I recently came across an essay by Reif Larsen in the New York Times that I was so excited to share. In his piece, Larsen describes the sigh of relief that many new parents breathe when they finally break down and take the vacation easier traveled. It’s the kind of getaway our family was looking for when we booked a trip to Marathon Key. The chilly tentacles of a Minnesota winter wouldn’t let up. Just when you thought you were free (June, maybe?) they’d unfurl and wrap us in ice and snow again. We had to get out, “spirited” toddler or not.
Like Larsen, our goals were clear: sun and sand. Our requirements: a manageable amount of car and plane time to reach them. We rented a comfy little condo and spent our days at the pool and small beach located just across the plush carpet of grass. We cooked and ate at home. We walked next door for an educational afternoon at the Turtle Hospital. We skipped the humid, possibly buggy nature reserve down the road. It was easy. It was comfortable. It was wonderful. It was the vacation our neophyte family needed.
But like Larsen, as our family gains skills and age, we slowly slough off this buffer of comfort to get out there and explore the world again. A few years ago it was an anniversary trip to Hawaii where we rented a ‘comfortable’ (i.e. run down) beach cottage, spending our days learning to boogie board and searching out the best food trucks and shave ice. At the end of the trip, we treated the kids (us really) to a few comfy days at a condo/resort where the main attraction was the Olympic-size water slide and the plethora of cable tv channels. Last year it was down to Mexico where we ventured into the old city of Oaxaca and then later, the Sia Ka’an biosphere and Tulum beaches. Bugs yes. Rough roads and long plane rides yes. But we were up for the adventure.
The point is, we have come to realize that like everything about kids, traveling is all about stages. You think you’ll never get through the struggle of the afternoon nap and then poof! It’s over. You’ve survived. And although there were a few bumps in the road, it’s all part of the journey. Just like setting down the backpack and the Rough Guides for a few years while you push around the Bob stroller and lug the sippy cups. It’s okay. As parents, we need to give ourselves a break.
Then I came across Taking the Kids– Why families love all-inclusives even if they didn’t think they would by Eileen Ogintz in the Chicago Tribune. She lists a lot of great resorts that on a good day sound intriguing and when I’m exhaustingly packing yet another round of school lunches, sound like a slice of heaven. But Ogintz’s article also includes this line, which brings a big frown to my face. “Of course many of these travelers rarely, if at all, leave the confines of the resort, even though there are wonderful sites and experiences to be had…lament local tourism officials.” Ugh. Here Ogintz reveals the flip side of easing into the no-hassle vacation. You can check in any time you like, but you may never leave.
Like Ogintz (she promises to fill us in on all the cool experiences waiting outside the resort walls in another column), and the local tourism officials, I get the draw of the resorts, especially for families. But to never venture beyond that seems like we’re selling ourselves, and our kids, awfully short.
I was recently thinking about why I love to travel. What is the value of schlepping all that way and getting outside my comfort zone? All the wonderful quotes I’d read over the years—”We wander for distraction, we travel for fulfillment,” “To travel is to take a journey into yourself,” “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes”—none of them really captured why I love to travel, and want to share it with my family. For me, I love to travel because our planet is such an amazing, varied, impressive, adventurous, wondrous and awe-inspiring place. When I’m traveling, it’s like waking up to a present every day: Look at this wonderful sight/interaction/experience that you’ve been gifted with!
I guess my point is that I started Kiddieup because I wanted parents to give that gift of travel to their kids. Of course, if you want to book the resort, book the resort! Go on a cruise. Heck, book a Disney cruise! But don’t just stay inside those cushy, kid-club, buffet-filled walls. Open up the box and enjoy the present the world is offering.