Take the Kids or Leave Them Home? - My Family Travels
Kids at home

A Family Travel Forum mother offers frank and tried advice: if you want to bring your kids along, think of what appeals to them, too.

What trips work best for kids? As a member of the now obsolete Babysitter Generation, I am opposed to toting the Diaper Set along on purely cultural expeditions. Leisurely strolls through the Louvre or Smithsonian will soon turn into frantic trots when a tired 2-year-old loudly announces it’s way past naptime. 

Say you’ve come all the way to Italy and are standing in line for the Uffizzi when your toddler spots a gelati vendor. If you refuse to surrender your hard-won place and grimly drag her inside, it won’t be long until her monotonous whines cancel out the glories of Botticelli. What’s wrong with having a loving stateside grandmother stuff your 3-year-old with ice cream, while you dawdle through the Pitti Palace or cruise Florence’s enchanting boutiques? 

Some trips are perfect for multi-generational travel, like the one we took to a beachfront resort in the Yucatan. The group included two doting grandparents, one son with wife and 2-year-old girl, a 50-ish and childless great aunt and uncle, both skittish about children. 

We lived in three thatched huts facing the ocean. Claire smiled her way from the beach to the ruins of Tulum. The dining room staff clapped as she marched in, loudly announcing, “Here comes Claire!” The Childless Couple, once concerned about the proximity of a small child, now credit Claire for sprinkling magic over the whole trip. 

Touring with children who are old enough to enjoy new sights and sounds can widen your horizons. They fixate on strange curios — multicolor “plasticos” in Greece, snakeskins in Mexico, a beat-up brass bugle in England. On the trail of their obsession, you depart from the beaten path and stumble over new friends. Teenagers might talk you into getting rock tickets on the same night the Three Tenors are singing in Rome. The tenors you can catch on PBS, but when did you last rock out in Italy? 

If taking a young child means your sightseeing will be severely limited, think it over. Ask yourself if the child will benefit.  My experience of returned travelers who are under 10 is that they retain little more from fancy trips than food trivia and regrets about souvenirs they didn’t get.

My own children, who accompanied me to Europe as early teenagers, were docile about the museums and stately homes if given sufficient swimming and video breaks. Still, when asked for their favorite destination — I hoped for the Acropolis at dawn or Woburn Abbey —  they unanimously selected a weekend at a two-dollar-fleabag in Ensenada where they’d shot off tons of fireworks and drunk gallons of Coke. Catering to a child’s true desires can save you a barrel of money!

Everybody has a different opinion about when and where to take the kids. Hawai’i and the San Diego Zoo are obvious family destinations. But if your children are young and your trip goals are specific — trekking Nepal, or Salzburg’s Mozart Festival, for instance — why not start lining up possible sitters?


Ms. Shriver and her family enjoy vacations from their home in Rancho Palos Verdes, California.

Photo Courtsey of http://www.fubiz.net/.

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