Vacation – oh how the word rings with the thrill of the road. It presents itself as a glorious opportunity to immerse myself in different places, engage in meaningful conversations with people I meet for the first time or am reuniting with, and take a much-needed break from the stress of my daily routine.
At least, that is how I felt about vacations before I began to attempt them with three young kids in tow.
These days the idea is more akin to Bilbo’s words to Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
That quote sounds so thrilling without factoring young kids into the equation. Read that quote with kids in mind and it sounds downright terrifying…
Just for fun, let’s look at the difference.
I now present my own experiences of traveling without young kids versus traveling with young kids.
Packing without young Kids
It’s the night before I’m planning to leave. I throw some clothes together, pack way more than I need, because I never know what kind of clothes I might need or want to wear from day to day. Time to completion: 30 minutes tops.
Packing with young Kids
I begin the packing process a week ahead of time. Making detailed lists is a must, because the last thing I want is to be left high and dry without some needed item while my child screams. Time to completion: 1 week.
Driving without young Kids
I look out the window while my husband drives and enjoy the uninterrupted time to be with him in such close proximity. We talk about anything and everything and relax in the journey.
Driving with young Kids
I look out the window while my husband drives. After a few precious moments of conversation, I wrench myself around to address the cries of my 2-year-old. With the 2-year-old temporarily pacified, I turn back to my husband to catch the tail-end of what he was saying. I start my ever-so-carefully-thought-out response and get interrupted mid-speech by the screams of my baby. After contorting my body to retrieve the pacifier for the baby and place it back in her mouth, I finish my now less-eloquent response. I begin to listen to my husband’s response to my response. Another interruption. This time it is the 5-year-old announcing her dire need to go to the bathroom. John and I soothe her with meaningless time and mile indicators of how close we are to the next town. We pull into the first gas station we see, and I jump out of the car to help my oldest girl maneuver her way across the 2-year-old. The two of us then run into the bathroom. When we return to the car, I discover that I also need to change the diapers of the 2-year-old and baby. We all pile back into the car thirty minutes later and repeat the process.
We stop the car periodically at any playground we see in order to feed our baby and give the 5-year-old and 2-year-old a chance to stretch their legs and run around.
Occasionally, I pause and realize that there are no sounds coming from the back of the car. I look back and behold the beautiful faces of two sleeping children and one occupied five-year old happily playing on her kindle.
Maybe this isn’t such a terrible experience after all.
We arrive at our destination at least 2 hours later than the original GPS arrival time initially indicated.
Hotels without young Kids
I enjoy the nice clean sheets and pristine room, knowing I am not responsible for the cleaning process. It is so wonderful to relax in the peace and quiet and in the opportunity to be with my spouse.
Hotels with young Kids
I watch as the nice clean sheets and pristine appearance of the room disappears in one-minute flat. For a moment, I feel extreme sympathy for the hotel cleaning staff. This sympathy quickly transitions to extreme gratitude that for once the responsibility of straightening it all back up is not on our shoulders. John and I take turns navigating carefully around the abundance of suitcases as we work desperately to keep the 2-year-old from dialing someone on the phone. We use every ounce of our breath to inflate the unicorn floaties so we can all go down and enjoy the hotel pool.
In the midst of the splashing, I take a moment to enjoy the excited squeals of my kids as they enjoy the simple pleasure of being in water.
We eventually leave the pool and get cleaned up so we can set about the business of purchasing food for dinner that our kids will eat half of (at best).
Around 8 o’clock, we begin the bedtime process. We get the kids in their PJ’s, barricade the 2-year-old in the high hotel bed so she won’t fall off, attempt to have the 5-year-old and 2-year-old sleep in the same bed, give up on the idea, and utilize a divide and conquer strategy with one parent sleeping with each kid while the baby sleeps in the pack-and-play. At long last, we fall asleep — four hours after beginning the bedtime process. I wake up in the middle of the night to the cries of my baby. Although I race to pick her up before she wakes up the others, I hear John stir and know that he heard her as well. I feed my baby and then carve a path on the floor between the luggage as I walk her back to sleep. I occasionally ram my body into something I can’t see in the dark and stifle my cries of pain so I won’t wake anybody up. Finally, I lay the baby down and pray I get an hour of sleep before morning.
I lay awake for a few moments and bask in the beauty of four precious people peacefully slumbering away.
Eventually, I drift off to do the same.
Attractions without young Kids
We carefully research and make our plans for what we want to see. We include museums, nature trails, shopping areas, and restaurants. Once we have arrived at the selected location, we slow down and take our time to enjoy the opportunity of seeing and experiencing new things.
Attractions with young Kids
We carefully research all the playgrounds and any zoo in the area. Museums are included with the understanding that we will be in and out in 30 minutes. We have learned to expect that while we will visit the museum, we probably won’t ever actually see it since we will be too focused on chasing after the kids. We avoid shopping areas and restaurants unless absolutely necessary for a relational connection.
And yet, there are times when we are able to pause and enjoy the fact that the kids are excited and engaged in the attraction we have taken them to. We may be exhausted, but if the kids are learning and enjoying the new experiences, it’s worth it.
Relationships and Conversations without young Kids
I enjoy the opportunity to get to know new people and catch-up with dear friends. We have good, long, deep conversations that are only interrupted by the well-meaning waitress at the restaurant.
Relationships and Conversations with young Kids
We divide and conquer. In this scenario, it means we alternate which parent gets to participate in the conversation and which parent gets to listen with half an ear while focusing the rest of their attention on attending to the needs of the children. Regardless of this plan, we expect the conversation to get frequently interrupted.
We meet other parents facing the same challenge and form an instant bond as we simultaneously navigate between adult conversations and childcare.
On the positive side, it is definitely an enjoyable privilege to introduce my kids to people who have meant a lot to me and to see two worlds converge as my past meets up with my present.
The Beauty of Traveling without young Kids
There is a beautiful simplicity and sense of relaxation when traveling without young kids. Unlike the whirlwind of our daily routine, we are able to take the opportunity to reconnect in a focused and deliberate way. The haze of the stress we are ordinarily surrounded by falls away and we begin to see our life in a more clear and beautiful way.
The Beauty of Traveling with young Kids
My life is no longer about myself. Instead, I get to experience the beauty of planning for others, seeing to the needs of others, and having others continually in mind above myself. With kids, I get to experience the world anew through their eyes – to see their joy as they run freely about an open field or make their way up and around playground equipment. I get to hear their squeals of excitement and peals of laughter as they go down the slide or see something new and beautiful. The trip becomes less about me experiencing relaxation and more about them experiencing another piece of the world they live in.
My life now is not what it used to be. It’s new and different, and with that newness, I can’t expect it to look like and operate in the same manner as it did before. If I don’t allow my expectations to change with my life, I will get frustrated and resentful, always wishing and pushing for that which I can no longer have.
In many ways, my life now feels far more challenging and exhausting and yet, in many ways, it is far more fulfilling.
God has given me a family – a husband and children to love and care for. These added people in my life are beautiful beyond description, but putting the care and consideration of them first in my life is not an easy task.
And yet, it is a worthy pursuit. It is worth it to bring them joy and life. It is worth it to learn to love my husband and children better and to see my children grow in awe and wonder of the world we live in and of the God who created it.
I know this time of caring for young children is a stage that will not last forever. I know that my children will grow older and that as they grow, my life will change again, as will my expectations of life and travel.
May God grant me eyes to continually see the beauty around me, give me strength to love and care for my family as He would have me do, and help me grow in moment-to-moment joy and contentment.
*The Featured Picture is of the Children’s Adventure Trails at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska.