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.”
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.
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.
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.
I’M NOT GRUMPY!
Why’s he grumpy? We’re on vacation!
My favorite dinosaur is a T-Rex.
I’M NOT GRUMPY!
I don’t know I think your other brother made fun of his hair.
HE WAS MEAN.
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.
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.
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!
For reasons I can’t explain I have lately been obsessed with the idea of moving to Idaho.
Let me explain.
In my life I’ve only ever met two actual Idahoans: the first was an old roomate who was a Deadhead and grew up in a tiny town of about 1000 people south of Boise. The second was an old high school friend of his who came to visit us one day, so she was what you might call imported. Beyond that, my Idaho experience is about what you would expect from an average American in that it’s primarily potato-related.
Somewhere in my head I want to enact my own Lewis and Clark expedition into the great Midwest and head off into the blazing sunset seeking great wide open spaces– so long as they are in close proximity to someplace that makes a decent espresso and has a swim team that is USA Swimming accredited.
Recently I started following Hipmombrarian (go check her out, she’s got some great stuff), who writes from Boise. For some reason, I decided to start doing some research and so far I already have the kid’s schools picked out (Longfellow or Washington ES), their swim team (The Y), and approximately where we want to live (within an easy bike distance of the co-op).
The rational part of my mind has come up with a handy list of reasons why moving to Boise is a horrible idea:
- I haaaate cold weather.
- I am not exactly outdoorsy, and that seems to be the fluffy center drenched in butter that is Idaho
- My kids are already in great schools
- Real estate is not as cheap as I was hoping it would be (seriously, it looks like there is some kind of bubble going on)
- I work in tech, which is not potato-related
- I am about as much of a Midwesterner as George Costanza
The rational part of my mind is convinced there is no arguement, we’re staying put.
The irrational part of my mind wants to head out for the weekend to shop for real estate.
Last year I went through a Belgium phase. This is probably a related phenomenon.
If I was an armchair psychologist I would speculate that I have some unmet needs somewhere.
Probably related to french fries.
Despite my natural handicaps and severe pollen allergies I try to get out to state parks and go walking in the woods whenever I can, because I Am A Man. So you would not be the least surprised to know that when Mrs. Nostrikethat said “I am taking you up on your offer and taking the day off–see you at dinner” I said “Erm.”
I am what you might call a “City Slicker”. My people are supremely well-adapted to urban life. Need to find a great pizza? I’m your guy.
Want to complain about parking? Ditto.
Navigate a traffic circle? Sucka, please.
I was not a Boy Scout, nor have I ever been “lost” in the sense of “only find-able by bears and mountain lions.” I am also not really tall or muscular, which are very handy physical attributes when you are crammed on a subway car during rush hour.
I have mostly come to peace with the fact that, in the event of an technological catastrophe in which civilization collapses and we regress to a pre-industrial era, my best shot at surviving is finding a heavily-armed group of nomads and convincing them they need a “entrepreneurial, energetic go-getter with 15+ years of experience.”
As the door slammed and I heard the sound of tires squealing out of our neighborhood, the children stared at me expectantly.
“Okay kids let’s pack a lunch– we’re going to the State Park!”
“Daddy, are you sure you know where we’re going?”
Firstborn Son is, unfortunately, too clever by half.
“Of course, I looked it up on the Internet. You trust the Internet, right?”
Lovely Daughter is excited because now she has something to be excited about and it involves snacks.
Captain Underpants (who is 6) is looking forward to getting wet and promises not to be “too whiny.”
The Hurricane is just excited to be coming along on an “Ad-ven-ture!” with his big brothers and not getting left behind. Yipee!
Two hours later, we’re ready to go, because kids.
I checked the map on the web site and noted the name of the area we were trying to get to– it had “multiple stream crossings” which sounded perfect because it’s hot as balls outside.
I loaded everyone up and take the very short drive to the State Park. I’ve lived in this area for almost forever… why haven’t I done this before? This was a great idea!
I pulled up to the gate.
“Hi, I’m looking for the Avalon area!” I was very pleased with myself for remembering.
The ranger ducked back into his little hut and emerged with a sheet of paper.
“It’s about 15 minutes away. Here’s directions.”
It hadn’t occurred to me that the park has more than once entrance. No problem! WE HAVE SNACKS!
30 minutes and two wrong turns later we arrived at the second gate, pay our $2 (UNBEATABLE VALUE!) and started winding our way though a quiet park to get to the Avalon area. As we roll along at 20 miles per hour, I roll down the windows and turn off the radio. “Listen how quiet it is kids!”
“Ow, HE HIT ME.”
As if on cue.
It’s okay, 1:30 and we were all a little hungry. We hit a picnic table and hunkered down to a delicious lunch of peanut butter and jelly, strawberries, and juice boxes.
Except for Firstborn Son, who has decided that the only thing edible is the little pouch of potato chips.
The kid who swims 15 miles a week is not eating.
This was GIANT RED FLAG NUMBER ONE that I ignored.
We cleaned up lunch and started up the “Cascade Trail” which sounded pretty and was probably the trail I remembered from the map.
Despite having not eaten, Firstborn Son was bound and determined to hurry up and get this over with because he was in the middle of some kind of important quest, or level, or something computer-related and this wasn’t working for him, so he charged ahead. Like me, he’s well-adapted for urban life and allergic to the outdoors.
Within only 10 minutes we hit what appeared to be the cascade bit, which was a short little waterfall into a shallow pool with some rocks around it. We stopped for a few minutes to take a break and climb on the rocks.
The kids were having a great time clambering around on the rocks and wading in the water and at this point I was feeling Pretty Darn Smug. Our quiet time was soon shattered however, by a large group of moms and boys coming down the trail from the other direction.
“JACKSON GET OVER HERE! DON’T GO DOWN THERE! NO! I SAID DON’T GO DOWN THERE!”
I felt a moment of pity for this poor mom. She was having a hard time dealing with her boys who seemed to be hell-bent on getting down into the water with us. I looked at my kids who have chucked off their shoes and were poking around in the shallow pools and then up at her kids, who looked like the one thing they wanted more than ice cream was to go play in the water. If only she was Outdoorsy, Like Me.
“Panic Mom” was killing my nature-induced serenity, so I told the kids to pack up and head up the trail.
“Daddy, I want to go back now. I’m hot and tired and getting stressed out.”
RED FLAG NUMBER TWO.
“Oh, it’ll be fine. We didn’t drive all this way just to turn around and go home. Let’s keep going, it’s a short trail.”
We headed a little way up the trail and somehow The Hurricane found a lady bug beetle, who was now His New Best Friend.
“Look Daddy! It’s My Friend Mr. Ladybug!” Like most three year olds, he talks in initial caps.
“Oh, that’s great! Let’s keep walking, we’re going to lose your brothers.”
Have you ever seen a small child try to walk while holding something?
It is the SLOWEST. THING. EVER.
Our pace, which was at best one mile per hour was now measured in geological epochs. Mr. Ladybug wandered up and down his hands and arms and had his full and complete undivided attention. In a three year old this means there is no mental processing power available for tiny dude locomotion.
“Oop! Dropped Mr. Lady Bug. Where Did He Go? Ooh! I Found Him!”
“Oop! I Dropped Him Again!”
“Mr. Ladybug’s mommy is calling him in for dinner. He has to go in now.”
Saddened though we all were by Mr. Ladybug’s untimely departure, we had to keep going because although I was fairly sure Firstborn Son had not fallen into a ravine, I had lost visual contact with him in his haste to Get This Over With.
The trail was pretty easy and ran along a stream. As we continued our walk every once in a while I had to fish out Captain Underpants from some part of the stream. He was now pretty thoroughly messy and happy. Lovely Daughter enjoyed hanging back with me and the Hurricane and talking my ear off. Aside from the continually worsening temper of my oldest, it was actually kind of pleasant!
“Oh Daddy! That sounds like more falls!”
“Actually that sounds kind of like… cars… we must be back near the road that leads to the parking lot. See, we’re almost done.”
The trail opens up onto … a highway. Who the heck blazes a trail through a state park to a highway?
“Gee guys, I guess we have to turn around and head back the way we came.”
“WHAT?!? THAT’S GREAT DADDY. NEXT TIME BRING A MAP.”
By this time, the 3 year old had started to crash as well. We headed back into the woods a short way and found a spot to take a break. I fished out the leftovers from lunch out of my backpack and we all drank some water. Oldest Son has resigned himself to marching back to the car as quickly as possible. He drained his water bottle and half of mine while we’re sitting there.
DING-DING-DING RED FLAG NUMBER THREE!
The Hurricane slurped down a bag of strawberries and perked up a bit. Thus began The Long Trek Back.
As we walked back, I was envious of Panic Mom.
She was back at her car and probably not listening to her kids make a list of things she forgot to bring. Like sunscreen and bug spray and a golf cart with a cooler strapped on the back of it.
Unfortunately, we didn’t run into Panic Mom, or Jackson, or Mr. Ladybug again, nor did we really do much on the way back besides try unsuccessfully to keep up with Firstborn Son.
“Daddy, I can’t see him any more!”
“That’s okay guys just remember: Daddy loves you all but that’s why we have replacements.”
Captain Underpants is a little phobic about his siblings getting left behind.
I can’t imagine why.
As we descended the trail past the Cascade bit and towards the parking lot, we spied Firstborn Son in the parking lot with an expression on his face that said “I SURVIVED THE OREGON TRAIL.”
On the ride back Firstborn Son basked in the air conditioning for a bit in silence and then apologized for his behavior.
“On a scale of 1-10, how annoying was I?”
“I’d give that a pretty solid 7.”
“Sorry about that.”
“It’s okay. Next time, I’ll bring a map. Now who wants pizza?”