1. Rent a house or condo
Hotels are expensive and quarters are tight. By staying at a vacation rental you'll be able to cook at home for some or all of your meals. This is less expensive, healthier, and much less stressful than dining out with young children. You'll also have a place to hang out after the kids go to sleep. No tip-toeing around and you will be able enjoy an uninterrupted conversation over a glass of wine. Lastly - this is my favorite - you'll have access to laundry. Once you have children there is no such thing as "traveling light." The ability to do laundry means there is less clothing to pack and less to suitcases to haul through the airport. I recommend Airbnb or Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO) for booking vacation rentals.
2. Sign up for express or rewards programs
As you know, waiting in long lines with children is no fun. Most airlines and rental car companies have their own rewards programs. Check out your preferred companies and see what they can offer. After waiting in an exceptionally long rental car line (with a very busy toddler) my husband discovered that Dollar-Rent-A-Car has a free express program that has saved us some serious time and frustration.
3. Have a plan
Get specific here. Consider things like who is taking what luggage, who is responsible for what children, etc. In the middle of airport chaos, while one child is running off, is not a good time to figure these things out. Here is an example of our airplane boarding. I always board the plane first while my husband waits with the kids at the gate. I have time to gate-check the stroller and set up snacks and games in our seats so we are organized and ready to go. When it's near the end of boarding, my husband brings the kids on. Our three year old has had fun watching the planes and hasn't had to sit still in his seat for longer than necessary (there is only so long they can contain their wiggles!).
4. Centralize the details of the trip
Send yourself one email or create a document in Evernote that contains all of the information you will need once you arrive (rental car confirmation numbers, the address where you are staying, etc). When everyone is tired and needs a snack you won't have to waste time scrolling through dozens of emails to find the information you need.
5. Set expectations
This is a family trip but it doesn't mean you can't carve out a little "me time" while you are there. Before the trip talk to your significant other about expectations or priorities you both have for the trip and strategize how you can meet those wishes. For example, on our last trip I wanted to take a daily exercise walk outside. By being upfront about this priority we could deliberately plan for that time instead of me just hoping it might fit into the day.
Traveling with children is certainly not as easy as traveling solo but there can be so much joy in the unstructured time away from your daily routines. It takes some planning, but there are ways to make your "trip" feel less stressful and more like a "vacation."
I hope you and your families will have the opportunity to see a little sunshine, spend quality time, and explore new areas together this winter. I'd love to hear where you are headed!