Thursday, May 30, 2013

Why I Like Traveling with Kids

I've spent the past few days researching toddler-friendly vacation destinations, which means I've spent the past few days reading countless suggestions on message boards that perhaps we should just stay home, or very close to it. 

The standard argument, in a nutshell, is that vacations aren't as important as everyday togetherness for keeping your family unit strong. (Duh.) And since kids seem to like the mundane stuff best anyway -- the playground, the hotel vending machine, the rental car -- why bother going anywhere?

I'm sorry, but where's the logic in that? That's like saying, "Birthday cake isn't as important to your health as eating a balanced diet the rest of the year. And sometimes you bake a birthday cake and your kids only eat the icing! Don't waste your time!" 

Danger, at 7 months old, failing to fully appreciate Bermuda's rich history.
P.S. He's the one in the stroller. The tall one is my husband.

And just because you can find something at home, is that a reason to avoid it overseas? I mean, I can sit in the bathtub with a margarita, so why bother going to Mexico? My neighbors have some fish, so why visit the Great Barrier Reef?

I mean, what kind of unrealistic expectations do people have for vacations? I imagine these parents taking their kids to Holland to learn about the progressive use of wind power, and then getting bummed out when their kids only care that the Dutch put ice cream on their pancakes. (The Dutch are geniuses.) 

The thing is, even the mundane stuff is more fun when you're away. I liked grocery shopping at the IGA in Montreal as much as I liked visiting the Notre-Dame. My kids loved "riding in the red car" at Disney World -- um, that would be our rental Prius.

I'm not saying we're the most worldly family ever, but if the opportunity to go to Europe came up tomorrow, I'm not going to say no just because I might have to pass some time in the cultural wasteland of a Parisian playground, eating my weight in beignets while my kids go down the slide for the 10297309th time. That actually sounds amazing.

Vacationing with kids is different, but in some ways, I actually think it's better. Here's why:

1. Kids can pinpoint the true awesomeness of a city in three seconds flat. Whether it's the playground, the street food, or a nice guy on the bus, kids have sonar for fun. They get the "authentic experiences" that travelers wax intellectual about because kids aren't trying to impress anyone(Where are the locals hanging out? Probably the playground.)

2. Kids give you a permission to be a tourist. It's hard to blend when you're lugging around a three-day zombie disaster supply kit in your diaper bag and your traveling companion has eschewed a "basic black" wardrobe in favor of wearing Angry Birds pajamas all day. But here's a secret: Remember that time before you had kids? When you dressed like a local and memorized useful phrases like "Waar zijn de dichtstbijzijnde pannenkoeken?" You probably weren't fooling anyone then, either.

3. Kids are the great equalizer. Nothing bonds you to your fellow travelers faster than being the other parent using a national monument as a time-out seat.

4. Kids see things like kids. When I was a kid, I thought the countries in EPCOT were the actual countries. My husband still gets nostalgic about his vacations at a rainy campground in New Jersey. I don't think that Monte Carlo would blow my kids' minds any more than the Hot Wheels aisle at Target already does. Yes, kids are easy to please -- but is that really a problem? Is it so bad to go on vacation with someone who thinks that any hotel with an ice machine is a five-star resort and any restaurant with free crayons deserves a Michelin star? Or would you rather travel with someone who thinks the Louvre was too underwhelming, Disney too manufactured, or the Grand Canyon too dusty? (Yep, that was an actual complaint on Tripadvisor.) I'll waste time traveling with my kids any day.