I went to Mexico for a week with four kids under three. Sounds like the beginning of a dramatic, cautionary tale, right? It might seem like it at first, but I’m about to let you in on an amazing life hack. A way to make traveling less exhausting and more enjoyable for all: travel with other families.
My husband and I have traveled with our daughter alone. It’s kind of like that meme you see around social media. “Traveling with kids is just parenting in another location.” We’re locked together in an airplane, we share a hotel bed, we’re her sole entertainment in a foreign place, we have to be back to our hotel by bedtime and, well, not one of us is at our best at the end of the trip. On a trip to San Diego I got so frustrated with trying to find a good, local, family-friendly restaurant for dinner that we resorted to hitting up the Whole Foods hot bar and having a picnic on the floor of our hotel room. When I finally succeeded in getting a good recommendation, I spent the entire dinner trying to eat over the top of my daughter’s sleeping head on my chest. Family bonding and showing my child the world aside, I wasn’t exactly thrilled about the next family vacation.
In walks a friend with a brilliant idea: a trip to someplace warm to escape the winter with friends and our families. And it is magic. Last year, I did go to Mexico with four kids under three. I also went with five other adults. Three families combined our parenting and financial power to have an amazing vacation. So amazing, in fact, that we are already planning to do it again next year.
Here’s how it works:
Choose carefully: Be honest. If you can’t spend an hour at a dinner party with someone, you probably don’t want to spend a week with them. You’re going to need to be honest about your expectations and budget. Choose people you are comfortable with.
Plan ahead: It takes a bit of coordinating to make schedules work, research, share ideas and decide on a final plan. We started about a year out from our travel dates.
Combine your financial power: We rented a condo worth more than a million dollars with enough bedrooms and bathrooms for each family. It was so close to the ocean that one could, if they wanted to, throw an avocado pit into the water from our balcony (we may or may not have tested this). It overlooked a pool with the perfect shallow area for the kids to play. We all want to live in this place.
Get a kitchen: The worst part of taking a kid to a restaurant is when they eat exactly three bites of the meal you just paid for. When traveling, restaurants are sometimes the only option or it’s a hassle to buy groceries and cook for your small family in a kitchen with only the most basic of tools. Feeding four kids cheese quesadillas and guacamole is a win for your pocketbook and your sanity. Save your money for the foodie restaurants you want to enjoy on your date nights.
Combine your parenting power: This is the magic. Date nights, date days, kid-free excursions, time to read in the sun by yourself. Only one of us really needed to watch the kids at any given time. We even had a moms night out and a dads night out. Be generous and flexible. It’s rewarding.
Take time away with your family: It’s easier to enjoy time with your family when you’ve gotten some time to yourself. We stole away from the group for a family breakfast and playing in the ocean together. These were exactly the memories I want to make on vacation, and I found that we enjoyed these moments more because we had our other needs met.
Not all trips can be multi-family trips, but I wish they could be. My husband, daughter and I just returned from a trip to Florida. It was just the three of us. We made many happy, family memories. We spent a ton of time together. I read exactly half of one of the five books I brought. There wasn’t a single date night for me and my husband to connect. My daughter, while playing “princesses” in the pool with me for the 100th time wistfully said, “I miss my friends.”
Our next big family vacation will be with at least six kids under five. We cannot wait!