Gone are the days of sleeping in and room service. We now live in the era of Airbnb’s and lowered expectations. Traveling with children has made us rethink how, why and what we hope for when we travel.
We’ve been traveling with our children since our oldest was eight days old. In the beginning, traveling with a child didn’t change much for us. Sure we handed out earplugs to fellow travelers on flights. But we still enjoyed wonderful hotels, museum explorations, fine cuisine and the fine tastes of vineyards abroad. Our captive little companion, strapped into that stroller, was happy to just take in the sights of her hand or her favorite stuffed toy.
18 months later the twins arrived. And while we were happy to expand our family and continue our love of travel, we were definitely not ready for the realities of our new traveling experiences.
Our first experience was six months into our new life as parents of a two year old and 6 month old twins. Armed with earplugs for rows and rows of fellow travelers, we set out to the airport. We were fortunate enough to have our boarding pre-arranged and planned to sit comfortably together with baby bassinets also pre-arranged with the airline. With passports and tickets in hand, we started our pre-boarding, only to be informed at the gate that we would not be allowed to sit together. There is a regulation about not allowing more than one infant per row?! After much yelling and a threat of being tasered by an Air Marshal, we finally acquiesced and separated our family into different parts of the airplane for our ten hour flight. And thus began our experience of constant surprises with regards to traveling for the next few years. At least on that journey our fellow passengers didn’t have to hear babies crying or my complaining. Those earplugs were a great investment.
The following years tested our love of traveling. I was alone with the children walking the streets of Bucharest one day. Little old ladies kept trying to feed my kids. The more I said no. The more the kids became anxious calling out for me, “Papa! Papa!” – which made these ladies more insistent on trying to feed my kids. It was only later on that someone explained that Papa is the diminutive that Romanian children say when they are hungry. I’m sure those little old ladies thought I was the most neglectful father. I know I thought that there was a dementia problem on the streets of Bucharest.
From the rooms on the 3rd floors in Greek hotels without elevators – and us with strollers and luggage -, or Italian museum workers giving our gelato-stained children the look of death as we passed the DaVinci exhibit, to French restaurants with only one high chair available for the entire restaurant, we were starting to think that the world didn’t want us to travel. Or maybe it was us that weren’t approaching traveling the right way. We tried to maintain our love of travel. But maybe we hadn’t thought enough about specifics of our family situation.
With children in mind. With accommodation needs in mind. With adult fun in mind. We made a destination choice. We went to Disney World. And while I have to admit we were a bit snobbish with our reluctance to go, our eyes were opened to what we should and could expect from a travel destination. I’ll forego the obvious – that the children loved it – but as adults we enjoyed ourselves too. We relaxed in the sun by the kid friendly pools, we dined at high end restaurants with enough booster seating for all of the kids, and we even had date night while highly trained Disney staff watched our children in our Disney villa. We got to learn from that trip what was important to us as travelers. A desired level of comfort. A desired feeling of being pampered. A desire of rest time. We also desired new experiences. And we didn’t need to check off the obligatory must sees of a city. Previously, we had been focused so much on seeing places that we forgot about being in places.
With our education fully embraced, we booked our next trip. And another. And another. We’ve explored new cities once or twice a year for the past seven years since Disney. I’ve actually done several of them on my own with just the children. We don’t stress about seeing it all. We make a list ahead of time of what we want to see and do our best with a promise to come back and finish another time. Why not? We always rent a house to give us the feeling of a break from touring. We’ve let go of our need for special seating at restaurants. The kids are old enough now. But we had our laps in the interim, while enjoying our new dining experiences. We make sure that my spouse and I each get time off from the rest of the family to do some pampering for ourselves. We enjoy our museums and let our kids have their iPads to zone out on when they are “forced” to follow on an activity that isn’t their cup of tea. And we try to meet up with friends while traveling to exchange a date night service with them.
And while our experiences aren’t always what we’ve hoped for, the time we spend together with our kids on our journeys is more than we could ever have hoped for.
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Text: SHAWN RAFTOPOL