Here’s the conundrum of having little ones: You really need a vacation, but if you actually manage to take one, you come back even more exhausted than before. It's because traveling with a toddler or little kid in tow is tough. (Babies and big kids are a cinch, so cash in on the airlines offering free rides until age 2 and, while you have to pay for the tickets for those over 5, the iPad does all the work for you.) But once kids hit a certain age, it’s harder to uproot them from the everyday—and harder for you because, let’s face it, that routine is all about keeping your life manageable. After all, it’s not the 3-year-old who freaks out over being late to school.
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Going anywhere alone with your kids is not my idea of a getaway—it’s just transporting all the usual child care work to an alternate, albeit hopefully nicer, location. What makes a vacation is the addition of other folks around to ease the burden/share the joy of your children. That’s why a trip to grandma’s is better than a 5-star resort, because even if there is 24-hour concierge service at the latter, I’m still the one stuck sticking the straws in all the juice boxes or changing the diapers.
When my first child was around a year old we went on a trip to France, just the three of us. It was wonderful, but there’s no way I’d do it now. With a 3-year-old and an 18-month-old, that sort of trip (staying in multiple locations, not knowing anyone, lots of travel time) sounds like a descent into hell. Instead, I’m doing something I never thought I’d do: camping.
The kids didn’t have to be contained, bathing was optional, we cooked meals communally and nothing but a tent pole got broken.
My husband and I are hardly the rugged types—we care about thread counts and comfort and have zero survival skills outside of a shopping mall (I can turn a J.Crew bag into almost anything). We never camped together before having children, but let’s face it: Now sleeping in the woods isn’t such a stretch. We hardly ever shower, regularly eat food found between couch cushions and are so sleep deprived we sometimes nap in the car during red lights. Plus, the last time we stayed in a hotel with the girls, they trashed the room like rockstars, stole all the chips and nuts from the mini bar and peed in the heated pool. We checked out just before we were thrown out. Done.
So we went with a bunch of other families on a weekend camping trip two hours north of where we live, and it was the perfect vacation: The kids didn’t have to be contained, bathing was optional, we cooked meals communally and nothing but a tent pole got broken. Plus, the girls could pee almost anywhere they wanted. And because we don’t have high-tech camping gear, our cell phones and all other electronic distractions died, forcing us to actually engage with each other and the natural world for an entire weekend.
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It’s not like I want to shelve the world travels (India, please) or nice hotels (Four Seasons, sure), but for the time being it’s easier to unwind away from civilization (OK, not too far. There was a store, a deli, a bathroom and a swimming pool nearby) where my wild things can commune with other wild ones. And the lights go out when the sun does, so we actually get some sleep.