Sep 25 2011
When I started writing Travels with Children in 2007, it was largely in reaction to the frequent question, “How do you do it?” We had just returned from a family vacation to Chicago and I’d taken my brood on several summertime daytrips, where people wondered how we could travel with so many little kids.
At the time, it didn’t seem out of the ordinary to me. I was incredibly busy when we were home, so I might as well take the show on the road and be incredibly busy while finding some fun and interesting things to do, right?
Now, I look back and do wonder just a bit how we managed it. After all, they were pretty little back then.
When we traveled anywhere, it required a lot of gear. The stroller baskets were stuffed full and my purse and the diaper bag hung over the handles for a day trip in Chicago.
The youngest wasn’t even wearing real shoes yet.
Still, we enjoyed the family time together. This photo captures one of my favorite vacation memories.
Yesterday, I drove the kids up to the Hutchinson Model Railroad Show. We’ve been there before; in fact a stop at the train show was the very first family adventure I wrote about on this blog, four years ago.
We hadn’t been to the train show since then, and it was an eye-opener to return to something I did when the kids were so young. (I get tired now reading that post and seeing that the model railroad show was just the first stop of a full day of activity four years ago.)
Then: My children were 6, 4, 3, and 1. The baby was in the stroller, and couldn’t see much of anything as the train layouts were over her head. With the older kids, I was nervous about them wandering away from me and touching something they shouldn’t.
Now: My 7-year-old chose to stay and help her dad on the farm for the afternoon, so I had only three children with me, who are now 10, 8, and 5. They knew that they could look around but not touch, and I could sit and enjoy a snack while watching them wander around the train layouts. Some things do get easier as the kids get older.
Then: My second son is the train-lover in the group. Reading the old post, I see that I was inquiring about getting started in model railroading when he was four.
Now: He’s still interested in model trains, but now he’s able to look at prices and think about saving his money if this is a hobby he wants to pursue.
Then: The kids ooohed and aaahed over the model railroad setups at the show.
Now: The trains didn’t seem as exciting to them. They claimed that they had better trains running last time, and wouldn’t let me convince them that their perceptions have changed a lot since then.
Then: We won a door prize of a DVD of model railroad outtakes.
Now: They fondly remember the DVD, that someone stepped on it and broke it, and asked if we could buy a new copy at the show. I wonder if it would be as good as they remember now that they’re older?
Returning to something we did several years ago reminded me that choosing day trips and vacations for families has a lot to do with timing. When looking at a destination, it’s important to consider whether your children are at the right age to enjoy it. Go to the children’s museums when they’re little, and don’t feel bad about saving the theatre until they’re older and can better sit still and enjoy it. Take them to different playgrounds when they’re young and it’s a big deal to them to play in a new park. Keep the guided tours of historic mansions for days when you don’t have to worry about them breaking something.
We’re starting to think about some of those timing issues for family vacations as well. While we enjoyed Philadelphia when the kids were 2-7, we want to save Washington, D.C. until they’re older and can absorb and remember more of the history. We’ve decided that this winter is our sweet spot for a California vacation — the kids will still enjoy Disneyland and Legoland but we can do it without a stroller and baby gear.
I know that it’s not possible to time every destination perfectly, but we never have a shortage of things to do when we travel. It’s important to choose the things that fit our family best — in interest, age, and cost — for the particular time that we’re there. We need to enjoy things fully while we have the chance, and sometimes it’s best not to return to a place of happy memories, lest it not be quite as exciting as we remembered it.