So I'm on vacation and I have time to think and relax and think some more. So I was thinking today about traveling, and about how traveling with children is different than traveling alone.
Now, you will always find people who swear that having kids won't change their travel habits. Maybe they lie, maybe it really happens. I dunno. But I do have to say that traveling with kids is different for us. Let's examine that.
- Air travel
Shortly after we had our first child, we continued with our travel habits. We were flying to visit family 2x a year (once to each family), and once on a real vacation (like Hawaii, or New Mexico, or DC). We continued this schedule for a couple of years, so that our older son had flown 5x by the time he was 1.5.
Air travel changed for sure. Instead of a single bag and a backpack filled with a book, my iPod, a few snacks to eat - it was now filled with many more snacks, kids books, coloring items, diapers, a change of clothing for the kiddo. Traveling with a single bag was definitely more of a challenge, but was do-able when he was small.
As time went on and he got bigger, it just got more expensive. 3 trips x 2 plane tickets was now 3 trips x 3 plane tickets. We started cutting back - our trips to visit family were cut back to every other year, and we combined them together with a rental car in between. The advantage was two-fold:
1. cheaper (less airfare)
2. longer trip (2 weeks). I realized, for the first time, how much more relaxing long trips are - even with kids.
Plus, traveling with kids kinds of sucks.
- Car travel
The vast majority of our travel these days is by car. This has additional challenges:
1. My older child gets car sick. While he's never actually barfed in the car, we have to drug him. (Dramamine.)
2. My younger child has a small bladder. An 8.5 hour drive can easily take 11 hours. For this reason, we've set a limit of about 6 hours (with the exception of the trip between families, which is 8). An 11-12 hour drive is torture!
3. I'm old. Sitting is hard.
4. Driving hours are limited (time of day).
Contrast this to the "old days". Pre-kid we took a driving tour of the Southwest over 9 days, with stops in Kingman, AZ, Grand Canyon, Sedona, Santa Fe, White Sands NM, Tucson, Joshua Tree National park. Single day drives of 8-10 were not uncommon, and almost every day was packed with an activity. Camping was pretty easy - put up the tent, heat up some dinner, explore, go to sleep.
Now, some folks will recommend driving with kids overnight, or early in the morning. With our sleep schedules, we cannot do that - even if it would work for the kids. We arrived home by plane after a long bout of weather, with a 2 hour drive, and had to pay $179 for 5 hours in a hotel room to sleep. Because we didn't want to die. Overnight may work if your kids sleep in the car, and if they are the type to need to run every 1.5 hours. And if you are a night owl.
Our method is to break up longer trips into multiple days.
- Miscellaneous travel
When we visit family, we have an 8 hour trip between the two places. We often rent a car and drive. However, twice we have taken the train. The advantages:
1. We aren't driving and can nap
2. The kids can move around. They are much happier
3. It's a shorter trip (6 hours)
4. It's about the same price as renting a car
1. The train leaves at 7 am. So we have to go up the night before and stay in a hotel
Pre-kid days, we would just drive, no question.
So, I started getting into camping when my husband was getting over it. Of course, he bears the brunt of packing it, so I understand. Pre-kid we would pop up our tent, roll out our pads and sleeping bags.
Now, we are older and have kids. We have a small car. So, in order to pack, we use a Thule box on top of the car. It has to be carefully packed (stuffed). The kids get the sleeping mats, and we have cots. Because we are old, and the ground is hard.
Setting up takes longer. Only one of us can set up (maybe with help from the older kid), and the other one (me) has to chase the toddler. Cooking is reverse - I can cook while husband chases toddler. Camping trips have to be at least 2 nights to make it worth it. But a maximum of 3, because it gets old. And then you have the difficulty in getting the kids to sleep, and my own insomnia.
- International Travel
We haven't done it with kids. Enough said
Pre-kid, you can go when you want. This can save buckets! Spouse and I traveled to Hawaii 4 times. Maui in October and Feb. Kauai in Jan and April (or thereabouts). Some of times we just randomly decided to go one month out, and got killer deals! One Kauai trip we traveled with one of our friends - three of us got a 2 bedroom, newly renovated condo overlooking the ocean. $180 a night. (Normal price: $450/nt).
Once you are on the school schedule, be prepared to open your wallet. Hotels, air fare, gas prices - all can easily be double due to increased demand. (Just ask my aunt how hard it is to get her daughter, SIL, and grand babies over from England in summer.)
Likewise, there is "peak pricing" in places like Disneyland. Summers, weekends, and spring break simply cost more. We went to Disney 2 years ago and lucked out - our Spring Break did not coincide with most of So Cal, so the peak pricing did not take effect until the following week.
You also have to be prepared for crowds. (See Disney, above.) We were recently visiting National parks in Utah. I did my research and found that it was best to get there before 10 in order to find parking. While Bryce wasn't terribly busy (got there at 10, found parking just fine), Zion was PACKED. Zion is very close to Springdale and therefore gets more visitors. We arrived at around 9:30 and found parking pretty easily. The shuttles were running within the park, but from noon until 4 (when we left), they were standing room only. We were lucky that someone was always willing to give up a seat to whichever one of us was carrying the 3-year old.
All of the hikes had hordes of people. If your desire is to be one with nature, and avoid people - spring break is not the time to go. And spring break is about 6 weeks long, as different school
systems have different schedules.
For the record, I don't mind hordes of people while hiking.
I have found that I simply cannot pack our days full like I did pre-kid. You know, drive 6 hours, see place A. Stay overnight. Drive 6 hours, see place B, stay overnight. You can see SO MUCH this way! I know people who do this still - they tend to have campers that don't require setup. Your home is with you!
For one thing - I prefer to cook instead of eat out. In this case, an endless string of hotels or camping will not work. See above on how much harder it is to tent camp with kids - one night stays are impractical. And cooking in a hotel is work. One night in a hotel is sometimes necessary. A string of them is a pain. You are paying $100 to $200 for only 21 hours, really. If the hotel has amenities like a pool, you probably won't get to enjoy them. If you check in too late, you cannot go. Then check out can be early morning if you want to get on the road.
For this reason, I like condos/ houses. I recently had my first experience with Air-BNB, and I really liked it. Until now, we rented condos that were vacation condos - so sort of "hotel-like". These are nice too. The issue with condos or houses is that many have a minimum stay of 2-3 days. The owner does not want to pay a cleaning fee daily, and they don't have a staff like a larger vacation condo place.
Thus, we try to stay in a particular place at least 2 days, longer if possible. Our recent Utah trip was 5 nights in Utah (plus one night hotel stay in each direction due to the long drive). With 5 nights, we could have theoretically seen four things: Bryce, Zion, Lake Powell, Grand Canyon. And then we could have swung by Death Valley on the way home.
Um, that's too much "on the go" with the kids and us. We need down time. For our five days, we checked the weather to determine our "big days" and just relaxed at home and "winged it" on the other days.
Day 1: Bryce. Not ideal after the "should have been 5.5 but was really 8 hours" drive the day before. (It's 1.5 hour drive one way.) But weather dictated it because...
Day 2: Snow. We hung out at the townhouse, played with snow, ran errands, did a little work, watched TV, hiked behind the house.
Day 3: Zion (45 minute gorgeous nail-biter drive)
Day 4: Hang out near the townhouse, and saw a close-by park (Coral Pink Sand Dunes). Start packing.
Day 5: Check out and drive to Barstow. Leave early enough to grab a quick dinner and go see a movie. Vacation is not a vacation for my husband without a movie.
Have your vacation methods changed with time or with kids?