Traveling, with Kids

Over the holidays we’ve stayed at relatives’ houses and I’ve remembered just why kids tie you down. It isn’t that you can’t do anything or go anywhere with kids. You can. Sure. You can go almost anywhere. If you get a babysitter you can go to nightclubs even. You can travel. You can go hiking. You can eat at fancy restaurants. Just don’t go expecting to enjoy it.

The thing that ties you down is that your desire to do these things starts to fade once you have a kid. You may still be okay with a baby who sleeps all the time, but if your child is of the usual variety and exhibits needs, you’ll be in trouble.

Take eating in a fancy restaurant. No matter how good the food is, you won’t have the time or energy to concentrate on it while focusing on keeping the kids happy. With time, you only want to go to restaurants that welcome children by having a play-area or a children’s menu. A children’s menu means French fries and pizza, sad as it is: my kids eat a varied diet at home, but not so in a restaurant. Thank God they love sushi.

We still eat in all kinds of restaurants, but when we go to a child-friendly one, I always emit a sigh of relief, because those are the only places where I feel really comfortable with the kids. They’ve got somewhere to play and food they like, even if it is French fries. I don’t have to argue with anyone about eating or skip having dessert to hasten our exit. I don’t have to carry an arsenal of coloring books or listen to whining. I can relax.

You start to avoid traveling once you realize that traveling with kids means wrecking your carefully constructed routine which keeps everyone reasonably sane, sleeping even worse than at home, and almost invariably someone coming down with a bug, food poisoning or just a general feeling of malaise that turns the journey into a hellish struggle against bodily fluids. And, of course, once you’ve returned it takes weeks to get back on track.

Unless you plan your “holiday” specifically for the kids, or arrange a few playmates for them, you’re going to need to have a constant stream of entertainment and plan something for them to do, preferably out of doors. It’s no longer enough to call the kid next door for a playdate. You need to go out and come up with all these games. If you don’t, the children stay indoors with too little entertainment, watch too many cartoons and eat badly. They get too many treats since it’s the holidays. Eventually everyone’s stressed and exhausted. Fights ensue.

The last time we stayed at a hotel I developed a rash after I stayed up most of the night with the three-year-old who just decided not to sleep that night for no visible reason at all. When he did sleep, he kept placing his foot in my mouth. I was so happy to get home. The rash bothered me for two more weeks.

I know some parents might shake their heads, not recognizing any of this. Some kids sleep well, eat well, behave well and are in general a delight of epic proportions regardless of where they are situated. I don’t really want to hear about these children. If you don’t have kids,  I hope you get one. Most parents I know have not been so lucky.

Don’t get me wrong. My kids are reasonably well-behaved in restaurants. We still enjoy eating out. There’ve been good trips, too. Some of them have been downright wonderful. But always, always, traveling messes up the routine.

Right now, I’m ready to go home and return to the safe, boring, and predictable. I wasn’t a routine-fan before the kids, but I am one now. Once the kids are a few years older I expect traveling will become a pleasure again. Until then, I will do the best I can to stay at home.

Well …until the next trip.


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