Celebrating the best family travel year ever

One year ago tonight, in London.

One year ago tonight, in London.

One year ago today—August 20, 2013—our wandering pod embarked on the greatest adventure of our lives: a five-month relocation to London.

Our stay in the U.K. kicked off what has been the greatest stretch of travel in our lives. Over the course of the last 12 months, we Villanos have logged nearly 400,000 (air and car) travel miles as a unit, touching down in England, Ireland, Canada, Hawaii, Florida (specifically, Walt Disney World), Yosemite National Park, Lake Tahoe, and more.

The best part: We’ve done it all together.

I’ve had fun over the last few nights going back and looking at posts and pix from this time last year. There’s this post, from two nights before we departed. And the photo that accompanies the entry you’re reading now; the pic was taken at 3 a.m. London time on the night we arrived—after both girls woke up for the day (damn you, jet lag!). Then, of course, there is this piece, from two days after we arrived.

(Interestingly, we ditched the pram in that post for a sturdier one we bought in London. We still use the “London buggy” every time we fly.)

It’s also been fun to remember the highs and lows of a year of family travel. My favorite high: A week of dodging raindrops and chasing geese in the Lake District, toward the end of our run in England. My least favorite low: The night Little R kicked me out of bed at The Ahwahnee (inside Yosemite) and insisted that I sleep on the floor—making it the most expensive campsite of all time.

Throughout these adventures, I have deepened my appreciation for the world, for embracing new things, for the privilege to leave home for a while. I’d like to think the girls have experienced similar growth.

Even if all this travel hasn’t changed my kids, exposure to it certainly has sensitized their little brains to the notion of exploration. Will I be disappointed if they grow up to be homebodies? Not at all. But something tells me that after a year like the one we’ve just had, curiosity will come naturally to them.

What will the next year bring? From a practical perspective, the next 12 months of travel likely will look very different; with both girls in school (and L in Kindergarten five days a week), our opportunities to escape as a foursome may dwindle. Rest assured, we’ll find ways to get out and about. There are places to go! There are people to see! Most important, this travel thing is what we Villanos do best. Here’s to another great year.

The aftermath of a family trip

The aftermath of a TFP, on my bed.

The aftermath of a TFP, on my bed.

We family travel bloggers spend a ton of time writing about what happens on and before our adventures. Often, we overlook the stuff that happens AFTERWARD.

I’m not talking about the recalibration of sleep schedules or the return to normal eating habits (“No, honey, you may no longer have French fries with every meal”). I’m talking about the process our children go through as they reintroduce themselves to the stuff they left behind.

In our house, the routine is almost always the same: The morning after a big trip, the girls gather in one room for what Powerwoman and I like to call a Toy Refamiliarization Party (TFP). They set up a bunch of blankets on the floor as if they are about to have a big picnic. Then they collect all of the very best toys that stayed behind. And they play with all of them. At once.

You can imagine how chaotic this can get; the girls have a fair number of toys.

Sometimes the TFP comprises mostly dolls and stuffed animals—these are my favorite iterations because they’re pretty quiet (and they involve a healthy dose of imagination). Other times—such as this past week, after a 6-day jaunt to Walt Disney World—the TFPs feature musical instruments. And, as you can imagine, these can get f-ing loud.

My wife and I endured a good 20-minute chunk on Monday (we got home Sunday) during which neither of us could hear ourselves think.

The girls, however, had a blast, banging on xylophones, keyboards and drums.

No matter how loud they are, we love the TFPs in this house. For starters, they are a great way for the girls to re-acclimate to their surroundings after being away. They also help Powerwoman and me save money; by rediscovering toys they’ve had for years, the girls feel as if the old diversions are new again, thus postponing our need to buy additional stuff.

Herein lies the rub. Next time you’re on a family trip and your kids bug you about souvenirs, resist. Instead, quietly remind yourself how much they’re going to love spending Q.T. with their “old” toys once you get back home. Any family can have a TFP, you know. Thank goodness for that.

With which “old” toys are your kids usually most excited to play upon returning from a big family trip?

Jet Lag Exorcism

L and her Legos. Sometime between 4 and 6 a.m.

L and her Legos. Sometime between 4 and 6 a.m.

We contemplated bringing in some priests this week to save our older daughter from the mysterious entity that had possessed her.

Then, after enduring L’s hitting and kicking and scratching and biting and screaming and writhing around like a maniac, Powerwoman and I realized it wasn’t a demon that possessed our girl, but instead just a really horrid case of jet lag.

We should have seen it coming. That first night—Christmas Eve, actually—she woke up for the day at 2 a.m. On the three nights that followed, she woke up at 4 a.m. In between, the child fought naps as if she were an ultimate fighter and they were an opponent in UFC 168. It was a recipe for cataclysmic disaster.

Everyone told us coming home from England was easy. Stay awake until 8 or 9 p.m. the first few nights, they said, and catching up on the eight hour time difference will be a cinch.

For the grownups, this advice rang true. For the kids, however, it was easier said than done.

I mean, really, how does one force a child to “stay awake,” especially when she is falling asleep on her feet, at the dinner table, in the car, and just about everywhere in between? At what point does the whole drive to beat jet lag become inhumane? What’s more, with kids who are so sensitive to subtle changes in the sleep schedule to begin with, to what extent is it worth bending over backward at all?

Thankfully, today, our kind, creative and loving child reclaimed her body and we called off the exorcism. What we learned over the course of this past week: There’s no way to predict how jet lag will affect your children, and there’s no way to minimize the effects of it on your kids.

I guess I could couch this epiphany another way. Last decade, Sportscaster Dan Patrick coined the phrase, “You can’t stop him, you can only try to contain him.” Patrick meant for those words to describe athletes who left their opponents helpless on defense. He could have been talking about jet lag in relation to kids.

Next time we complete an international flight, we’ll just resign ourselves to a few days of parenting hell. At some point, it has to get easier for all of us. Right?

What are your suggestions for minimizing the effects of jet leg on kids?

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