I've come to an important realization: Vacations with small children are horrible. My own parents didn't take me anywhere until I was 5 years old, and now I understand why. So I'm taking that same step. Or rather, sitting very still and declaring that, for the foreseeable future, my brood will not be permitted to journey further than our local park.
A vacation should be fun, carefree, and relaxing — but one that includes a tiny child will never be any of these things. The gloomy truth is, all you're doing is relocating the stress and sleeplessness you have to deal with at home to a more attractive setting. Watching a baby deer frolic as you sit on the screened porch of a Scandinavian-style mountain lodge is only truly magical when the soundtrack isn't your own baby's tantrum.
Yet, I've noticed that my Facebook news feed is heaving with chirpy reports and filtered, grinning photos of people's blissful summer trips that, evidently, included a toddler. I've had to conclude that these people are doing what everyone does on social media: lying. Demonstrating that you have it together enough to pull off a vacation with a child nicely backs up that "thriving human person" PR campaign we're all working on. Most of us, especially parents, are as likely to admit real, abject failure on Facebook as Vladimir Putin is to put on rainbow-print pants and march through Moscow.
Unfortunately, I'm all too well versed in the cruel reality of large-scale trekking with a toddler. My family travels a lot because my husband and I are British, so we feel obliged to hop across the pond every few months with our 2-year-old. By the end of every trip, we feel like we need a vacation to recover.
On a recent flight to London, the iPad and sugary treats we'd packed as stay-in-your-seat bribes were deemed unacceptable. Instead, our daughter ran up and down the aisles for seven hours, stopping occasionally to hit a stranger or squeal at an old lady. It was a pretty accurate precursor of things to come. She spent the next two weeks refusing to sleep, eat, or do anything to reinforce the myth that we are coping as parents.
It's not just my family's transatlantic trials that have gotten me down on kiddie travel. For us, everything from an upstate New York getaway to a traditional beach break has proven to be just a succession of near-death catastrophes, operatic screaming, and fluid spillage. There's nothing at all relaxing about doing vacation stuff with a tot. Most activities, upon risk assessment, are pitted with potential breakages, meltdowns, and emergency room dashes.
Deciding not to leave your vacation accommodation isn't a realistic choice either, and it won't prevent disasters. Look away for a second and your toddler will have opened the bathroom door, climbed onto the counter, and knocked back the complimentary shampoo like vodka from a mini bar. And of course, she won't nap in the travel crib you bought off Craig's List, so you're forced to bundle her into the stroller or car for a fitful 40-minute doze that will leave her in a murderous mood until she passes out on your lap at 10:30 that night. Your plan to grill salmon steaks then make s'mores over the fire pit now seems laughable. All you want to do is collapse onto a flat surface and catch one or two pitiful Zs.
For us, it's about to get even worse. Very soon, we'll be the parents of two kids under 3, so we're done traveling. It ends now. Vacations of any kind are a waste of our inadequate free time and money.
So what's a young family with wanderlust to do? Stamp out that yearning. Thailand will still be there when your kids are older. Instead, focus on showing your offspring a good time locally. It's better for the environment, your bank balance, and your sanity.
Plus, tiny children don't need to travel. They won't remember any of it. Put the money you save into a college fund. Better still, spend it on a child-free vacation. How's that done exactly? First, convince potential long-stay babysitters that your tots are pleasant, personable beings. Hoodwink in place, flee to the nearest tropical island.