“Please, Mommy, no more trips. I just want to stay home.”
As much as I hate to even think about it, this is the situation I face.
But let’s back up a bit…
In general, I think we strike a pretty nice balance between travel and home time. Because my husband and I are both teachers, we have long summer vacations and a month off at Christmas, plus Spring Break and a few long weekends sprinkled throughout the school year. A lot of that time off is spent in our pjs at home!
We take one international trip a year, usually to Brazil to visit my husband’s family. We go to Washington once a year to visit my dad and stepmom. We take several smaller trips in California, mostly for the outdoors — places within 3 hours like Lake Tahoe, the Sonoma coast, and Carmel. We also love to be at home! We play games and swim in the pool, hang out in Midtown and meet friends at parks.
As much as I enjoy being home, I’m happiest while traveling. I’ve been obsessed with traveling since I went to Europe for the first time as a teenager. For me, travel doesn’t have to be fancy or relaxing — it’s about the adventure, excitement and learning.
So when my mom suggested we start spending a month in Europe every year, I was excited about the possibility of traveling to new places again (beyond our usual Brazil and U.S. destinations). We decided on Scotland for this year and planned a slow trip with two week-long home bases plus a few days in Edinburgh and, of course, plenty of downtime.
We got my kids all psyched up about Scotland with books about castles, stories about fairies, and promises of adventures. Once we got there, we included time for games, slow mornings, easy dinners in, unplanned time outdoors (scrambling across creeks and skipping rocks, as boys like to do) and stops at any playground we could find.
But a few days into the trip, the whining about being homesick started. Then came the complaining (“Ugh! Not another castle!”). In the second week, while on the Isle of Skye, the whining turned into occasional crying and irritability.
We certainly tried to take into consideration their needs and interests. We had rented a house that was, in my mind, an idyllic setting for kids (see them running back to the house above).
We let them pick out toys and books at the castle gift shops so they’d have things to do at the houses where we stayed. We took walks to meet sheep and bought them ice cream. Plus, my kids were traveling with not only their parents but also their grandparents. You’d think that with four adults doting on them, it couldn’t be so bad, right?
I felt confused about what to do. On one hand, I felt like they’re so fortunate to be able to travel. They have no idea how privileged they are. But the reality is that they’re too young to see it that way. They’re still in their emotions, and when they feel homesick or unhappy, they let you know.
I also felt guilty. I wondered if I had made the wrong decision to take this trip. I questioned my judgment for bringing them to a place where there wasn’t a lot of “kid activities” as Noah mentioned. While I knew deep down that the trip was good for them (and us as a family), I resented the fact that I’d spent money on their tickets when they didn’t really want to be there.
Of course, it wasn’t all bad. There were moments of excitement at the castles we visited. They loved the weird details of the dungeons in St. Andrews and the street performers in Edinburgh. They boasted of their hiking skills after climbing to the Old Man of Storr, smiled ear to ear on some of our nature walks, and discovered a few favorite local foods.
And their favorite memory from the trip? Goofing around in the optical illusions “museum” (Camera Obscura) in Edinburgh. We laugh about this because that museum has almost nothing to do with Scottish culture or history, and yet they thought it was the best thing in Scotland.
And fortunately, now that we’ve been home for over two months, they’ve started to speak more fondly of the trip. They seem to recognize how the experiences they had there help inform their understanding of history at school, geology, and life overseas. Gabe even admitted the other day that “Scotland was actually pretty awesome.” A big change from the other adjective he kept using after we returned: “horrifying”!
My takeaways from this experience:
Taking a trip right as the school year was ending was not wise for us. Noah is an introvert and needs time at home to decompress. He would have appreciated a few days (at least) to be at home between school and travel.
We can’t forget small trips that tap into their interests…camping, beach time, visiting family.
I needed to be more proactive about finding kid-friendly activities right from the get-go. I thought that our hikes were kid-friendly enough, but they really wanted playgrounds (which weren’t easy to find) and other fun stuff for kids.
The convenience of renting a house through Airbnb and choosing a kid-friendly hotel (the Radisson Blu in Edinburgh) were huge. I will continue to choose accommodations carefully for future trips.
Even though we love to make memories as a family, we will consider other travel arrangements until they get a bit older. It’s hard to know what the right age is — when they’re little, they’re just happy to be with you, and when they’re older, they may not want to be with their parents. But my guys at ages 10 and 6 make me think that traveling in a couple of years, when they can understand and appreciate things more, will be better. This is especially true for destinations with a lot of history (i.e. the ones my mom and I especially love!).
And Hawaii is looking really good right now. Noah has been begging to go there, and you know what? I think he’s right.
What do you think? Did you enjoy traveling with your family as a kid/teen? What do you think is the right approach to traveling with children?