Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Perfect Kid Vacation

I am the kind of guy who does not like to sit still.

This has long been a point of friction with my wife, who loves to sit still. We have long argued the merits of each, especially during time off from work, when the true meaning of recreation comes in to focus. Until I married, vacation was an abstract idea for me. I have held very few 9 to 5 jobs, so planning for vacation was a real novelty. It took me some time to adapt.

Now we do take vacations, and we take them well. Some of them have been transformative, and some probably even saved our marriage. But since the addition of kids, things have become trickier. It is tough to stay in a hotel, and tough to stay in someone's home. It is hard to find good meals, and you can't eat in most restaurants. You have to plan your day around the nap schedules, and that leaves only a few hours for doing and going and seeing, for me the meat and potatoes of a good vacation.

After a few false starts, I think we have improved upon the formula. For a week in November, we went on vacation and everybody had a good time. They had an even better time than if we had stayed home. I have some hot tips.

But before I proceed, I have to reveal my discovery that led to the title of this post.


Hawaii is the perfect kid vacation.

We just returned from a week on Maui and it was fantastic. We rented a condo, did some shopping, cooked our own meals, and we went to the beach every day. We went to the pool every afternoon, and a couple of times we went to the local kid park and watched the sunset. I have visited many of the Hawaiian islands, including Maui, and never did I understand before this simple and beautiful truth: Maui has it all, a short drive from the airport. Great beaches, great accommodation, all in one place. Great snorkeling, surfing, and sunset cruises. Great views of the smaller half of the Hawaiian chain. Beautiful weather, warm water, and a little wild nature thrown in make Hawaii the perfect vacation destination.

Now for my hot tips:

Get a big enough place.
This is one of the tricks with kids. Sleep is important to everyone having a good time, so you need to make sure the condo/hotel/house you rent is going to be big enough for everyone and their naps. Just because a place says "sleeps 8," they might not mean it!

Go with friends.
We have travelled and vacationed with these particular friends before and once again, everything went swimmingly. The kids love to play and the adults love the social time after our children have gone to bed. Plus - condos across the hall made for easy child care!

Don't do too much.
Having an unambitious agenda is key to a good kid vacation. In eight days, we spent just one in the car out sightseeing, and we left our babies (and wives) at home. Sure, we didn't see the sunrise over Haleakela, but everyone still had a great time!

Don't be gone too long.
We have taken longer trips in the past, both with and without children. My wife is fond of pointing out that once we have factored in the large purchase of plane tickets, the marginal cost of one more day of vacation keeps going down the longer we are away. But there is a sad truth about diminishing returns. After about a week, everybody was ready to head home.

Take a lot of snacks.
Snacks are the cornerstone of our travel experience. They keep up the blood sugar, provide a diversion, and are always useful as a bribe. Don't leave home without them! Also, the perfect midmorning lunch for a day at the beach? Large bag of chips. Lime flavor.

Fly during the day.
We learned this trick the hard way. Sometimes our kids will sleep on a plane. Sometimes they won't. It is better to stick to their natural rhythms and hope for an occasional nap, but don't count on it! Also, long layovers are a great break. Plenty of time to run around without having to hurry and catch a connection!

Get the airport luggage cart.
This is $4 well spent. I don't care that you only need it for 50 yards. It might save your marriage.

Television is just fine on vacation.
Oooh, and those portable DVD players? Money!

Keep it simple with the meals.
This was my own mistake. I love to cook beautiful meals for my family and friends. But a rented condo kitchen is not the place to do it. Next time we'll hit the Costco and stick with burgers, hot dogs, and simple foods!

Take along a grandma (or two!)
Our recently retired grandma was invited on this trip and was a great asset to the general mix. Also it didn't hurt that we slightly outnumbered the children (5 to 4!) Without her, we might never have had the unique pleasure of sneaking away for a quick snorkel off the point or a drink at the bar.

On our last night, my kids and I watched the sunset together, dropping in majesty over the blue water in the fading light. Jeep took this picture.

As a parent, it is one of those things you just don't forget.