By Troy Flint
Each summer, my wife and I make the annual cross-country pilgrimage to visit family. If you’ve never had the pleasure of taking a long vacation with multiple young children, consider this a PSA: 1/10 – do not recommend. As a friend commented on Facebook when learning of our plans, “a vacation with kids is not a vacation, it’s an adventure.”
Of course, we are not always presented with appealing choices in this life, nor do we always make good ones. Whether for reasons of obligation, enrichment, or aspiration (everyone’s gonna have fun this year, dammit!), or simply to enhance your Instagram, many have endured their own Griswoldian travel experience.
If you are among this number, then we are kindred spirits, bonded by the common oppression of red-eye flights, connections in third-tier airports, and roadside bathrooms. That’s not to say travel with kids is without rewards. Seeing them experience new people and places, bond with rarely seen relatives, and enjoy a break in routine is priceless. However, so are peace and sanity, which can be elusive once the circus hits the road.
It wasn’t always this way. As I lumber through the airport, towing an oversized suitcase with a car seat around each arm – half-cat herder, half beast of burden – I have bittersweet memories of traveling with a single bag and arriving at the gate just in time to catch my plane (or not).
These days, close calls and missed flights are frowned upon. (Turns out kids and eight-hour layovers in Pittsburgh don’t mix). The times when vacations were synonymous with carefree leisure and exploration went bye-bye some time ago. As the years have passed, our trips have become increasingly complex. Relatives have spread further across the continent and the size of our brood has grown. Logistics are more difficult, bags are heavier, and accessories multiply like Gremlins after midnight. Still, we forge on undaunted, as only the parents of infants and toddlers can.
A family of four makes travel plans like Eisenhower readying the D-Day invasion. We research, we consult with allies, we draw up blueprints, we tear them up and start over again, we procure supplies, we review the battle plans, we rehearse scenarios, and, perhaps, we pray. A few tips to help with the preparation: (color-block your clothes so they’re interchangeable and you get more outfits with few items, send packages ahead to your destination or buy things likes diapers and air mattresses once you arrive, consider the Ride Safe Vest as a carseat alternative, and lower your expectations. But no matter what you do, eventually, the moment of truth arrives. The alarm rings at 4:00am, we shake off the cobwebs and the disbelief and trudge out into the darkness to meet our fate.
Despite the early wake-up call, this year’s flight began without incident. A recently reformed member of OA (Overpackers Anonymous), I squeezed all my clothes, shoes toiletries, and electronic items into a single bag. A supersize military tactical backpack, but still. The entire family arrived at the airport in time for a causal, no-stress stroll through to the gate. The flight itself was mostly uneventful except for some contortionist on-flight diaper changes and an in-seat blowout that penetrated the diaper-onesie barrier and left me coated in dookie juice for the last few hours of the trip. There was a time when even the briefest contact with poop would have sent me into convulsions, but now it only prompts resignation and a half-hearted attempt at dabbing the stain with a wet wipe. This is growth. This is travelling with little kids, and you’ll do it all again next year – a little older, a little wiser, and a little closer to a vacation instead of an adventure.
Photo by Hanson Lu