Acting Childish

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When most people think of a holiday trip with children, they envision Mickey Mouse and Magic Kingdoms, splash pads, pizza by the slice and the wails of tired babies and cranky parents. But this doesn’t have to be the case. Travel with small children can be so much more … normal. (No ride passes or overpriced stuffed animal souvenirs required.) With a little prior planning, some careful packing and the willingness to engage with kids in a different way, trips with children can be something altogether different.

Before our son was born, my partner and I traveled often and widely. We stayed up and stayed out and drank too much and got lost. We did all the things people who are young, in love and exploring a new place should do. So, when we decided to have a baby, we didn’t consider how it would change our wanderlust as much as we probably should have.

On our first trip abroad with our five-month-old, we were in for a rude awakening. On that trip, it quickly became obvious that sleep was going to be non-existent, partying gave way to lots of breastfeeding in public, and we were surprised to find that the rooftop patios we had been planning to watch the sunset from were not at all child friendly.

We needed to adjust, change our expectations, arrange for more downtime and just generally relax a little. We weren’t ready to abandon our traveling lifestyle completely, and we weren’t about to spend every trip pushing a stroller around theme parks. So, instead, we looked for hotels near public parks. We looked at staying in neighborhoods in European cities that were known for families or that had a lot of green spaces. We realized that whether it was the playground down the street from our own house or a fancy Dutch playscape, kids just like parks. If there’s a green space to run around in or to sit down for a few moments and play with cars, that does the job.

Kids also just love any opportunity to observe. They generally love animals, and any opportunity to watch them swimming, eating, strutting – these are golden. It also has the added benefit of forcing you, as the parent, to slow down and really look.

We love going to the beach on our summer trips. The Côte d’ Azur, the Amalfi Coast, Lake Michigan, listening to the waves lapping the sand, reading a smutty novel and catching those rays. The good news? Toddlers love the beach too, obviously. It’s the ideal place for tiny plastic construction vehicles to build their next project and perfect for splashing, swimming and making a giant, sandy, wet mess. No matter where we holiday, then – if there’s a beach, then everyone is relatively happy. We may be getting splashed more often than we’d like or assigned road-building duty by a tiny construction supervisor; but overall, a day at the beach is the ticket to a good time.

So, while it’s certainly true that we might spend time in parts of a city to which we would not normally venture, there are good bistros and wine bars near city playgrounds, too. We might be spending more time on the beach building sandcastles than perfecting our tans, but it’s a compromise for which we are all the happier. Disney World, water- and character-themed parks certainly have their place. But, through a child’s eyes, fun can be simply tossing food scraps to the pigeons in London, looking out into the canals of Amsterdam for ducks and turtles, or an impromptu picnic in the park in any metropolitan city. The whole world can be a playground if you look at it the right way.

 

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