Suntans, Shells, and Stories: 10 Tips for a Happier Vacation

June 7, 2018 adopting again, adopting later in life, holidays, homeschool, large families, Sharon, vacation 3 Comments

Are you going on vacation this summer?

I’m sitting on the beach gazing out over the ocean relaxing in the sun as I write this.

Well… actually I’m constantly counting 7 kids or helping someone find a shovel or looking at the 1000th shell they’ve found. And… I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world!

About 25 years ago, Scott’s parents bought a share in a condo in Surfside Beach, SC and we’ve vacationed here ever since. Come to think of it, we’ve vacationed in Myrtle beach since I was a little girl. The familiarity of this beach makes a world of difference in making vacation somewhat restful.

A successful vacation hinges on being honest about what it really is… especially if we have young kids and most specifically our kids through adoption. It’s important to give vacation the feel of home even though we are enjoying new experiences. Because let’s be honest, we are really doing life away from home and keeping some things consistent makes all the difference.

As adults we think of vacation as a getaway. A place to relax. Time off from work.

For children, it’s completely different. Nothing is familiar and that’s hard for them. New places to sleep. Keeping up with their belongings. Eating in a variety of settings. Strangers talking to their parents all the time.

{Seriously we are people magnets, and everyone feels so pulled to come ask our whole story all the time!}

I thought of a few things we do to help make vacation fun for everyone.


10 Tips for a Happier Vacation:

1. A Realistic Expectation.

Vacation is doing life away from home. It’s going to be harder not easier, and we need to prepare for it. It is even more necessary to be attune to our children’s needs and triggers in an effort to be proactive.

2. Keep it simple.

When we vacation, we budget groceries for breakfast and lunch then out for dinner. We are up early each day (because… the beach!) so we eat all our meals a little earlier than normal including dinner. With an early dinner, we are able to get everyone back for a calming bedtime routine and lights out. We all know good meals and rest can make everyone happier!

3. Bring inside things to do.

There is bound to be rain at least part of our time away. We had time to fill so we brought a few of our favorite games and books which were packed in duffels with their clothes. We also brought sketch books to draw in and record special memories. We had our Fire Stick, so movies were just a click away. Which brings me to my next tip…

4. Screens and candy are perfect rewards.

We brought our devices along for down time when quiet was needed. They were perfect rewards for long mornings out or a way to calm after a day at the beach and baths done. Candy was offered if we needed to wait for various things like dinner or in traffic.

5. Less (beach toys) is more.

With seven children you would think we had tons of toys to amuse them, but less was more. We had two buckets with shovels, two long handled shovels, and two fish nets. Having less gave them room to problem solve, share, connect with nature, and entertain themselves. AND we didn’t have a ton to pack up when the day was done (except for the 1000 shells I mentioned earlier). We were amazed by the animals they found to observe which gave them great things to sketch in their down time.

6. Encourage self-play.

It’s very common for our children to expect entertainment all the time. It’s the culture these days, but I would challenge you to encourage self-play as much as possible. Provide the environment and tools then compliment their effort in play. I took lots of photos of the kids playing and, in the evenings, they loved looking through them remembering all the things they enjoyed.

7. PLAY with your kids.

Just as much as we want our kids playing independently, it’s just as important to play with them. We loved searching tide pools for treasures or walking the beach for fascinating shells or digging big holes in which to bury each other. There is always a healthy balance we find between independence and cooperation.

8. Pack one bag for each person.

This was a new one for us this vacation. In the past, I have packed two to three people in a bag and struggled to find what we needed. This time we all packed in a separate bag, and it worked like a dream. It was easy to find clothes, toys, brushes, and blankets. We were able to laundry each day, so they put their items away right into their bags. Super convenient!

9. Fun Bin.

I packed on bin with a few new items and library books. One of the favorites were Paint by Sticker books (Amazon). They went through four books while we were away. I also brought Uno cards and we made up all kinds of games with them and never even played Uno. Just making it fun!

10. Celebrate the things they celebrate!

Kids just want to have fun and celebrating the things that make them happy is key. When someone created a great sandcastle, we celebrated! When someone dug a super deep hole, we celebrated!

We have a Sparkle system here at home where they earn flat marbles (sparkles) for doing something kind, nice, or helpful. When our sparkle jar is full, we earn a reward such as trip to museum, book from Amazon, or new art materials. It really could be anything. The children decided they wanted to save a couple of their Sparkle Jar rewards for the beach, so we traded them for Putt Putt one night and another night they chose to go to Barnes & Noble for new books. That’s what celebration is all about.


Vacations can be very stressful, especially if we place unrealistic and harsh expectations on our children. Keeping a good routine with calm breaks dispersed throughout can help everyone cope a little easier too.

I hope at least one tip will help your family on the amazing adventure you set out on this summer.

Wishing you suntans, shells, and stories galore this summer!

3 responses to “Suntans, Shells, and Stories: 10 Tips for a Happier Vacation”

  1. Tiffany Jost says:

    I love the sparkle jar idea! How big of a jar do you use?

    • Sharon says:

      Tiffany, it’s a fish bowl and you could draw a line to work towards and when you reach it then reward. You would up to a whole jar. It works so well!!!!

  2. Jennifer Talbott says:

    I just adore your family and I really appreciate your travel tips. We have two boys from China with one on the way. Travel is something they both love but they also are more unsettled during travel. Also the suitcase idea… brilliant!
    Thank you for Sharing your ideas and beautiful family with us!

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