Joe just put up a good post about the compromises involved with family travel. He writes:
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…
Good points all, and I would guess that the more kids one has the more one would agree. A bad family vacation can feel like you’re just doing all the chores associated with kids, except it’s costing you money (or points/miles) and precious vacation days to do so. We’ve had “vacation” days like that, although my youngest is now three years old and we’re finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel of high-maintenance resource-intensive parenting.
Every family is different, but when it comes to burning points for family travel we’ve found that quick trips of a night or two give us the most bang for the buck. We pick a place within a few hours’ drive: far enough for some separation to make it feel like a trip and give us a refreshing break from routine, but close enough that we don’t feel obligated to spend a full week to justify the long drive.
It’s easy to write off exploring places which are close to home, because where’s the fun in that? People into travel (and especially those into writing about travel) prefer writing about the new, the remote, and the exotic. But I’d be willing to bet a three-hour drive will get you some place you’ve never visited but would love to go.
This is where TripAdvisor is enormously helpful. If you see a Pointbreaks hotel within spitting distance of your home, or a Category 1 Marriott or a Category 2 Hilton or whatever, look up the “things to do” list for whatever crappy town that hotel is in and for whatever crappy towns lie in between point A and point B. Odds are there will be something that your kids will think is awesome simply because it’s something they haven’t seen or done before. Given their limited life experience, they don’t care too much whether they’re seeing Niagara Falls or some creek at a minor state park. They’re happy either way.
Via TripAdvisor we found the Tryon International Equestrian Center, which blew my mind when I saw it. Not because I’m into horses (if I were, I presumably would have heard of it) but because it is a massive equestrian / entertainment complex in the middle of nowhere. How massive? Apparently it’s hosting something called the World Equestrian Games in 2018 and 500,000 people will be attending. I had no idea it existed:
My wife grew up on a farm, so she loves horses. My kids–as is the case with all kids–love animals, so they of course love horses. And it was completely free to park, walk around, and watch people practicing jumps and other cool horse tricks. A good time was had by all.
Another example: Troyer’s Country Amish Blatz. It’s outside of Asheville on the very scenic Asheville-Charlotte route that takes you through Lake Lure and Chimney Rock. What is it? It’s just a store that sells a whole bunch of Amish food and gifts brought down from points further north. Is it a destination? No. Is it a nice waypoint on an enjoyable road trip? Yes. Does it have a bunch of chickens and alpacas in the store’s backyard that my kids can watch? You bet! Would I have ever heard of this place without looking through TripAdvisor listings? Most likely not.
Another place that is neither the Maldives nor the Hyatt Vendôme yet is still fun to visit: Greenville, SC, a mere 90 minutes from us. Oh wait–the NYT recently named it as one of 52 places its beautiful, well-educated, upper middle class readers ought to visit in 2017. Here’s what the Times had to say:
Though small, Greenville, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, may be the next major food destination, with four big openings: Husk from Sean Brock, the Kitchen by Wolfgang Puck, Jianna from Michael Kramer and the speakeasy Vault & Vator. Before feasting, enjoy the city’s many public art works along the tree-lined streets, or grab a pour over at Methodical Coffee en route to biking the 21-mile Swamp Rabbit Trail.
Hmmm, that sounds suspiciously like a place that adults might even want to visit without kids. But in any case we’ve known about Greenville for many years since we like to get out and see places near us. That little blurb doesn’t even mention the awesome park in the middle of downtown:
There’s a whole great world out there to explore, but there’s also a smaller world closer to home that you haven’t fully seen yet. Give the crappy towns a chance and find some great places of your own before the New York Times gets there.