Traveling with kids can be a great experience. But let’s be transparent. It is hard. In fact, the big difference between a trip vs. vacation is the amount of relaxation you feel while traveling.
Anyone who has traveled with kids will likely agree, family trips are NOT vacations.
Traveling has always been a passion of mine. Before kids, my husband and I would board a plane almost monthly to discover a new place, relax on a beach, or explore a different country. But when we had our daughter, things changed. Things changed a lot.
In fact, it will be years before my husband and I get to go on a vacation again. Don’t get me wrong, we haven’t given up traveling. Actually, we probably travel even more nowadays.
Within the first year of our daughter’s life, we took her to numerous places, including on two international trips. But they were exactly that: trips. They were in no way vacations.
Relaxing vacations don’t really exist when traveling with children… at least not while they are really young.
The way we travel has changed. We no long take vacations. We take trips. Although it is possible to relax on a trip with kids, it isn’t necessarily easy.
Traveling with children: Why it’s a trip vs. vacation
The main difference between a trip vs. a vacation is that a trip is not always fun, whereas a vacation, in theory, should be.
If you go to a beach with kids, do not expect to lounge on the sand with a fruity drink in your hand and fall asleep with the ocean breeze blowing across your body.
As a parent, going to the beach now means a constant battle to keep my kid from eating the sand, or kicking it up on those who are actually on a “vacation.” It means chasing after a toddler who is trying to run off into the waves or take her swimsuit off in the middle of a crowded beach.
When we go to the beach, I now have to worry about keeping my child hydrated and lathered in sunblock.
My husband has now become a glorified pack mule, carrying bags of sand toys, towels, floaties, sunblock, water bottles, snacks, and all of the other beach essentials for kids, only to haul it all back to the hotel room again in an hour when the little one is tired and cranky. Does that sound like a vacation to you?
That, my friends, is a trip not a vacation. In fact, I’d even venture to say it’s a work trip.
Why traveling with kids should be considered a work trip
For the first year and a half of our daughter’s life I was a stay-at-home-mom. Regardless of what anyone thinks, being a mom is a full-time job, the pay just sucks. In fact, being a stay-at-home mom was the hardest, most demanding job I’ve ever had.
When we are traveling, I am still a mom… just away from home.
I still have all of the duties I have at home: diaper changes, baths, bottles, calming a fussy child… But I also have the added duties that go along with traveling: keeping the aforementioned fussy child quiet on the plane, in restaurants, or in the hotel room when she wakes up at 3 a.m.
Then there are the tasks of applying sunscreen and bug spray every 10 minutes, and researching child-friendly dining options and excursions.
If you stay in an apartment instead of a hotel, it likely means you’ll also need to grocery shop, cook, and do laundry while on your “vacation”. I don’t consider any of those activities relaxing, which is why I don’t consider traveling with kids a “vacation”.
When we travel, I’m working the ENTIRE trip as well as in the days and weeks gearing up for it.
Gone are the days of throwing some clothes into a carry-on bag and leaving on a spontaneous getaway. I now have to make a list of all the baby necessities to pack in our carry-on and in our luggage. And I start packing a week before we leave, just to make sure I don’t forget anything our daughter will need.
The ugly truth: Traveling with kids is hard
I am going to be blunt with you, traveling with children is exhausting. Draining. Taxing. Tiring. Demanding. It’s hard. So hard, in fact, that I’ve questioned our sanity for continuing to take a baby across the world.
I have literally cried in our hotel room before when our daughter refused to sleep because she was in a new environment. In fact, the picture above was taken at 5 a.m., the first full day we were in Costa Rica.
My husband (God bless him) took our then 6-month-old for a very early morning stroll along the beach so I could get an hour or so of sleep, because I had been up ALL.NIGHT.LONG. with her. That is not an exaggeration. She did not sleep the entire night.
When traveling with kids, particularly very young children, you will have those difficult moments. You will have meltdowns at the dinner table (exhibit B, below), and you will have times that might make you say “We’re never doing this again!”
Traveling with your kids: Why it’s worth it
Although you’ll have plenty of challenges when traveling with kids, you will also have moments like this:
That smile of pure glee makes it all worth it. To a child, everything is new. Everything is magic.
I want my daughter to see the mountains, to see the seasons change, and to swim in the ocean. Those are all things she would never experience if we didn’t leave our home state of Oklahoma.
To watch her reaction when she sees something as “magical” as a new plant, or snow, or a crab crawling across the sand… that makes each “work trip” we take better than any vacation we’ve ever been on!
Do you travel with your kids? Where do you stand on the trip vs. vacation debate? Let us know in the comments below!