This post was written as a guest post on The Mommy Happiness Project, a blog by my friend Jessica about how Mom’s can remember their own happiness and self-care while being attentive to their families.
Before I had my son, my husband and I were fond of armchair quarterbacking the parents we saw when on vacation. And we were judgmental. Judgy McJudgerton. After our discussion of what was so wrong with those parents, we would remind ourselves that nobody asked us and laugh that we would never be in that position anyway. Because we weren’t having kids. Ever. Never ever.
Vacation/travel was way of life for us. A couple weeks in Italy in the summer; long weekends in DC, San Francisco, Traverse City, Galveston, the Finger lakes, Toronto; bike tours of Ireland; motorcycle trips in Switzerland; almost three weeks in South Korea; an unhealthy dedication to the Disney Food and Wine Festival. I had spreadsheets, travel apps, plastic folders, and the details of every trip down to the minute. I even planned “free time.” Seriously, it was marked out on our schedule as free time. And then…summer 2010. The Tierce Release Party at Fox Run, Italy for two weeks and then more Finger Lakes wineries. Over the course of a month with more wine than I can reasonably calculate we began to speculate that I might be pregnant. All that secret advice for traveling parents was going to come back to haunt us.
We made a decision to not let having a kid change our lives in terms our travel enjoyment. Excuse me while I collapse in tears of laughter. What were we thinking? So how does a couple bitten by the travel bug maintain that lifestyle with a kid? Lots and lots of changes. How does anyone with a hobby they love keep that part of themselves alive when your new life means you aren’t the center anymore?
Adapt, change, learn and remember what you loved about that hobby in the first place.
I still plan as if I suffer from some kind of travel OCD but now my bookmarks include travel tips with kids, kid friendly hotels, airline policies, and stroller/crib/toy rental companies. My flight plans no longer focus on arriving somewhere as early as possible but instead on the least amount of time in airports. I never checked bags (two weeks is about my max) before but now have lists of what can be checked and what I want to carry on. Most importantly, we travel both with and without our son. I know this is controversial to some and I’ll be the first to say that the pangs of guilt are tremendous and can only be dampened by lots and lots of fine dining and booze. I’m not kidding about that last part. Facetime and drinks can easy many a pang.
So what does our travel life look like now?
We still travel often, but with more repeated destinations to make planning a bit easier. There are two week-long vacations annually; one with our son, one as a couple, usually Disney World and Key West (I’m sure you can figure out which trip is which). Also, three-four short adult trips annually, usually nearby and usually one-two nights; Finger Lakes, Boston, Detroit (I know, but we have lots of friends there…), Vermont, etc. And finally, two-three mommy/Adam trips per year to visit with friends and family. Nothing out of the country yet but we plan to go back to Italy in 2015 for our wedding anniversary with our first family trip to Europe in 2017, probably every other year after that with hopes that Adam will be ready for and interested in cycling tours when he’s 13 or so.
Minimal daily planning—we fly by the seat of our pants more and really try not do everything. I’ve always wondered about those people who stand in the an amusement park demanding that their kids have fun because the trip was expensive (I wondered that before and after having my own) or who insist that their child needs to stop having fun doing what ever it is they are doing to go do some other thing that might be fun. If Adam wants to go on the Indy Cars in the Magic Kingdom eight times in a row (then Dumbo, then seven more times on the cars…) I’m not going to stop him. He’s happy, I’m happy he’s happy, rock on.
My parents go with us on family trips and it’s the best money ever spent. We bought into the Disney Vacation Club just so that this could happen. With our DVC membership I can get a two-bedroom villa with a full kitchen on Disney property for six nights and put my parents in their own room. I get babysitting for two or three nights on those trips. Sometimes that means a nice meal and sometimes it means sitting on the pool deck in the dark with drinks.
I have a kid who thinks it’s normal to sleep in the bathroom. I know some people won’t like this either. Adam has never been a good sleeper and most certainly cannot sleep with other people in the room. It’s never happened, not once, since he was just weeks old. He also doesn’t sleep in cars. I’ve got a horror story from when he was six months old and we tried to sleep all in one room…Until he was just past two he slept in a packnplay in the extra bathroom of the DVC villa or the spare rooms of who ever we might be visiting. Now I use the Intex inflatable toddler bed for our trips and he still sleeps in the sink alcove in the DVC villa. That bed is worth 10x the $35 it cost. I’m hoping that next year he can handle sleeping in the living room on the pull out sofa, but I’ll bring that bed just in case.
I have a checked bag with a noise machine, twilight turtle, toys, blow up mattress, sheets, and goldfish crackers in it. No explanation needed. My carry on has duplo/lego blocks (a quiet toy that is also many toys in one and keeps my kid occupied for long periods on airplanes and in airports), gummies, extra pants, a tablet with headphones, and a Winnie the Pooh stuffed animal in it. I still wonder what all those other parents are carrying in all of those bags!! We’ve used a sling carrier and rented a stroller for most trips and now that Adam is three we use neither. I hate the car seat in the airport nonsense, but you can’t count on a rental car agency to have a good one, so I still carry that. But not much else. I can buy food and drinks anywhere, even an airplane, I don’t feel compelled to carry food for a village on the plane ride.
I don’t drink as much in airports. I don’t sleep as much on vacation. I make paper chains to count the days to our trips. My three year old knows how to go through security. I’ve argued with TSA about breast milk and pumps (that’s one conversation I NEVER thought I’d have…). I’ve carried a backpack on my back and a baby in a sling on my front for longer than any human should have to. My travel memories now include waterslides, pony rides, kiddy roller coasters, failed sand castles, and pushing all of the buttons on the elevator (I’m sorry to all who endured that…).
Our next trip is a Mommy/Adam road trip to Michigan, in two weeks. We’ll drive across Canada and I will answer “why” 10,000 times an hour. We’ll stop to see Niagara Falls and the Blue Water Bridge, eat fast food in rest stops, and play on new playgrounds. We’ll sleep at a friend’s house with our blow up bed. We’ll visit the zoo and science center. Mostly, we’ll continue to make travel fun and an important part of our lives.