How to Actually Make Your Vacation a Vacation


Nope, not the real Paris.

Before I had kids, I swore that I’d never stop traveling internationally: I’d be one of those parents who takes toddlers trekking in Machu Picchu. Sure, the flight would be hard, but I could survive 10 (or 12 or 18) hours. I’d expose my kids to new cultures and expand their horizon, all while continuing to do the things that I personally loved so much–like wandering through the stalls in open air markets and uncovering the restaurants that were the locals’ favorites.

I was crazy.

It’s not just confining a squirmy kid on a long flight (though that is pretty horrible), but also figuring out what will actually entertain a child once you get there.  I seriously underestimated how much mental work it takes to keep kids entertained while on vacation.  And if you’re a working parent, that vacation winds up feeling ten times as exhausting as work.  

My oldest is now 4. If you’d told me five years ago — even five months ago, to be honest — that I would become an evangelist for Disney World, I would have never believed it.  I joked for a long time that I would much rather go to real Morocco than Epcot Morocco. But as a Christmas gift, my parents took my family to Disney a couple months ago, and I am now complete convert.

Here’s why:

  1. Everything is clean. Clean is probably an understatement; it’s flat out pristine.  And while I never minded things being a little gritty when I was traveling as a single person, my kids want to touch everything. And they’ll spontaneously sit down on the ground. Worse: when my kid wants to voice dissent for something, like heading back to the hotel, he’ll lie down on the ground.  Not a huge problem at Disney World, where’s a trash can every thirty feet, supposedly by the edict of Walt himself. 
  2. There are endless kid-friendly food options. My memories of childhood at Disney involved a lot of fried fast food, but a few years ago, Disney overhauled all their menus to include healthy choices (and they indicate them as such with a Mickey Check).  Yes, there’s a lot of mac and cheese and chicken tenders, but my pre-schooler devoured a skewer of grilled shrimp as part of our $12 kids dinner at Be Our Guest.  (Bonus: it comes with dessert, which I shared with him: “Try the gray stuff, it’s delicious, don’t believe me? Ask the dishes!”.)

    The gray stuff was delicious.


  3. You don’t have to wait in lines. Between the MyDisneyExperience app (which allows you to see how long the wait is at different attractions) and the FastPass+ system (which allows you to book a one-hour window in which you skip the line entirely), you can get through your whole vacation without ever getting stuck in a line. My biggest vacation pet peeve as a type-a working mom is what I call “hurry up and wait,” wherein you’re rushed to do something, and then spend a lot of time standing around doing nothing.  With all the new cool tech, hurry-up-and-wait doesn’t happen. 
  4. You never have to worry about what to do with the kids. It’s kind of obvious that there’s a lot to do with the kids in Disney World, but what’s not so obvious is how depleting it can be if you’re on vacation without a lot to do with the kids.  Like, debilitatingly exhausting.  Negate-your-whole-vacation exhausting.  Alternately, you could decide to go somewhere where literally everything is designed with kids’ joy and fun in mind.

    The pool at Disney’s Beach & Yacht Club is particularly amazing, but all of the resort pools are heavily kid-oriented with lots of stuff that even little non-swimmers will love.


  5. It’s easier to unplug (and tune in to your kids) when there’s so much going on. Do you ever get the itch to check your email when you’re with your kids, and then feel guilty after doing so? I do. All. The. Time.  I didn’t when I was in Disney World, because the kids were totally stimulated all the time–and so was I. So afterward, I felt like I’d gotten so much more quality with my kids, even if it was only a four day trip.


This last one is really the most important if you’re a working mom. If you like your job — if you find it exciting and challenging, even when it’s frustrating or stressful — it’s really easy to slip away mentally and start thinking about a complex work problem when you’re in the middle of playing Legos on the floor.  It’s even easier to slip away physically to answer a couple work emails.  

And a vacation that truly feels like a vacation — because your kids are entertained, because you’re entertained, because everything runs like clockwork — is the easiest way to cut that connection with the office and strengthen your connection with your kid.


Ally Downey

Ally Downey is the founder and CEO of weeSpring. She's also the author of Here's the Plan: Your Practical, Tactical Guide to Advancing Your Career During Pregnancy and Parenthood. You can follow her on Twitter at @allysondowney.

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