Earlier this year, I looked at the Year-at-a-Glance calendar on my wall and stared in horror at the amount of business trips I would take in 2015. While I don’t mind business travel at all, I have two daughters ages 4 and 1.5, and it’s a pretty exciting time to watch the youngest evolve from a baby into a walking/babbling human, while our oldest develops her own unique personality. Put simply, it’s not a time when you want to be on the road a lot, because you can miss out on quite a bit.

So, I declared (without really thinking too much about it) that our family was going to take a two-week vacation this year! I’m going to make up for that missed family time that I’ve spent on the road, I thought. Now, you’re probably thinking that two-week vacations are unheard of. True, and that’s why I decided to do it. You’re also probably thinking that I’m about to detail the differences between a family “vacation” and a family “trip.” I’m not. Someone else already did that. Our vacation/trip was proof that it is possible to enjoy yourself without leaving the kids at home. We had a blast.

Version 2We spent two weeks on the coast of Maine in both Acadia National Park and the quieter harbor town of Camden. If you can afford to take the time off (and, of course, afford the expense) you’d be amazed at what a two-week vacation can do. As we were packing the car at the end of the first week about to head to Camden, I remember turning to my wife and saying, “Could you imagine if we were going home right now? I feel like I’m just starting to relax!” Quite frankly, we didn’t need to ditch the kids and go away on our own in order to relax. We just needed the time to fully unwind. Sure, we never got to sleep in, but waking up early and taking the kids for a stroll to a good coffee joint for a double espresso is better than getting an extra hour of shut-eye (as long as the coffee is good and the kids don’t have a meltdown).

I can’t claim credit for making our family vacation a success, of course. There were some things that made the trip go so smoothly. While the main ingredient for success was heading into this trip with realistic expectations, these other things helped a lot, too.

Thule Cargo Box
Kids require crap. Lots of crap. And that crap takes up a lot of space regardless of what vehicle you own. You’d be amazed at what you can fit into these cargo boxes. Ours allowed us to take a lot of stuff we normally would have left at home because there wasn’t room in the luggage or the car. And when travelling with two little kids for two weeks, you want to have as many comforts of home with you as possible. Now, cargo boxes can be expensive but if you keep them on your radar when shopping online or in stores you can usually grab a good one at a deep discount (we got ours for more than 50 percent off). Personally, our family stays loyal to Thule because their products are durable and in the event something does break, they have some of the best customer service we’ve ever experienced and know how to make things right.

Amazon Prime and Fire TV Stick
Version 2
If you accept the fact that you are not going to have the opportunity to go-go-go on your vacation and that you will probably not be able to lounge around drinking margaritas, then a little bit of screen time/downtime for the kids doesn’t sound so bad since that also means a little bit of downtime for you. The Amazon Fire TV Stick is about the size of a pack of bubble gum and plugs into the back of any TV with an HDMI port and if you have an Amazon Prime account, you basically have an endless supply of kid-friendy entertainment available to stream via your Fire TV Stick for free. (I’ve written a couple of times at www.relevantdad.com about how great Amazon’s original kids’ programming is, too, if you’re interested.) Now, I would never condone using this technology as a pacifier. Rather think of it as an equalizer: a device that allows some normalcy and “chill out” time while kids’ sleep schedules are off and they’re out of their element. Oh, and the Prime free two-day shipping really comes in handy when you realize you forgot to bring stuff and can’t find a store near you that carries what you need.

Hiking CarrierVersion 2
Just because the kids are with you doesn’t mean you can’t still “do stuff.” My wife and I like to be active and explore so having a decent hiking carrier was a must. Spend time choosing the right one for your body type and don’t skimp on the purchase. The pricier ones really are lighter and more comfortable. Also, don’t underestimate the stamina of your children. While our youngest slept in the carrier, our 4-year-old ended up hiking a four-mile round trip trail up 1,300 feet without being carried! I’m not sure if we were more shocked or proud of her, but it’s a story we will tell for the rest of her life.

Dollar Store Magic
I can’t claim any credit for this. This is purely the genius of my amazing wife. Armed with nothing more than $20 and a purpose, she successfully loaded up on puzzles, travel games, coloring books, and fake flip phones that our girls pretended to talk to each other on during the long car rides (Well, one did. The other just kind of gnawed on it). These cheap gifts provided hours of entertainment for the kids and didn’t break the bank.

So, yes, travelling with your kids is not the same as travelling alone with your spouse but given the right amount of time to decompress and/or the right tools to help things go smoothly, it is possible to have an amazing family “vacation,” whether it’s two weeks or a long weekend—kids in tow and on the go.