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If hearing the words “vacation” and “kids” in the same sentence makes you want to run for the hills, we get it. Between the gear hauling and excursion planning, traveling with little ones is definitely not the easiest feat to pull off. That’s why we turned to Rachel Hollis, mom extraordinaire and blogger behind The Chic Site, to find out her tips for mastering the art of the family vacation—with four kids in tow.

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Start the Packing Process Early

Rachel’s secret weapon? Amazon Prime. “A few weeks out from the trip, I’ll start thinking of everything we need like bathing suits or a lightweight backpack for my toddler,” she says. “If we don’t have it, I’ll just order it from Amazon Prime.” Rachel’s also the queen of packing light. “I always call the hotel first to see what they have that we don’t need to bring,” she says. “From there, it’s all about packing the essentials first. Basically, what are the things each person must have that can’t be replaced on the road? We once got on an airplane with our potty training toddler without diapers. I’d accidentally checked the diaper bag! It was a five-hour flight and nobody had a diaper in his size. He peed all over us—and all over the plane. That’s where the must-haves come in.”

Stay in a Place Where Kid-Friendly Activities Are Built In

Getting kids from one place to the next is exhausting, according to Rachel. That’s why she always looks for a destination with kid-friendly activities on site or nearby. “That way we can just point them in the direction of the fun and try to keep everyone from having afternoon meltdowns in the process,” she says. “When there’s six of us, playing it by ear versus trying to script an itinerary is the way to go.”

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And Stay Away From Anything Too Adult-Focused

Rachel explains: When you have small kids, this is an essential. “We made the mistake of trying something different this summer and ended up in a place that wasn’t great for toddler and babies,” she says. “I’m still not over the trauma of that experience.” Instead, Rachel recommends researching to find family-friendly locales. “I want restaurants that won’t get annoyed when my five-year-old spills his drink. Or a perky teenager who works in the craft room that will want to occupy my little people for an hour while I get a massage.”

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Don’t Discount the Value of Date Night

It all goes back to finding a family-friendly vacation spot. “My husband and I always ask the hotel or find a local nanny service to recommend a sitter with excellent references,” Rachel says. “Also, most family-oriented places have daytime activities for the kids so we can fit in a lunch date while they’re making volcanoes or something. It saves the money and hassle of finding someone else you can trust.”

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…And Also Solo Time

According to Rachel, alone time is an essential while on a family trip—even if it’s to do something quick like hit the gym. “Working out is a huge stress relief for us both and it gives us great energy to embrace all of the children when we get back to them,” she says. “This means my husband might watch the kids while I go on a long run, then I’ll watch them while he goes to the gym. It’s all about trading off.”

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