The Family Travel Association has assembled a remarkable family-travel brain trust to guide our development – advisors on our board and other councillors, members and partners with many years of travel thought-leadership. Over the coming weeks and months, we will share a bounty of wisdom from their decades of advocacy for and hands-on practice in family travel.
Following our inaugural pieces by Keith Bellows, Emeritus Editor-in-Chief of National Geographic Travel, and by Kyle McCarthy, Editor of Family Travel Forum, this week the spotlight turns to freelance writer Matt Villano, a board member of the FTA and senior editor of the Expedia Viewfinder travel blog. He explores how the importance of grownup time when traveling with family.
I love family vacations as much as the next guy. I also love spending alone time with my wife. We have two girls under the age of 6, which means that we, the grownups in our family, spent a bunch of years managing trips that were all about THEM. Then, finally, about a year ago, we realized something: Our kiddos are old enough that we can restructure our family vacations to make sure at least some decisions are all about US.
This balance of family time and grownup-only time is critical for a balanced vacation. And in our family, it benefits everyone.
The girls love their girl time because it strengthens the natural bond they have with each other, without the meddling of mom or dad. My wife and I love our grownup time because we love to travel, love to travel together, and rarely have time to share these passions when we’re living our lives at home. (It’s also always nice to use alone time in a hotel room to good effect, no matter how secretive or quiet we have to be.)
Of course we’re not the only married couple for whom this equation works; a dose of grownup time can satisfy just about any other parents on any of their family trips. Here are some tips for carving out alone time with your partner the next time you travel with kids.
Go Big or Go Out
The easiest way to guarantee grownup time on your next vacation is to pay for it – by reserving a multiple-room suite. Most modern hotels offer one- and two-bedroom accommodations that give you the option of closing the door to the room the kids are using. Vacation rentals are even better; if you rent up, every child can have his or her own space.
If your budget doesn’t allow for splurging on a monster room, claim extra space by booking accommodations with a patio or balcony – any place where you can create some physical (as well as emotional) separation from the kids and enjoy a quiet post-bedtime glass of wine. If you’re not entirely comfortable with your kids in another room, check out Camio, an app that turns any mobile device with a camera into a video monitor.
Use the Kids’ Clubs
Resort kids’ clubs are like day care on steroids, offering the very best activities in the very best facilities, all within a short walk from your room. Many clubs boast both drop-in (read: hourly) and all-day programming to satisfy a variety of parent wants and needs. Some even serve meals and snacks. Still other kids’ clubs enroll kids in programs that are completely educational; at select Ritz-Carlton hotels, for instance, Ritz Kids uses exclusive content created by Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society.
Perhaps the only caveat about kids’ clubs is that many allow only children over a certain age. With this in mind, it pays to inquire about rules and regulations before you finalize plans to spend the day sailing (or never getting out of bed).
Embrace the Sound Machine
White noise in hotel rooms serves two main purposes. First, it drowns out any unfamiliar sounds that might make the kids anxious. Second, it creates a barrier of sound that enables you and your partner to speak or interact in other ways at normal volumes.
Smartphones make it easy to take a sound machine wherever you go. One app we like is White Noise, by TMSoft (available for both Android and iOS). Just remember not to make the white noise TOO loud. You still want to be able to hear your children if they start coughing or need your help.
Arrange a Child-Minder
Perhaps the easiest way to guarantee alone time with your partner on a family trip is to hire someone to swoop in and watch the kids long enough for you to grab dinner, watch a movie or indulge in adult time on the beach.
Few hotel concierges will go so far as to recommend sitters or child-minders to watch kids; there are liability issues associated with formal recommendations. Still, many concierges can connect you with local service providers who offer vetted (read: background-checked) nannies on a per-hour basis. We also like sitter directories such as the one from Trips & Giggles. With most of these options, child-minding services charge hourly and require a four- or five-hour minimum. Some services also add surcharges for multiple kids.
Leverage the Bathroom
There’s one place on a family vacation where you and your partner always can find peace and quiet: the bathroom. If every other measure fails – or if you simply don’t have the budget for kids’ clubs and sitters – wait until the kids go to bed and make the bathroom your own special spot.
Draw a tub for two and light up those candles you brought from home. Cover a patch of floor with extra pillows, fire up a movie on the laptop and cuddle down. From the privacy of the bathroom, you and your partner can fully embrace being together.
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