We recently came back from a short trip (when you have small children, traveling with them is never a vacation, always a trip) and it was exhausting and eventful and I'm so glad we did it.
We don't take many family trips. They're expensive and hard to schedule, what with my sons on one preschool schedule and my daughter on another.
But when we do, I'm always astonished at how ill-prepared I am for the surprise of traveling with little ones. Perhaps I block it out from trip to trip — an amnesia that ensures I'll travel again. Because Lord knows if I remembered what it's really like, I'd probably stay home all year, satisfying my wanderlust by watching reruns of "House Hunters International."
Now that it's summer-vacation season, I thought I'd remind those of you who, like me, persist in illusions of what traveling with kids is like. And you new parents who have yet to experience the joys? You're welcome.
Forget those tourism department ads you see on TV. Here's the real deal:
Hotels are horrible: I had never realized that hotel rooms are set up for adults, not families, until the trip where my husband and I put our kids to bed at 8 p.m. in one double bed, and sat stick-still on the other, lights dimmed, no TV, no room service — no nothin' — because we didn't want to wake them.When you're on a trip with small children, you really do need two bedrooms: one for them and one for you. A separate living area is a bonus. And a kitchen or kitchenette also is helpful. In other words, skip the hotel and rent a condo or house or stay with friends instead. What you give up in turndown service and free bottles of shampoo, you get back in staved-off claustrophobia and reclaimed adult time at night.
Unless there's vomit: My theory falls apart when one of the children (inevitably) pukes all over the comforter (and her brother) (and her favorite blanket that she will not sleep without) and it's the middle of the night and you are in a new city and have no idea where there's a 24-hour laundry, and you suddenly realize calling the front desk is not an option because you're renting from Airbnb and God help you all.
Diners, diners and more diners: Now is not the time to try that fancy new restaurant you've been eyeing. Wise travelers know to keep the littlest ones in the party well fed, because hungry children are even worse than tired children, and children in a restaurant who are not occupied with eating will find other, less desirable ways to occupy themselves. Pizza, cheeseburgers, buttered pasta, tater tots. Get over yourself, foodie. This trip ain't about you.
Public bathrooms: Why do children have to go so much? When do their bladders grow? Have you ever begged a shopkeeper to allow your child to pee (or worse) in her nonpublic restroom, even though you aren't a customer and don't intend to ever be? No? Then you haven't lived.
Forget about sleeping in: Even if you run them around from morning till night — sightseeing in the hot sun, hiking rocky trails, stuffed full of ice cream — those kids still won't sleep in the next morning. You're getting up at 6:30 a.m. — on vacation. Get over it.
No such thing as "winging it": With a pack of progeny, gone are the days of just seeing where the day takes you. Even if it's somewhat loosely constructed, there must be a trip agenda. Bored children are (all too often) badly behaved children, and worse than the stress of dealing with their nonsense when you're on vacation is the judgment you'll get from everyone around. What's that? You wanted this trip to be "leisurely"? You thought you might get a chance to relax?
You know what I'm going to say to that, don't you? Right. Get over it.
And be prepared to be more tired when you get back to work on Monday than you were before you left.
Have a great trip!
Tanika Davis is a former Baltimore Sun reporter who now works as director at a communications firm. She and her husband have twin 5-year-old sons, a 3-year-old daughter, a perpetually messy house and rapidly appearing gray hairs. She also needs a nap. She can be reached at tanika@thehatch ergroup.com. Her column appears monthly.