Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Traveling "Windows of Time" for Young Families

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, we love to travel. Every year, my husband and I get away by ourselves at least once (thank you Mom!), give each other several opportunities to go off on our own, and then drag the kids around everywhere else.

Some vacations have been more successful, of course, than others, and some have been a downright waste because the kids were not at an age where they could appreciate it or make it remotely fun for us.

Oh, if only I had known then what I know now.

As it turns out, I have discovered that with one notable exception (you’ll see), it is always possible and fun to travel with your kids, provided you pick the right vacation for each “age window.” Since my oldest is 8, I can’t give first-hand advice on what to do with teenagers, so will stop there. But please, please heed my advice if you are a brand-new family starting off, because, again, I would have loved to have known then what I know now:

A non-crawling, nursing baby: Oh, please, please, don’t squander this time away! You have no idea how easy a baby in a bucket who cannot crawl or fuss about solid food is to travel with! Now is the time to visit family and friends (especially ones who will help you nap). Now is the time to travel abroad. Go for it! Please do not wait until your baby is “a little older” and crawling or walking before you take her on a plane and in public places with dirty floors!

Crawling baby, eating baby food: This is honestly a very hard time to travel. Your baby wants to crawl, but there are few places in public where this is safe or sanitary. Your baby cannot eat regular food, so you have to lug around or buy baby food everywhere, and if you’re traveling abroad, it can be very difficult to find your brand. And don’t even try the beach- babies hate it at this age and will eat sand within the first 10 seconds. And everything else. This is a great time for friends and family to come to you instead of the other way around.

Toddler: This is a great time to take a vacation that interests you, the parent. Toddlers need to be able to run around (planes are challenging), and see things, but they are pretty easy to please. This is NOT the time to take them to Disney World or plan another “fantastic” trip for that child to enjoy. They won’t appreciate it, and you’ll be disappointed. I made this mistake when I took my then- 15 month old son on an “educational” trip to Washington, DC. After a full day of the Smithsonian and the National Zoo, the only things he showed interest in were the ducks at the zoo and riding the escalator. Could have done that at home!

Child, ages 3-5: Now your child cares about and appreciates his surroundings. He will love the beach, though will prefer the hotel pool. Disney World is debatable, though my 3-year old loved it. This age can still be easily entertained, so you could combine a trip you would enjoy with small side adventures for the kids, and they will be thrilled.

Child, ages 6-9: This is a golden time for kid-oriented family vacations. Your kids are in school full-time now, so you’re actually craving, and needing, more quality time together. They will remember, cherish, and enjoy it. Plus, they’ll be a real pain if they are bored on a less child-focused trip. Now, they want to be with you, want you to play with them all the time, and have an unlimited supply of energy. Load up on the memories and enjoy.

-TWM

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