Ever feel like you need a vacation from your family vacation? For years, we did too. But I’m happy to report that we don’t anymore. So what caused the big shift? I’ll get to that. First, a little background.
For years, taking our son Max on road trips had its fair share of, shall I say, challenges. From New York City to London to San Francisco to Vegas… we traveled down the road and back again. And while we made wonderful memories along the way… these trips weren’t entirely wonderful. Whether it was Max’s inflexible sleep schedule, his limited food palate, potty training, his disinterest in walking or his inability to fully express himself, it never quite felt like a real vacation because we never got to actually relax. But now that Max is almost nine years old, we decided to give it another go… and so we booked a much-needed respite in Florida with one goal in mind — cheesecake — okay, two goals: we wanted to catch our breath!
PICTURE IT: MIAMI, 2019
While we didn’t bump into Rose Nylund anywhere, it turns out that traveling with a big boy is so much easier than traveling with a baby, toddler or small child. It felt like we turned a corner and for the first time, we all got to experience the joys of travel. After we returned home, we asked around and a lot of our parent friends agree that age 7 though 9 is really the Golden Age to vacation with kids.
MIAMI IS SO NICE, I’LL SAY IT THRICE
The best part of our trip was allowing Max to join in on the planning. Now he’s a willing participant and has strong opinions on the many different vacation activities and restaurants. Aside from being compelled to visit every single gift shop, Max choose a fantastic boat ride tour and it was his idea to rent wave runners. Now I’m not one to blow my own Vertubenflugen, but I gotta say, I am one hell of a wave runner! And by that I mean, Max only fell off twice.
Oh, and leaving all the extraneous gear like car seats and strollers at home and not having to rush back to the hotel for nap time was such a welcomed change. In the end, we were able to discover a new destination and try new things together as a family and no one ended up being sent to Shady Pines, though Alex got pretty close! It went so well, we’ve already begun planning next year’s excursion to… drum roll please… St. Olaf, Minnesota.
Planning a trip with your small children? Here’s what you can expect at different ages:
0 to 2
We found this to be a tough age to travel. Aside from having to haul around copious amounts of luggage, trying to navigate different time zones and the little one’s sleep/nap schedule made all of us a little fussy. It’s also when kids are most vulnerable to germs — and let’s face it, airplanes are basically petri dishes for young immune systems during cold and flu season. Trust me, traveling with sick kids is about as appealing as Stanly Zbornak’s toupee. There is one upside: kids this small usually travel for free.
2 to 4
Like Sophia Petrillo, Toddlers like to stick to a routine; so I’d suggest sticking to one hotel for the full duration of your trip. And always keep lots of snack and drinks with you at all times, because kids this age are known to get hangry! Lastly, and most disturbingly, potty training can put a damper (pun intended) on traveling at this age. Probably best to not book trips when you’re in the middle of the process. Upside: Age four was around the time we introduced Max to iPads on long flights, which gave us a much-needed break on long flights… and it’s when he watched his first episode of Golden Girls. #winwin
4 to 7
Around this age range kids have experience being in a school setting and following rules, so they understand that it’s important to listen to authority figures… especially when you tell them to stop kicking the chair in front of them. One tip I’ve heard from other parents is to get kids GPS bracelets for some peace of mind when visiting crowded areas because kids this age tend to explore… with or without your consent. Upside: It’s fascinating to see the world through their eyes at this age, because they’re genuinely curious about different cultures.
7 to 9
For starters, flying is a breeze. At this age, they’ll love to watch endless movies and other in-flight entertainment. And for kids who enjoy reading, they can now pass the time the old- fashioned way… with a good book (I recommend Betty White’s hysterical memoir). Overall, by this age, they have a good stamina for travel. The only downside is that it’s more expensive to travel with school-aged kids. Here’s a tip: give the kids a set amount of spending money and save one special shopping afternoon towards the end of the trip for them to pick something out. This will help manage expectations and give them something to look forward to before going home.
I’m by no means an expert, but the three of us have learned some hard-earned lessons along the way. Hope these tips help as you plan your next family vacation. And as always, thank you for reading.
But more importantly, thank you for being a friend.