Handling the Trail of Lights with Young Kids

Heading out to Austin’s favorite holiday tradition — the Trail of Lights— this year? What about the new Winter Wonderland at the Circuit? Whatever outdoor Christmas festival is on your family’s holiday bucket list, doing them with littles takes on a new level of planning and preparation. In Austin, we are lucky that the mild weather allows for us to frolic outside at night among the lighted trees and nativity scenes but overtired toddlers or runaway preschoolers can definitely kill that Christmas vibe.

For more holiday spirit and less seasonal stress, here’s my guide to the trail of lights with young kids:

Plan ahead: Buy your tickets online and in advance. Have everyone’s admission info printed out or pulled up on your phone. Arrive early and be in line, ready to walk in as soon as the gates open. Know about onsite food and drink options…and still bring snacks. Review the event’s activity offerings and decide what stuff to hit first or skip altogether. Look at the map and plan your route — these things can involve a ton of walking. And of course, wear comfy shoes and maybe more layers than necessary…a jacket can always be tied around their waist or a hat thrown into your handbag. (Note: this is not how I personally operate, I’m more of a go-with-the-flow/it’ll-all-work-out-in-the-end kind of gal. BUT, I’ve learned the hard way that these events must be tackled with military-level strategic positioning in order for the night to run smoothly!)

Pony up for VIP: Normally I’m a general admission kind of concertgoer, I don’t need the fancy perks associated with premium passes. Most of it is usually overpriced fluff, anyway. However, if the top-level ticket gets you any kind of early admission, close parking, or bypassing of the lines — go for it! I know it may not be in everyone’s budget to spring for the higher ticket price, but maybe skip the event’s concessions and pack your kids’ favorite snacks to nibble on instead? Or, pass on the pricey hot chocolate they’re serving and mix your own to enjoy during the drive there? For me, it’s all about bedtime anyway. My tot goes down at 7:30 p.m. and I’ll allow pushing it back 30-minutes to an hour for this once-a-year holiday experience. But frankly, her sleep schedule/avoiding tantrums associated with her lack of sleep is basically one of the most important priorities in this momma’s life. I’ll pay the extra coin to get in early and get out at a reasonable hour, thank you very much.

Keep them close: If your child is small enough, I can’t speak highly enough of baby-wearing! In my opinion, it’s the best way to navigate airports, sporting events, and outdoor Christmas festivals. I loved her baby carrier and did that at her first Trail of Lights with success. If they’re ready to forward-face, that’ll keep baby happy and entranced by the twinkling lights the whole night through. By now, my near 3-year-old is too heavy for our carrier and doesn’t like riding in the stroller much either. However, strapping them into a trail-friendly stroller is your next best bet. We just talked it up like, “this is an extra-special night and you’re supposed to ride in your stroller this one time.” –It worked, and we avoided the usual toddler lag-behind when walking all those steps. If they’re past stroller age, I recommend dressing them in distinctive bright clothing so they stand out in the darkness. –Or even in matching tops like you see some families do at Disney World. These things can get so incredibly crowded that it’s easy to loose sight of a rogue preschooler.

So, go forth and make those holiday memories, Mamas. Wishing you and yours a cheerful night spinning under the lights of the Zilker Tree!

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