Sometimes, admittedly, I think of the words, "vacation" and "kids" mixed together, and I feel guilty and woeful. The equation has often equaled exhaustion; fun, but the drop-down-on-the-hotel-bed-I'm-beat-by 5pm sort of amusement.

I loathe ever having to say, "Well, it was fun for the kids!" with a wince and lilt in my voice that suggests that I sacrificed my time for their sake- (of course we all do this in parenting at times). I want us ALL to be enjoying our time. I want to be enjoying my vacations more - not just doing more, and seeing more, but feeling more when I am with my family.

Hefty Expectations? Not really.

The time is quick on vacation, and you think thoughts like, "4 more days left, 3 more days, ooops, tomorrow we leave!" and that can suck the life out of you and your time together.

We found 3 guidelines that helped us navigate the waters of vacation - not foolproof, but worth the undertaking on the path to happier times together.

1.)The rush will kill you

There is no doubt about it, we live hectic lives. Duplicating that on vacation has been a surefire way toward disaster.

Set realistic expectations with yourself - especially when visiting a country for the 1st time. It is so tempting to want to do, see, and feel it all. In Belize, we wanted to snorkel, dive, fish, swim, climb, bird, and cave tube. We made the mistake of doing too many things on the same day - it left us beat and grumpy, rather than happy and fulfilled. I felt like I was shuffling people to and fro, rather than soaking in the air and the magical colors of the sea. Don't do it in the same day and even go for a rest day in between.

2.) Consensus

We see that frumpy face in our child - the one with the down-turned lips and crossed arms, complimented by legs that trudge and eyes that roll. We tell ourselves, "I will ignore it and have fun myself. I will pretend I am not affected." and of course, this is a lie. You ARE affected, and end up being a hateful mix of angry and sad, wanting your kid to 'snap out of it' and wishing they would just let go and have fun.

Ask them what they want to do - the discussion may be as simple as a planning talk about activities. Each person should have a say in what happens- even the littlest ones. We all love to feel powerful and contributory - build on that desire! In Belize, we asked Ellie our oldest what she wanted to do? "Swim and jump off the pier!" she said. No, it was not one of the "brochure" activities of the country. Ava her sister piped in , "Oh yes pleeeeease!" We spent the afternoon taking turns hurling ourselves into the warm water and snapping shots with the camera.

Our laughter filled the time and when we inevitably said that we wanted to take a tour of the town with a guide and historian, (an 'are-you-kidding-me' activity with kids), we gently reminded the girls that we ALL had the chance to pick out things we wanted to do.

3.) Drink Heavily and Let Loose

This is a two parter - and probably not what you think:

Health is vital and this means stopping for breaks to hydrate and check in with yourself and with your kids. We had an appreciation for how hot it is in Belize and water became a vital way for us to check in and make sure we were all taking care of ourselves. Along with a well stocked 1st Aid kit, water bottles are essential. We let the girls drink juices, soda and water - they loved the flavors and we loved that they stayed upbeat and conscious.

Is there a conga line at the bar? A chance to dance with drummers around a fire circle? After all that drinking - albeit water and juice in our case, you will hear that voice in your head will say. "If I don't do this now, I will regret it."

Trust me, you will regret it if you don't get up with that attractive young dance teacher and show off your best sunburned dance moves. Letting go and dancing can be great fodder for prodding for the rest of your life, but also a great way to show your kids your spirit. You will have fun and while they may feign embarrassment, they will get to see a brighter side of you. They might actually get up and join you.