The summer travel season is upon us and that means families will be hitting the road. If you have children, then your trip will be nothing like your romantic trip to the all inclusive resort where you had two massages per day and stayed hydrated on coconuts and Heineken. Rather than fruity drinks and tropical oils, you can expect sour milk in a sippy cup and an ammonia backpack that makes your eyes water when you open it to find that water balloon diaper you stuffed there ten hours ago in the museum. Forget the romantic dinners and the walks along the beach. You will enjoy left over yogurt puffs scrounged from the seat of the stroller and an endless loop of the Dora the Explorer theme song playing in your head as you try to fall asleep for a momentary reprieve from vacation hell. Why would anyone travel with young kids?!
Over the last nine years, my wife and I have travelled with our young children to thirty-nine countries. Okay, maybe it’s forty-something. I’m not really counting anymore. We did not take a year off from work for a worldwide sojourn and we are not the hardcore backpacking types. I am a lawyer and my wife is a speech language pathologist. I am employed full time and we have a house, a collection of various kid’s toys, and an oak kitchen table that we bought at an unfinished wood store with the money from our wedding and stained ourselves. In short, we are regular people. We are not experts, but we have learned a few things along the way about traveling with young kids. Here are six tips that will help you have the best summer vacation ever.
1. Plan Less.
Family travel is a different animal from single travel or couple’s travel. It is almost an entirely different species. Don’t compare them in your mind and don’t expect your family trip to even resemble your single trip. It is like the difference between chocolate ice cream and pâté. They are both great, but if you are expecting one and get the other, you are in for a nasty surprise. It’s the same with family travel. It’s great! It’s rewarding, life changing, and bonding for your family. But it will not be like your summer spent backpacking in Europe. The biggest lesson I have learned over our many adventures is that a trip is better when I put less into the itinerary.
We are slow and cumbersome. We tire easily. We have a limited capacity.
In Kyoto, Japan, I had a litany of sights we were going to see with our five and two year old. Instead, we ended up walking along the river under the cherry blossoms. My wife was pregnant with baby number three and suffering serious morning sickness. Nearly everything we ate made her nauseous and the kids just weren’t that interested in sushi and octopus or historic temples. We didn’t make it to any of the sights I had planned. We did, however, find an ancient playground along the river with a slide and a few swings. The kids loved it. I wrestled with my inner voice that said we should be seeing all the “must see sights.” I finally silenced that voice and just enjoyed the magic of the moment, listening to my kids squeal with delight underneath a canopy of perfect pink blossoms.
In Sri Lanka, Sigiriya Rock and Dambulla Cave Temple were enough for one day. We were hot and exhausted after just two items on our expansive itinerary. We passed on the remaining things we had planned for the day and went back to swim in the pool.
It’s okay to say no. It’s okay to miss sights in order to gain a shared experience with your kids. In Ireland we saw some amazing things. We drove around the Dingle Peninsula, explored Galway and Dublin, and climbed on the Giant’s Causeway outside of Belfast. However, the kids’ favorite activity was a picnic of sandwiches, cheese, and lunch meat that we ate on the grass outside of a gas station. Plan less and slow down!