Over the years, Anthony and I have learned that vacationing with little kids can be something of an oxymoron. Like many parents before us, we've come home from time away feeling like we need a vacation from our vacation. Have you ever tried discreetly breastfeeding a screaming, kicking baby in the middle seat on a plane flanked by two beefy seatmates? Have you ever huddled over a laptop in a dark hotel room sharing a pair of earbuds with your husband so you could watch a movie while your kids sleep? Have you ever visited a new place with exciting sites to see only to find yourself at the kids' play area at the MALL? Well, friends, I have done all of these things and I can certainly say they don't fit my definition of a dream vacation. (And yes, I know, in the grand scheme of things, this is what they call a "white whine" sort of problem--yes, I am grateful to get to go on vacation at all.) The good news, though, is that even if you're not some jet-setting celebrity who can bring along a nanny entourage and you actually have visions of enjoying travel with your children rather than apart from them, I do believe there are some things you can do to make vacationing with kids a success (by the way, my definition of success is "fun and not completely, soul-suckingly stressful"…I'm not saying you're ever going to feel super rested and refreshed after a trip with kids). Our family just returned from a getaway that I feel was the first successful (by the above definition) trip we've ever taken. Here are three things I've learned…
1. Don't go too far. As in, don't travel longer than you can stand to listen to whining…just kidding…sort of. In the past, we've taken the kids as far as Illinois, and I know people who have even traveled internationally with little ones, but for this family, if it takes longer than a couple of hours to get to the destination, it just might not be worth it. I think a flight to France with kids 4, 2, and 2 months would land me in L'hospital Mental by the time we deplaned. This weekend, we traveled to Prescott, AZ, a 2.5 hour drive from our home in Mesa. We stopped once each way and the kids did great.
2. Don't stay too long. Children are creatures of habit and routine. Take them out of that pretty soon you'll feel like you're staying at the Bates Motel. Our trip to Prescott was just two days, but you know what they say…leave wishing you could have stayed just a little bit longer.
3. Don't do too much. This is probably a good rule for vacations in general, but little kids especially simply have their limits and need time to rest, chill out, and play. In Prescott this weekend, we took the kids on a hike at Thumb Butte. For some reason, I was under the impression that my 2 and 4-year-old could do the 1.75 mile trail. So of course I was disappointed to realize that this was a totally ludicrous expectation (2-year-old + switchbacks = disaster). Thankfully, we had the option of a shorter tromp on a different trail. We didn't see the view from the top of the butte, but we also didn't lose anyone in a ravine or have to carry 30 pounds of 2-year-old down precarious ground. The stress averted was greater than the disappointment incurred, and I'll wager that's true for a lot of activities that sound like fun on vacation with kids.
Essentially, each of these little guidelines have the same root meaning: adjust your expectations. Until our kids are older, I've come to expect that vacations with them will not be action-packed or particularly rejuvenating. I see them now as opportunities to get out of town, go places and do things we don't normally get to do, and find teachable moments along the way. Even the littlest things can be adventures for small children, and there is magic in that--magic I really enjoyed this weekend.
Above all, I say GO! Don't let inhibitions keep you from ever traveling with your kids. And if at all possible, stay at the Motor Lodge in Prescott, AZ. It is one funky-awesome place.