Before we had children, my husband and I used to travel somewhere relatively far-flung at least once a year. Then our son was born in 2008, and suddenly it seemed much easier to stay home. And really, that’s what we wanted to do anyway. A year later, we bought our current house, which has been one never-ending project for the past three and a half years. Landscaping, irrigation, adding a backyard office, planting and tending to an orchard and large garden, and finishing the basement have taken up a large part of our free time. And of course, adding a second child last year meant that we were even more content to just hang out at home with our boys.
We’re still in the hanging out close to home stage, but we can tell that we’re getting closer to starting to travel a bit again. We had no desire to travel with infants or very young children. They wouldn’t appreciate or remember it – they are just as happy playing in the park behind our house (or our own backyard) as they would be in an amusement park on the other side of the country. But our older son is definitely getting to the age where he could enjoy trips, and I think our younger son will be there too in another year or two.
But with a family of four, travel becomes significantly more expensive than it was when it was just the two of us. Airfare for four people isn’t cheap, and we’d probably be more likely to consider driving if we were going somewhere we could get to within a day or two. When we do fly, we’ll plan well in advance, shop around for deals, and try to travel at off-peak times. Of course, that become a bit more tricky when you’ve got children in school, but we’ll see how it goes.
Back when we used to travel more frequently, we very rarely paid for a hotel room, because we were usually visiting family or friends when we traveled. My time as a Peace Corps Volunteer gave me friends who are spread all around the world now, and my husband’s family is also very spread out. We always made sure we were good house guests: we paid for meals, pitched in with chores, never over-stayed our welcome, and made sure we only went where we were invited. We can still do that as a family of four, but perhaps not quite as easily. Of course we’re always welcome to stay with family (they would be quite upset if we didn’t), and they with us. But I think we’d only feel comfortable staying with friends who also had young children – kids are awesome, but maybe less so if they’re not your own and you’re not used to having them around!
We’re starting to talk about travel ideas with our older son. He likes to look at the atlas and the globe with us and ask about the places he sees. He really wants to see the ocean – he’s convinced that the smallish lakes around here are the ocean, so a trip to the beach is probably in the cards sometime in the next few years. And we’d also love to take a train vacation; both of our boys love trains, and we think it would be awesome to travel somewhere by train (I did that a few times in Africa, so my expectations are set very low. If I have something other than a bag of potatoes to sit on, I’ll be thrilled!). Ideally, we’d also like to do some international travel, but that will probably come several years later, once both boys are old enough to really appreciate it. We have family and close friends we’d love to visit in Europe and New Zealand, so we’ll be on the lookout for bargain airfares to those destinations once our boys are older. We’d also consider resorts and all-inclusive places when they’re running special promotions. We’ve never done anything like that (other than a cruise several years ago), but it sounds like a low-stress way to travel, especially with children. There are plenty of websites – like this one for cheap UK vacations – that can help you find deals on vacation packages if you’re flexible on dates.
But we’re not anywhere close to ready for that level of travel yet. In the last five years, we’ve flown to visit grandparents once and taken a couple roadtrips, also to visit grandparents. We are very much out of practice when it comes to travel. So I think we’ll start small and plan some camping trips for next summer. This past summer, we were working on our yard and basement every weekend, and only ended up taking one weekend away to meet up with some friends. When September rolled around, we realized we hadn’t use our tent all summer. So we set it up in the backyard, had a picnic out there, and slept in the tent with our boys. Our older son loved it, and I think he’d really enjoy a multi-day camping trip. Our little guy will be two by then, and I think he’ll like it too.
So that’s the plan for now. Camping is about as frugal as it gets for family vacations. There are tons of great camping areas within a few hours of here, we can pack a cooler full of food, we can take our dog (no need to worry about what to do with her while we’re gone), and it’s a great way to spend some quality time together as a family. I’m taking an air mattress though. My days of camping on a therma-rest are over. Hopefully we’ll be able to do a few camping trips next summer and ease ourselves back into the idea of traveling. I’ll focus on packing light (that will definitely come in handy when we eventually get back to plane travel and longer trips) and picking destinations that will appeal to kids and adults alike – camping definitely fits the bill there, as we all enjoy being outdoors (and the air mattress will make the whole thing more enjoyable for the adults…). And a few years down the road, you just might see us at the airport again!
What are your favorite tips for traveling with children?