While I think traveling is the most important activity a parent can do with his/her kids, I’m also honest enough to admit that family travel is rarely unicorns and lollipops.
Every parent has his or her bugaboos. For some it might be coaxing a son or daughter to pee in a public toilet. For others it might be the challenge of discipline in public places. Still other parents may struggle with the negotiations around eating.
For me, the issue is crowds.
It’s not that my girls are “runners.” It’s not that they wig out. Instead, whenever we take the girls into a crowded area, they become so completely and totally overwhelmed by distractions that their ears literally cease functioning at all. They will not listen. To anything. Under any circumstances (even if bribes of M&Ms are involved).
I was reminded of this phenomenon this weekend at the Portobello Road Market near our flat here in London. We had read that this was one of the best markets in the entire city. So I dragged the girls (and a friend visiting from the U.S.) to check it out.
Between the fresh produce, beautiful baked goods and amazing antiques, the market was indeed stellar. That said, the place was more packed than the mosh pit at a Dirty Rotten Imbeciles show.
At one point, near a stall peddling (delicious) bread products, we got stuck in a human traffic jam; literally, we id not move for two minutes. At another point, some random passerby bit into a falafel sandwich and spilled tahini on L in the stroller below.
Finally, when we were huddled up and snacking on strawberries on the side of the road, a man walked into one of our buggies and nearly sent R careening down the hill.
(I didn’t blame the baby for wanting to be carried for a while after that.)
By the end of the day, I had sweat through my t-shirt trying to navigate the madding crowds. Yes, we experienced the Portobello Road Market. And it was memorable. For all the wrong reasons. And ICYW, we won’t be back.
The lesson: Know your limits. While it’s always fun to check out new stuff with the kids, sanity is fun (and nice), too. Do some research before you schlep the kiddos to see something major. If your source of information (guidebook, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) suggests the experience might put you and the kids in an uncomfortable position, be prepared. And if the experience is far too overwhelming for you to handle, improvise.
To be clear, I’m NOT suggesting that fellow family travelers shy away from exploring certain stuff. Instead, I simply am suggesting that we identify those situations that comprise our personal travel hells (with or without our kids), and that we stay flexible when we find ourselves there.
How do you stomach your own personal family travel hells?