids can sleep and adults can stay up and sip adult beverages and watch cable. Or the sunset. Whatever floats our boat.

Chaos and all, traveling gives us a sort of togetherness we can’t get at home, and it recharges me for the months to come. It gives our kids adventures and family memories. It gives us a chance to collectively exhale.

And that is more than worth the work.