Family vacations can either be a source of delight or stress. Over the past five years I have realized that when they are stressful it is because some aspect of the trip is overly complicated. Here are my top tips for simplifying these occasions:
Method of Travel
Children are more likely to be comfortable if they are familiar with the travel method and time. If you know your eight year old gets restless after sitting for three hours, it would be best to break up the travel time or have a way to take breaks. My sister-in-law travels regularly to Europe with her two children, aged 7 and 2, but the boys have been traveling on the intercontinental flights since they were months old. My daughter has no problem sitting in a car for eight hours (the time to get to the grandparents), while a neighbor’s child has hysterics if asked to travel more than 30 minutes.
The more child-friendly a destination, the easier the trip will be on you. This does not mean you must visit someplace strictly geared for the under-10 crowd, however. It is is very possible to travel to foreign countries with young children — we took our daughter into French-speaking Canada when she was three. As long as you make sure that where you are going is amenable to the slower pace of children, you will be fine. A bus tour of Europe covering ten countries in five days might be fine for some, but with children it would be a nightmare.
Our trip was to Canada was planned around child-friendly accommodations. Our hotel in Toronto was extremely helpful, providing a play room with toys and lending us a stroller for day excursions; our hotel in Quebec had a baby-sitting service and a special check-in desk for children to register into the hotel. Looking for lodgings that were geared toward children made it easier on us.
It may be nice to eat at a very fancy restaurant, but unless your children are able to behave, skip it. Very little is more embarrassing than having your child have a meltdown because of hunger in the middle of a posh restaurant. It is possible to find a family restaurant that does not involve fast food. In Montreal, the hotel staff recommended a wonderful breakfast place; the museum recommended another place for dinner where no one would look askance at the three year old asleep in a stroller.
Limiting what you pack makes managing luggage much easier. Don’t kid yourself – you will inevitably end up hauling your child’s carry-ons as well as your own. Limiting the weight of both makes it easier on you. Chances are, too, that your child will not play with most of the stuff hauled along. A few small games and favorite comfort items are enough.
My husband is an art buff. He loves exploring art museums. Most art museums are tolerant of children, but there are some that are not. On our trips we plan activities that if they don’t appeal to all, will take turns. On a recent trip to Washington DC we planned to see the dinosaurs (my daughter), the National Gallery (my husband) and the National Archives (me). My daughter understood that we wanted to see things too, and she was willing to compromise.
What are your favorite family travel tips?
Photo by NovumOpus. Used with permission of the artist.