There’s nothing simple about traveling with children… at least not unless you choose to make it simple. After returning from a recent amazing trip with my family, I reflected on what it was that made it so great, and all I could come back to was: simplicity. See, we don’t necessarily go anywhere vacationish… but somehow we always manage to strike the perfect balance of getting away and integrating into the local community. We don’t overpack. We don’t overplan. We don’t stress the small stuff.
Our recent travels took us to Seattle, simply because neither hubs nor I had ever been there before, and if I’m being honest, there were two simple things that absolutely MADE our trip:
First of all, we travel by train. I know, who really takes trains anymore?! But the reality is, for my family, it’s actually our favorite way to travel! Yes, I concede that this is a pricier version of travel than driving or even flying, but here’s why we love it:
- We are able to have a “home base” while traveling which allows us to maintain our typical schedule; that’s right, no potty breaks every couple of miles, we don’t have to stop our forward progress in order to stretch our legs, and the kids can play, move around, take naps when needed (laying down! with blankets! in beds!).
- The accommodations are relatively comfortable! Granted, they are pretty tight (just as you would expect from an overnight car on a train), but when all is said and done, even the roomettes include a bunk bed with linens, two seats and a table, and a small closet to stow your jackets and shoes. Each car also has access to a small, stocked coffee cart, multiple restrooms, and a shower/changing room.
- We get to see many things that we wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to visit… from cities and metros to farms and forests. You get to go over bridges, through tunnels, right alongside the ocean, and pass through snowy woods… all from the comfort of a climate controlled cabin! We get to make the journey to our destination a part of our vacation adventure!
The second key to success for family trips: we try not to overplan. I know, it used to seem counterintuitive to me too. In fact, when I was a young teacher, I actually took middle and high school students to Europe for 10 days. We landed in Roma, traveled through Italy (Firenze, Siena, San Gimignano) and then headed into Paris and Giverny. We hit museums, the Ponte Vecchio, the Colosseum and Sistene Chapel, the Universite de Paris, Monet’s home and gardens, the Louvre. We saw David, the Mona Lisa, the Trevi Fountain. It was an amazing trip, but as I landed in the US just a hot second later, I realized that I missed one important thing: I missed spontaneity. These days, my husband and I approach trips from a more organic perspective. Here’s how this looked on our recent trip to Seattle:
- We didn’t pack carseats (we decided to use public transit only). This was probably our biggest risk – while we’d read ahead to know that public transit options existed, we are San Diego locals, where getting around via bus/train can be a huge headache that potentially takes all day. That said, the idea of packing the carseats onto the train and then having to rent a car and install seats in it just seemed like so much more of a commitment to traveling further and making plans ahead of time. We opted for simple. We would only go where the ORCA pass would take us. It ended up being exactly what we needed.
- The only plan we made for the duration of our trip was a single dinner reservation at SkyCity. Seriously! The awesome thing about not having plans while traveling is that it gives you the flexibility to truly wander the city, to decide to do the things you want to do as you go, and to call it quits when you’re tired. It was blissful. We wandered in the rain, took the first underground tour we wandered across, ended up hitting our favorite restaurant 3 times, caught the Mariners’ opening game just because, and ate our way through the Public Market… twice. And when we were tired? We slept. Being able to create our own plans as we went kept us stress free and eliminated any arguments that would have otherwise come from trying to get our kiddos to be compliant with a specific schedule. Perfection.
So, are you a spontaneous traveler? Where have you gone with children?