I’ve learned a lot over the past eight years, first through traveling with my wife, then with my daughter, and now as a family of four. It’s easy to blog about the great experiences and make everything sound hunky dory, but I’ve long wanted to write a series talking about the real experience of traveling together as a family. Part I: The Glue turned out to be a bit nicer than I was expecting, but that was important to start the series off. Things get a little hairier in Part II: Family Travel Compromises.
The moment my wife and I started discussing our honeymoon, I realized that the key word would be compromise. I wanted to take it easy, she wanted to see the sights. I wanted to sit on the beach, she wanted to see the city. She wanted art, I wanted….not art.
Once we had kids, we had to make even more compromises for family travel. But the funny thing I’ve learned over the years? Our travel hasn’t suffered in the least even with a need to compromise. In many ways, it’s improved. But slowly but surely the travel compromises I’ve had to make have added up. Here are six compromises we’ve made as a family in order to keep traveling.
Compromise 1: Fewer connections, more nonstops
After we got married, I quickly realized that my wife wasn’t going to tolerate too many connections on the way to our destination, with good reason. Connections obviously increase the chances for stressful travel plus you’re spending more time in the air. Even when we started flying up front I only managed to convince Jess to fly one extra connection max. Same for long layovers. (Lufthansa first class going east to China was truly a victory though!)
Once we had our first child, I pretty much stuck to the same rule. Of course, before kids, I would just take an extra connection (when allowed) to try out new first class cabins. After M, I would take that extra connection to save some money or miles. After our son came along? Suddenly, I have found that I am willing to pay much more, miles OR cash, to fly nonstop.
If we’re talking a six hour flight it might be okay to break that up into two three hour flights. But anything under three hours forget it. It’s just not worth the extra hassle for me anymore.
Compromise 2: No more super early or super late flights
I never have liked 5 AM flights, but I’ve booked them in order to save a few bucks or because of saver award space. Reasoning? I’ll just sleep on the plane! Sure it won’t be that comfortable but I can at least catch up a little bit. The only probem with kids? You can’t sleep on the plane. Even if the kids fall asleep, the odds of you being in a comfortable enough position to get any significant rest equal the odds of me ever qualifying for the Boston marathon.
The other day we took a 7:45 AM flight to Orlando and I thought even that was pushing it for our kids. Again, with one kid we were much more willing to do this (I’m pretty sure I woke M up at 5 AM a couple times). With two potentially overtired kids, my scientific calculations put the odds of a meltdown at 5X as likely – and not worth the risk!
Of course, somehow I’ve found myself booked with the family on the 1:45 AM Cathay flight out of Boston in a couple months. Reasoning? Either take a connection or fly that nonstop. I opted for the nonstop but I genuinely have no idea how that will go. Two family travel compromises went head to head and I chose the nonstop. Should be fun! 😛
Compromise 3: Less activities, more breaks
Jess and I love hitting the ground running. I have fallen asleep at many museums in Europe after getting off the redeye and trying to fit in an entire day of sightseeing. Then we’d fill up the rest of our vacation with a similarly packed itinerary.
Learning to travel with my family meant learning this important family travel compromise: less is more. Nowadays I plan our arrival day around activities that should help us get acclimated to our new environment (I even skipped the parks on our first day at Disney!) If there are time zones involved I pretty much plan nothing except for where we can eat in a pinch.
This compromise manifests in a couple other areas. We spend more time in less locations now. This allows us to take things easy and not try to cram everything in to two days. When overseas, 4-5 days per destination sounds good to me. So when in the past we’d do five or six cities in a two week trip now we do about three.
The kids also mean that we need to be ready for a quick escape from any activity. That’s why cities like London where the majority of sights are free work super well for families; you can always bail and come back another day if things aren’t working out. Less activities is more, less time in each activity can be more too.
Compromise 4: Eating is mostly for sustenance, not enjoyment
Speaking of spending less time in each activity, I don’t know about other families, but with two kids under five eating can feel like a mad rush. Like, we might as well be feeding these kids from troughs! And when they’re done they need to be entertained or want to run around.
That means fine dining (obviously) and even enjoyable semi-fine dining are mostly out of the picture. In fact, eating has become more about making sure the kids are fed and not grumpy and less about what we are actually eating.
Obviously, we still try to find places to eat that we would enjoy regardless, but the kids’ needs come first.
Compromise 5: More apartments, less hotels (even with status)
I know people love their Hyatt Diamond status and I’ve really enjoyed having it the past two years. Still, the stark reality for our family? Most suites don’t surpass apartments when it comes to ease of use and comfort. With young kids, a kitchen makes a huge difference. It helps to eat better by cooking our own food and also bails us out in a pinch when the kids are hungry.
On top of that, even with Diamond status you can only bank on one bedroom suites. Having 2-3 bedrooms makes a huge difference for us since our son really needs his own room to function well (M was easy because she’d co-sleep). So having more space works better for us and I find my real life family travel compromise is giving up the lounge, free soda, the baller feeling of being in a suite, etc.
Of course going through Airbnb or something usually means you’re paying with cash – another compromise. Now that Hyatt allows Globalists to upgrade award reservations the valuation changes a bit, but not enough to make status worth it. And without status, the apartment rental/hotel question isn’t really even close.
Compromise 6: More domestic, less international
Our final compromise cuts me the deepest. We’ve really moved towards more domestic travel, dropping from two planned international trips a year to one. We love traveling internationally and love doing it with our kids but all the little tough things add up.
Time changes usually take 2-3 days to deal with, so not only are those days affected but it really means that to make a trip feel worth it you need to spend at least a week. Language barriers are always tougher to navigate when you feel stressed and traveling with kids often creates stress! And while we love trying new foods (well, my wife does), the reality is, not having “safe” options for the kids can wear us out.
None of this even mentions the extra travel time (though as I love to say, it takes less than an hour more to get to Europe than California). So we’ve compromised a bit on our international travel. But hey, we’re still going to Asia in April and that leaves enough time to still make two overseas trips this year so we’ll see!
Real life family travel means family travel compromises. The trick for us is compromising on the little things but keeping the overall picture in focus. For our family, the focus is exposing our children to new environments, new cultures, and breaking out of our comfort zones. While we may travel shorter distances, eat faster, or see a little less, we still love traveling with our family and the “compromises” are what makes that possible. Worth it.
What kind of compromises do you make to travel with your family or loved ones? I’d love to hear them!