Why Not? Just do it right!
What feels like a million years ago, I was doing some travelling in Europe. It was a quasi-backpacking adventure where I carried said backpack to beautiful little hotels, rooms and even a tent city in Florence. I did it with a friend and, as such, was able to keep it a little more loosely planned than my compulsion to plan and schedule usually dictated. It was a great way to travel; no place less than 2 nights, no more than 3 countries, and no more than 10 train trips. It forced me to enjoy the place I was in, and to look for beauty and adventure wherever I found myself. For example, when I discovered Santorini in Greece, and my amazing little hotel in Fira had spare rooms following my pre-booked 2 days, I added two more and just lived the island’s culture. I would highly recommend it… if you don’t have kids.
On one of those 10 train trips I found myself fascinated by a 30-something couple and an infant girl. They were clearly Canadian (Canadians are always flagged and patched out to ensure we aren’t mistaken for another country’s travelers) and appeared calm, relaxed, and to be enjoying their trip, despite the baby. I know that sounds harsh, but my experience to date had me convinced that travelling with kids was a nightmare. Every parent I had overheard (clearly I was sans kids at this time) proclaimed the hassles and hindrances of heading to a grocery store or a restaurant, let alone the 2 month voyage I discovered this couple to be on. My questions to them were simple; what made them think this was a good idea? How were they making it work?!
Simple things in small packages…
The couple, Chris and Isabelle, said travelling with little Amanda was a breeze. They had an older son from earlier in life and hauling him around tourist sites, art and architecture, and to try new foods would NEVER have happened. He was more than happy to stay in Canada with his grandparents while Mom and Dad took the trip they’d always wanted, but couldn’t afford until now. For every question I had, they had an answer:
- What about feeding her? Pointed to Isabelle’s chest.
- Sleeping arrangements? They practiced co-sleeping anyway.
- Entertaining Amanda? Held up bag of toys.
- Booking passage around the continent? (Asked as they had a sleeping baby in the front carrier in their two booked seats)… ummm…
‘The small ones are easy,’ Chris said. You don’t have to choose specific activities for an infant. You get to spend close, personal, and important time with the baby without neglecting the other children. He said they could feel selfless in doing what they wanted, honour the wishes of the teen, and help build patience and environmental awareness for the little one. Why didn’t I think of that? Sometimes I’m a pretty smart guy, but I let other peoples’ whining and complaining taint the way I saw family activity and travel.
Putting it to the test…
Fast Forward to two summers ago; the family and I decide to travel to Portugal, where my partner’s family is from. Mom and I did a bunch of planning, and her parents – Nana and Papa – decided to make the trip with us. Now we had an 11, 13, and grandparent aged crew to plan for in addition to our own wants. The baby wasn’t around at this point, but I decided to put some of Chris and Isabelle’s principles into play, for my side of the planning anyway.
Mom’s a genius. If I haven’t made that clear before, I meant to. In looking at the group we had, the sites we were excited about, and the attention spans that were sure to be challenged, we made a simple set of first steps; two rented vehicles in case of dissension in the ranks, alternating beach and tourist days (with priority to the beach), and limited time travelling between sites. I know that sounds like an elementary equation, but it shaped the entire trip and eliminated a lot of potential hassle.
As I said, Mom’s family is from Portugal, with Papa not coming to Canada until his early teens. That meant we had a house that was all ours to take advantage of, and plenty of family and old friends to help us on our journey. Those things also come with a commitment to visit family, to see the pride points and places from their heritage, and even to take the kids to the cemeteries to pay respects to their ancestors. Remember, this is Europe, not infant-Canada… history there means hundreds if not thousands of years. It can be a lot for a kid to take in, no matter how enthralling I find it.
We loved the beach days and really came together as a growing family. Being new to this clan, I knew Mom’s secret idea was to help cement our relationships as we got to know each other better. Bless her little cotton socks… ’cause it worked. We also chose historical places that were really interesting for all of us, had activities for kids, or appealed to things we knew the kids enjoyed. This isn’t a post about that trip, but if you’re heading there, check out Sintra and Óbidos – in the summer – as a minimum! The trip wasn’t without it’s hiccups, of course, and there were times where I was glad we could all just stroll independently around the small home town, or hit a cafe. That said, I know we came back with great shared stories, and had begun to write our own history, together.
Here’s my succinct success list… well, the list I’m continuing to try with, anyway:
- Include the kids in the planning. If they are able to spend a couple of weeks cruising websites, looking at tourist books, and talking about what might be there to do, you’ll begin to engage them in the trip well before they board the plane, train, or automobile.
- Don’t take their disinterest personally. You didn’t build the church they don’t like, or the village they are walking through. They are kids. We can provide opportunities, share the information in a way that is interesting, and ensure they aren’t rude… the rest is up to them.
- Get all the adults on board. Share your plan for the trip and what you hope to accomplish. Primary and secondary goals should always include together-time, and fun. Tertiary and Quaternary goals are great to have outlined but, when people get tired and attitudes turn crappy, refer to goals one and two. If everyone knows that, then they can choose their comments and suggestions accordingly.
- It’s a family trip. It’s not your trip, just because you are footing the bill. If you ever feel the ‘when you pay for the trip you can do what you want’ retort bubbling up, go look in a mirror and remind yourself that you’re an adult member of the family, not another kid.
- Share your successes. Here in the comments, on our CdnDaddy.ca social media joints, or over a beer or coffee with your Daddy friends when and if you take one of those important Daddy breaks.