Pre-kids, my husband and I traveled a lot, and with our compasses always set toward adventure. We honeymooned in Thailand with only carry-on backpacks. Hiked the Inca Trail and camped along the Amazon in Peru. Explored Costa Rica with no hotel reservations, staying where we pleased along pothole-filled, washed-out roads.
And then we had one baby and scaled back. We still managed trips to Guatemala and Argentina but stationed ourselves at a single hotel for the week. Two babies meant easier trips to Florida and Puerto Rico. And three kids? We felt lucky to drive up to Maine, our minivan stuffed with diapers and gear.
We accepted that this was our new reality. For a while at least, while they were all so young. And so we could either hang up our traveling horns, or switch from zone defense to man-to-man.
Meaning we could invite my parents along.
Now this is not without its own challenges, of course, and unless you’re filthy rich and can treat everyone, you have to find a destination that everyone wants to pony up for. For my family, that means places like Costa Rica and, most recently, Panama. My parents, avid birdwatchers, enjoy a healthy dose of feathered finds; Nick and I get a shot of adventure; and the kids get some jungle and beach fun.
And another important consideration: You have to actually enjoy your traveling companions. I’m lucky to have pretty awesome parents, as flexible as they are energetic. If you’re also blessed with first-rate parents or in-laws, consider these benefits for going multigenerational on your next trip:
Not to be a diva, but sharing a standard hotel room with my children is like bunking up in the fifth circle of hell. We’re now officially in the suite market, and even so, we have trouble finding beds for all five of us. So in Panama, we reserved a suite for our family, the adjoining standard for my parents, and our older two girls slept in the second bed in my parents’ room. We all enjoyed the extra living space, and in exchange for the beds, we treated to some taxis and poolside margs.
Dining in numbers
One part of traveling with kids that can get a bit stressful is all that dining out. There are not enough activity books in the world to appease my kids meal after meal in a restaurant. But with extra adults at the table, a would-be circus becomes a respectable dinner. And when one of you needs to abort with a disruptive little one? You’re left in good company.
Pool and beach safety
With extra hands (and eyes), keeping little ones safe at the pool and beach is easier. Meaning the toddler could “swim” with Nana, the 7-year-old could practice pool acrobatics with her dad, and the 4-year-old and I could join the ladies at the rowdy water Zumba class.
I know you’ve been waiting for this one. Honestly, it isn’t our first priority on a family vacation, but if my parents are offering, Nick and I sure aren’t turning them down. In Panama, we spent one lovely afternoon exploring Casco Viejo, the old city, popping in and out of storefronts, snapping photos of crumbling churches and masterful graffiti, and bellying up at a bar for ceviche and a cold local beer. It was like old times.
And this time I don’t mean with your better half. I mean extra adults to buddy up with. So Nick and my dad could hit happy hour together, Mom and I could share a sea kayak, Dad and I could linger over coffee after dinner. Sometimes it’s just nice to travel with friends.
The cons? There are a few, of course, but my parents read this blog. 😉 Seriously, the biggest con is unrealistic expectations. Even with the extra hands and help, you’re still traveling with little people who need you. And only you. All the time. So tamp down that little fantasy of lazing on the beach with your mai tai and magazines, and focus on the achievable — a small taste of adventure, a moderate dose of relaxation, and a lot of fun with your family.
You may not be the traveler you once were, but this is who you are now. And it’s still really good.