Whenever I hear people talking about how relaxing it is to go on vacation, and how important it is to get away from the stresses of work, I find myself stuck on this thought: this person is not the primary parent of small children.
The average work stress has nothing on the stress of sitting with a 2-year-old on a flight that has been delayed 3 hours. Things that are relaxing outside the context of toddlers — a roaring fire in the fireplace! An infinity pool overlooking a cliff! — are utterly terrifying in the context of someone who might leap into the fire or off that cliff. Even little sources of pleasure — like wandering around a new neighborhood, and just eating wherever looks good — are hard to pull off when you have cranky, hungry children who are tired of waiting to eat.
Henley Vazquez is the CEO and co-founder of Passported, a travel company that specializes in family travel. She is also the mother of three children: an 11-year-old, 8-year-old, and a baby born last summer (yes, she plunged herself back into the infant stage!) Vazquez says that even little children can learn from travel that there is a world outside their neighborhoods, and that different people do things different ways. It introduces a global perspective, and a flexibility, that will serve the children well in life. I saw this even with taking my three older children to Montreal two weeks ago. It’s not that exotic a place, from the American perspective, but they were fascinated by seeing signs in French, and the temperatures in Celsius. My daughter was very concerned that she use the right word for “breakfast,” which made me laugh, as we were in the Fairmont. It’s OK to call it breakfast, but she learned about “petit dejeuner.”
Anyway, Vazquez had a few guidelines. First, PLAN AHEAD. We are learning that this is a cardinal rule of all things with small children! With two adults, it can be fun to show up in a new town and not know where you’ll stay, or eat, or what you’ll see. With kids, you need a plan, so you can manage everyone’s energy levels. (Vazquez pointed out the upsides of sometimes enlisting a pro in planning — in the Internet age, you can plan anything yourself, but there’s so much out there that sometimes it’s nice to have a filter. Planning fatigue is real — a topic I may write about in the near future.)
Second, understand that some pain is inevitable. At one point I asked her for tips on traveling on planes with small kids and she basically said she wished there were good tips. You can bring little toys, and snacks, and screens if they’ll help. But you can also be relaxed about it. With suffering, there is the actual pain, and then there is the mental anguish associated with the pain. If you accept that sometimes life sucks for a few hours, then you only have to deal with the former.
(Also, bring a change of clothes in your carry-on. For you and the kids.)
But if you’re willing to accept those ground rules, then almost anywhere can be a family-friendly destination. She talked up Morocco; the flight is no longer than the East Coast to California, but it’s an entirely different world. London offers the option of doing an urban-Europe trip, and the countryside nearby (for castles and general rustic-ness). Sarah’s home of Miami got a shout out as being surprisingly good for kids.
Anyway, it was a fun episode, so please give it a listen! What’s the best place you’ve ever traveled with kids? What did you do to make it good? Sarah and I both mentioned the upsides of traveling with a caregiver — either a nanny or relative like a grandparent. It’s another person, so you have to book larger accommodations (though as a 6-person family, hotels are often out for us anyway), but getting some time for adult relaxation can make a trip actually feel like a vacation.