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Confronting the “Best places to travel before you have a kid” myth

The ever-popular “where to travel before you have a kid” proclamations trigger the contrarian in me. Flight duration, travel risk, and frankly “how much fun you will miss out on if you bring your child” are common rationalizations why some places are better left to the adults. This kind of dialog contributes to the myth that traveling with children is too hard to justify, and that certain destinations should be avoided once you become a parent. Of course, your experience of ANYWHERE will be different with a little human to take care of, but dismissing much of the world as a family travel option hardly seems like a rational conclusion. In fact, these places can become even more meaningful when seeing them through the eyes of a child.

Here are some examples:

Tidepooling in Ketchikan

Alaska

The Culture Trip  includes the exact same route we enjoyed with our (then) two year old as a priority for pre-child travel. Riding the White Pass Railroad, spotting bears, and eating lots of crab all occurred when I visited Alaska as a 20-something, but took a new meaning when experiencing them with my son. Additionally, the decisions we made because he was with us introduced us to new places and people we would have never met on our own. Exhibit A: tidepooling and totems in Ketchikan with a local wilderness guide by Hummer 4×4.

Punta Del Este, Uruguay

Uruguay

The Culture Trip also alludes to all the fun that can be had wine tasting and visiting Gaucho estancias without kids in tow. We did all that and more when our son was not-yet 2. We also visited Argentina, Chile, and the Falkland Islands on this trip and mostly loved how hospitable everyone was, especially to our little guy. Do you know the elderly South American man in the photo above? Neither do I! People tend to open up much quicker when you have a cute kid in tow, allowing you to get authentic insights into each place.

I find wineries to be great fun with children, especially when surrounded by beautiful vistas and delicious snacks. Driving from Santiago to Valparaiso, Chile allowed all of us to understand terroir in a very different way- because rolling around in the grass tends to do that…. 

And while I can understand that rugged overland transfers with an infant are not for all parents, the reward of panoramic penguins cannot be overstated. 

Penguin colony, Falkland Islands

Riviera Maya

Fodors declares that everyone deserves a beach holiday without children. Fair. But this hardly seems a reason to prioritize Mexico as a pre-child trip. We have been (with and without child) many times, simply because there are so many wonderful things about traveling in Mexico that it seems arbitrary to draw a hard line. 

Some of my favorite memories of Mexico are a direct result of having been there with a child. From Cancun and Cozumel to Isla Mujeres and Costa Maya, we never struggled to enjoy sun and sand. But beyond that, making connections with local families who also have children provide a different insight into real life. For example, we spent a blissful afternoon playing with a young family, the kids having a bilingual “tea party” in the crystal blue waters while the adults compared notes about raising kids in different cultures. And if quesadillas are basically ambrosia, why not share that joy in situ with fresh tortillas from an abuela? 

Cenotes, Quintana Roo, Mexico

African Safari

The Nest claims that Africa might be too far away or too adventurous for children. We spent our honeymoon travelling through southern Africa scuba diving, travelling by local bus, and doing many things very differently than we did upon return with our 3 year old. The common denominator (and non-negotiable) were the safaris. Watching the pages of a child’s bedtime stories to life reminds you how magical nature is, and seeing animals taking care of their own offspring makes you realize how interconnected we are. Having your little one next to you brings these points home.

Hluhluwe National Park, South Africa

Oh, and the wineries! South African wineries truly include the whole family when considering visitor experience. Their attitude and design provide more opportunities for kiddies to mingle on the playground as the adults taste. Plus, the delicious local cheeses and fruits really don’t have an age requirement. 

We have also visited Barcelona, Napa, Vegas, and many other places frequently represented on these lists both with and without a child. Are they more romantic without children? Of course, but so is my backyard. So where should you visit before you have kids? Everywhere. Where should you visit with your kids? Same answer. Because whether my child remembers any of these experiences we have had together, I most certainly will, and will think back on these places more fondly because we shared them.

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • ES May 22, 2018, 1:52 am

    Brava, Allison! Great, great post. While I have found that some places can be harder to visit with little ones in tow, it never stopped us. And I now find myself eager to show the world to my granddaughter!

    When we spent a summer in France with a nine month old back in the 1980s, we found most French restaurants were rather cool to our showing up for dinner with a baby. Highchairs were extremely hard to find and while no one said “no kids” out loud, the message was pretty clear when we called or stopped by to make reservations. This was many years ago; it may be different these days. Or not!

    But we found a tasty strategy when we stumbled into a Moroccan restaurant in search of a traditional couscous. The proprietor’s older kids were helping out front while a baby played in the kitchen, and it wasn’t very long before our daughter was welcomed into the family fold. We quickly realized we’d have to forgo some places or hire a sitter, and we had many unforgettable and delicious dining experiences “en famille” once we figured out where a baby would be welcome.

    Israel was the total opposite. You can pretty much go everywhere with a baby. My fondest dining-with-little-ones memory there was when we were eating in a hotel dining room, and a waiter scooped up my child and carried him around the restaurant for a bit. It was hard to tell who was happier – the waiter or the baby!

    I also remember some award-winning meltdowns, but they happen at home too. If one is thoughtful and considerate – of the children, the other people you’ll encounter and yourself – I say never let a kiddo stop you!

    • Allison May 22, 2018, 9:15 am

      Hi Elaine,
      Thanks! I was also thinking about France when writing this. We haven’t been with a child, but the “seen and not heard” mentality does seem to be more prevalent there. When we went to nice restaurants in Paris as a 16 year old, I felt a bit ostracized. Then when I lived there a few years later, I still felt ostracized so maybe it didn’t have to do with age 🙂 In contrast, our first international trip with a child was to Spain when he was 6 months old and we had a similar experience to yours in Israel. He has since spent many hours in restaurant kitchens.
      Overall (and who knows if this is accurate) I feel like families are bringing their kids everywhere these days, and demand dictates that suppliers accept this fact. As parents, we can quickly assess a space and decide if we can enjoy it without encumbering others. In Grenada, we watched a flamenco show with a baby strapped to me. He slept through the whole thing and no one batted an eyelash. So once you get a feel for a place, you can decide what is/is not appropriate for you in that space.

  • Kim May 22, 2018, 2:49 am

    This article speaks to me and my family. I am currently in Istanbul with my 10 month old son. We have been traveling for the last 4 weeks and have been to 5 countries in that time. I only say that, because this article hits every way I feel about traveling with him. Yes there has been moments when I’m tired and he’s cranky, but overall it is so rewarding and gives me an overall new perspective on the way we travel and mostly how we are now better engaged with local culture. I also think he’s absorbed and learned so much from the new surroundings around him, I could imagine that a 2 or 3 year old would be a sponge for culture and that is something you can’t teach in school.

    • Allison May 22, 2018, 8:49 am

      Hi Kim,
      I totally agree that the experiential learning that happens when you travel applies the kids as well as the adults. Some of those tough moments like cranky babies (or cranky parents) force you to ask for help & tap into the real character of where you are to find solutions. I’m jealous of your trip, best wishes for its duration!

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