Lessons in Family Travel Preparedness

Our recent family road trip along the western side of Oahu certainly was filled with surprises.

Some of them were pleasant—on the way from Disney’s Aulani Resort & Spa to Ka’ena Point State Park, we spotted a pod of dolphins frolicking in the surf and pulled over to watch them for a while.

Others , however, were not. Like the archaeological site that was closed due to vandalism. (Remember, Powerwoman is an archaeologist; ruins are regular stops on our vacations.)

And the flat tire that we picked up outside of Waianae.

Spotting dolphins, before the flat.

Spotting dolphins, before the flat.

I’ll spare you the details of how we got the flat (to be frank, none of us really knows). The important stuff: The rear driver’s side tire on our rented Chevrolet Equinox croaked, we called AAA, and the four of us spent three hours at a roadside McDonald’s waiting for a tow truck to come and pop on the spare.

(At this point, you’re probably wondering why I didn’t just fix the flat myself. Let’s just say that I’ve learned the hard way that rental car companies don’t trust you to fix stuff that goes wrong with their cars, and if they find out that you did anything outside of you contract to the vehicle—anything at all—they will charge you. Exhorbitantly.)

(Oh, also, the rental car company could have come to fix the tire. But they estimated a six-hour wait.)

Ultimately, the encounter was nothing but a hiccup in an otherwise fun and fruitful trip. Still, the experience offered lessons in preparedness for family vacation road trips. Here’s a sampling:

  • If you’re planning on doing any major driving with the kids while you’re away, be sure to sign up for AAA Plus or Premier Service (or an equivalent) before you go. No, the three-hour wait time wasn’t ideal, but they did come and fix the flat for free. Had the damage been worse, they would have towed us back to Honolulu for free as well. When traveling with the kiddos (or solo, for that matter), It’s nice to know that you won’t get stranded.
  • Since space isn’t an issue, take the time to pack extra arts and crafts for the kids, just in case. If your children like sports, toss a ball in the vehicle as well. If you find yourself with a few extra hours to kill, these sorts of additional diversions certainly can’t hurt.
  • Triple up on healthy snacks so you’ve got enough to go around in case you end up staying out longer than expected. (We could have ordered just about anything from the McDonald’s at which we were stranded, but, quite frankly, Powerwoman and I don’t like our girls to eat that crap. We gave them blueberries and grain crackers instead.)

Also, if things go wrong, remember to keep your cool in front of the kids. Especially if they’re little (read: under five), the only reason they’ll get stressed by the situation is if they think you’re stressed. This means no panicking. It also means no snipping at your partner, and no yelling at deceitful customer service representatives (unless, of course, you can do so in a private spot).

Years from now, we’ll all be joking about the flat tire on that crazy day in Waianae. Hopefully, if you ever encounter similarly bad luck on the road with the family, you’ll be able to laugh about it someday, too.

What is the most unexpectedly stressful travel situation you’ve endured with your kids?

Luxury Hotel Bathrooms: The New Nurseries?

Our "nursery" at the Trump.

Our “nursery” at the Trump.

One of our daughters—L, the older one—is a heavy sleeper. The other, R, wakes at the squeak of a mouse. As you can imagine, when the four of us hit the road and spend nights in standard hotel rooms, this mismatch can create some dicey situations around bedtime.

Our solution: We get creative.

Sometimes this means bringing tents to create rooms within the room. Other times it means crafting folding room partitions out of couch cushions.

For at least part of the time on our most recent trip to Oahu (we got home late Tuesday after 10 days away), it meant something else: During our stay at the Trump International Hotel Waikiki Beach Walk, we turned a second bathroom in our one-bedroom condo into sleeping quarters for little R.

By day, this room served its usual purpose—because it was close to the front door of our unit, we utilized the luxurious walk-in shower to rinse sand off our feet after days at the beach.

By night, however, we transformed the john into a nursery, complete with stuffed animals on the (closed) toilet seat, a sound machine on the sink and a giant crib on the tile floor in the center of the room.

When R was ready to go to bed, we pushed the crib toward the shower so we could swing the door around, then pulled it back and closed the door part way (to minimize disruptions).

Overall, the strategy worked beautifully. Behind the partially closed door (and with the help of those simulated crashing waves), R was able to sleep soundly while her sister, Powerwoman and I puttered about the rest of the condo. Because the bathroom had a bit of an echo, when R woke up in the middle of the night from the pain of new teeth, we were able to hear her cries without the aid of a monitor.

(In case you’re wondering, L can sleep through anything. She takes after me in that department.)

No, having our baby sleep in the bathroom at a five-star property wasn’t ideal. And I’m sure the marketing gurus at the property will cringe to read about how we improvised to get everybody some much-needed sleep.

The bottom line: It worked.

When you’re on the road with small children, practical trumps fancy-pants every time. The sooner we embrace this credo, the better off all of us will be.

What are some unusual sleeping solutions you’ve tried on the road with your kids?

What Does ‘Family-Friendly’ Really Mean?

Daddy and daughters, enjoying the view.

Daddy and daughters, enjoying the view.

One could make the argument that the overall experience of family travel is dramatically different from the sum takeaways of, say, romantic or adventure getaways designed exclusively for grown-ups.

Still, just because you travel with kids doesn’t mean every vacation activity must revolve around them.

After four years of traveling extensively with at least one child (and two years traveling with two of them), Powerwoman and I have become firm believers that every family trip should include at least two or three activities and outings that we would do even if we didn’t have kids in tow. Sometimes, we might hit up a happening hotspot. Other times, we might check out a historic church or archaeological site (my wife is an archaeologist).

Saturday, here on Oahu, we dragged the kids on a 2-mile round-trip hike along the paved Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail.

The girls did fine for the first half-mile or so. Then the heat got to L. Upon her request, I carried her for about a quarter-mile. From there, we put her in the stroller and I carried R. This meant that one of us was carrying a child for the duration of the hike.

For some, the additional burden of schlepping 25-45 extra pounds might have detracted from the overall experience.

But for us, having the kids with us while we took in sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean and the windward side of Oahu made the hike even more epic. We watched waves. We spotted little red-headed birds. We marveled at turquoise waters. At one point, we even spied Molokai and Maui in the distance (this was particularly exciting for L, who is fascinated by Hawaiian geography).

Sure, by the time we got back to the trailhead, the girls were ready for a big lunch and long naps. And, yes, they might have been a bit more tired than they would have been otherwise. But considering L was still raving about the views at dinner, I’d say the experience made quite an impression.

These impressions, this sense of wonder, is the main reason Powerwoman and I travel with our kids. We know they can get these experiences doing typical family stuff; we also know they can get them doing certain grown-up stuff. Working to achieve a balance between these two approaches makes vacations more memorable for all of us.

Vacationing with the Spawn of Satan

Calm, after one of the storms.

Calm, after one of the storms.

When everyone in the family is behaving relatively well, family travel can be one of the most fulfilling experiences as a parent. But when one of your children is in perpetual meltdown mode, a family trip can be downright awful.

Powerwoman and I lived this nightmare for the first three days of our current trip to Oahu. From the moment we landed until almost exactly three days into our trip, L’s “spirit of Aloha” included prolonged temper-tantrums, hitting, biting and more hideousness.

In short, my older daughter was a demon.

As you can imagine, managing her during this dark period was challenging to say the least. We had plenty of the typical traveling-with-a-4-year-old negotiations (“If you eat three spoonfuls of corn, you can color in the giant coloring pad”). We also grappled with yelling, mood swings and paranoia. Minding our little spawn of Satan even had physical ramifications; because the child loves to scratch limbs when she’s frustrated, my biceps look like I’ve been attacked by a small mountain lion.

Thankfully, Powerwoman and I persevered through the misery until L’s behavior improved.  Here are some of the secrets to our (recent) success.

  1. Ignore. It’s tempting to be excessively hands-on while traveling, but the best way to handle freak-outs still is to ignore them. Yes, this meant that my child was the one screaming like a banshee outside the Ali’I Luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center earlier in the week. It also meant that each of her major tantrums passed quickly, like tropical squalls.
  2. Be stern (when necessary). There’s a time and place for discipline on the road, and that time and place is different for every family. For us, it all came down to being kind; we raised our voices when L was being intentionally hurtful (usually to her sister), but otherwise kept an even-keeled, almost saccharine tone.
  3. Communicate. When one of the kids is having trouble behaving on the road, Powerwoman and I make a concerted effort to talk with each other about parenting strategies. I admit—I tend to analyze stuff too much (um, hello, I’m a blogger). Nevertheless, it’s always a good idea to remind your spouse that you two are teammates. Then, of course, you must play like them.
  4. Remember the big picture. There were times in the early part of this week during which I contemplated flying home early with our offending daughter. Then my wife reminded me: We have two kids. From that point on, for R’s sake, I redoubled my commitment to engineering a FUN vacation, knowing that, eventually, L would come around. Sure enough, she did.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t pass along the stuff that *doesn’t* work. No. 1 on my list: Sarcasm. The few times we applied it with L, she neither understood nor appreciated it as a concept. The use of sarcasm also can be debilitating for the grownups. Yes, in the heat of the moment, Powerwoman and I would ask rhetorically, “Is this really happening right now?” Looking back, though, the question itself was just hot air; the truth is that L’s bad behavior was happening, and the only way we could get past those hiccups was just to continue exploring.

Another no-no for me (and I’ve mentioned this before): The screen as a babysitter. In our family, we believe in disconnecting when away, which means minimal screen time of all kinds. Believe it or not, old-school alternatives such as crayons and paper, books and stuffed animals are just as good today as they have been for generations. Even for kids acting like the spawn of Satan himself.

What types of strategies do you implement when our child acts like the spawn of satan on family trips?

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