10 Tips for 4 Kids in 1 Big City

The post-Christmas lull has always felt like a comedown from a really good coffee buzz. It’s inevitable that the actual months of build-up take their psychic toll: all that’s left is the leaky air-mattress of your soul slowly collapsing under your own weight. Or something.

This year to stave off the inevitable post-holiday grumps, the Nostrikethat family cashed in the last of Daddy’s Marriott points from his travelling days and a Groupon and went up to New York City the day after Christmas. Overall it was a fun and memorable experience for all of us and I wanted to share a little bit of gleaned wisdom in case any of you decide to plan any big trips with your family.

1) One bag travel is still the best

I have written before about the virtues of traveling with just a single bag per person. Even with kids and going someplace by car it still makes sense. It’s surprisingly easy for kids to stuff everything they need into a backpack– it’s usually the adults who have the harder time prioritizing, but it pays dividends in unexpected ways.

We accidentally had to unload our car in the parking garage across the street from the hotel. Fortunately we made it in a single trip, which is a good thing because I think the valet ended up parking our car in the 3rd circle of Hell, which I’m told is called “Queens.”

Via Pintrest user Jamie Grafton
Has saved my bacon sooo many times. Via Pintrest user Jamie Grafton


2) Plan for sit down meals

Our first thought when we planned our vacation was that we would take  advantage of some of New York City’s famous dollar-a-slice pizza and save mucho bucks on our food. In reality, what happened was that we ended up walking so much that we all needed a place to just park it while we ate and collected ourselves.

I don’t think it matters how fit you and your family is or is not– unless you come from a nomadic tribe of sub-Saharan hunter-gathers you are probably not prepared for the level of walking you’re going to do.

Speaking of food…

3) There is no shame in visiting a chain restaurant

Well, maybe a little bit of shame.

That shame is vastly outweighed by the comfort factor your kids get from being able to order their favorite food in a familiar surrounding. When you consider how hidebound the average adult is, and then factor in that children have nearly zero control over their own destiny, you can begin to get a sense of how important it is for a child to have a little bit of home in a strange place.

If that “home” happens to be a grilled cheese sandwich from Panera, so much the better.

Yes, you want your kids to be adventurous. Me too. Now is not the time. Perhaps one day, they’ll go off to college/trade school/eco-commune and come back as normal human beings. Go out for Thai and celebrate.

I think there are a few souls in this world who are born vagabonds, and who knows perhaps you might have the child version of one.  In that case I say enjoy your backpacking in Bangkok with your toddler in tow! The rest of us will muddle along and make do as best we can, consoling ourselves with the occasional comfort food stop.

I did not know you could get a kid's grilled cheese sandwich as a desktop wallpaper. Thanks Internet! Via Panerabread.com
I did not know you could get a kid’s grilled cheese sandwich as a desktop wallpaper. Thanks Internet! Via Panerabread.com

4) Aim to do 1.5 things per day

Even though kids seem to have nearly inexhaustible supplies of energy, their actual stamina tends to be pretty low and when they run out of gas they don’t sputter out, they just switch to “obnoxious whining powersave mode.”

We got to NYC late Friday, visited FAO Schwartz and then crashed early in the hotel room. Saturday morning we caught the Rockettes and then wandered Times Square, and then Sunday we visited the Natural History Museum.

On both Friday and Saturday nights the kids were happy to return to the hotel room and just sprawl about for the rest of the night.

This is something I think we did pretty well.

5) Vigorously and selfishly recharge yourself

It’s all too easy to focus all of your energy on your kids and making sure they’re completely comfortable and putting your own needs dead last. You might be tempted to do this, but try to remember you too are in unfamiliar circumstances and in charge of this crazy train.

We were lucky in that our hotel was a Residence Inn with a master bedroom that rivaled the one we had at home in both spaciousness and having-a-door-that-locks-ness. While the kids had taken over the living room with their TV and electronics Mrs. Nostrikethat and I were able to retreat to the master bedroom and stare at the ceiling and drool for a while. If your digs aren’t quite as posh, you can always bar and barricade the door and take a nice long shower. Even a hot wash cloth on the face and some earbuds can create a little bit of mental privacy to soothe your jagged nerves.

This totally makes the vomit on the car seat worthwhile. Image via Spaweekblog.com
This totally makes the vomit on the car seat worthwhile. Image via Spaweekblog.com

6) Plan for someone always being cranky

At any given point in time, the probability (P) of some child (N) being in a snit can be described by this function:


Someone is always going to be snippy at some point.

With four kids, I am having a good day if I can use three of them to shame the fourth one.

What’s wrong with him?

Don’t talk to your brother, he’s grumpy.


Why’s he grumpy? We’re on vacation!

My favorite dinosaur is a T-Rex.


I don’t know I think your other brother made fun of his hair.


I did not. Although it does look ridiculous.


What’s your favorite kind of dinosaur?


Daddy! He said —

I heard what he said I’m right here. Don’t tell your brother to shut up. And it’s Triceratops. Oh look, it’s the M&M Store! I wonder what they sell.

I’m sure the Pilgrims on the Mayflower had to deal with the same thing, just with more frocks.

7) Be open to a night in

This seems counter-intuitive. After all, you spent a ton of money and energy to get to wherever you’re going, how can you in good conscience contemplate wasting even a single minute in a hotel room?

We have about a 50/50 split of introverts and extroverts in our family. After spending all day Saturday on the streets on New York two days after Christmas the introverts had crashed hard. We spent Saturday night in the hotel room eating a carry-out pizza (with a little bottle of wine for the grown-ups) and mini ice cream pints from the drug store around the corner.

It was perfect.

Everyone got some much needed rest and relaxation and we were all a little more prepared to deal with the city again Sunday morning.

It's a vacation, don't hurt yourself. Via Pintrest user larosenia.
It’s a vacation, don’t hurt yourself. Via Pintrest user larosenia.

8) Don’t regret what you didn’t get to

There were a ton of things we just didn’t get to do this time. Visit Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. See the view from the top of the Empire State Building. Hang out with the Naked Cowboy. All of which we left open for the possibility of a return trip. We might go back in the summer, or next summer, or really any time that’s not after Christmas. Or we might not go back at all and try someplace new instead. Perhaps one day my kids will decide to go to college in The Big City, influenced by the trip they took so many years ago. You just don’t know, and that’s okay.

9) Respect your vacation traditions

I think there are fundamentally two different kinds of vacationers in the world: sensation seekers and sensation retreaters. There are the people in the Corona beer commercials who just sit in the white sand staring at the glassy green ocean and drinking cheap weak beer from a bottle, doing absolutely nothing.

These are your classic retreaters.

Then there are the people who go insane just thinking about that kind of vacation.

These are the folks that keep parasailing operators and jetski rentals in business.

Our family has a tradition of taking beach vacations and we are definitely retreaters. Like shorebirds we scurry down to the sand in the morning, retreat back to the cottage for lunch, take naps, and then scurry back down in the afternoon. Our trip to Manhattan was surprisingly low-key for being in the “city that never sleeps”, but it was in line with what we normally do on vacations: go easy.

It worked for us.

That'll do, beer. That'll do. Image via wallgiv.com.
That’ll do, beer. That’ll do. Image via wallgiv.com.

10) Be thankful

We definitely had tense moments: 6 people being on top of each other for an extended duration tends to do that. We also mostly kept a sense of humor and found lots of incidental fun. Through it all I couldn’t help but remember that just a few months ago I was unemployed.

If you’re travelling you’re luckier than 99% of the world. I am so fortunate to live where I do and have what I have, and it’s easy to forget that when you’re cleaning barf from the car seat in a rest stop.  My kids are funny awesome little humans and that I get to spend time with them exploring the world.

I hope you get a chance to do the same.


Got any travel tips for kids or a story to share? Leave a comment below!