Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Family Vacations: A Behind The Screams Guide - Part 1: Getting There

The other day some friends of ours told us they were headed to Sonoma.  I looked at Mrs. Griswold Wanna-Be and asked: "Remember when we used to take vacations"?  It's true, I swear it.  Unabashed, authentic, you-wish-you-were-me vacations.  See, once upon a time Mr and Mrs Griswold Wanna-Be knew how to get away from it all and let loose -I mean really let loose.

Real vacations where we stayed at a centrally located, modern (often boutiquey) hotel.  Where we hit up a new bar and restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner - no pub at breakfast but margaritas were certainly the new orange juice.  Where we had to pack clothes for nights out on the town.  Where we went out late and slept in late.  And when those factors weren't key, then we went for remote locations - nothing to do but relax, relax, drink and relax (and maybe drink some more).

Then we got cute and made a family.

First and foremost when traveling with kids you have to think about the duration of the flight.  Not just the total time from point A to point WallyWorld, but the in between times - the dreaded layover.  While a short one means you have to hustle with your tike(s) in tow or attached to your chest (usually screaming that they want some ice cream from the Baskin Robbins you just past - damn you! airport ice cream) and could miss your connecting flight.  A long layover and you eat that ice cream, buy that toy, eat those chips, play those games and after that 30 minutes is over you still have 2 hours to fill before the second leg of your trip begins.  Did I hear someone say "Pony up for the non-stop flight then, you cheap-ass"?  Yes you get the trip done in one fell swoop, but there is the tiny issue of all that time on the plane.  Have fun with that.  It's like feeding a starving lion lemon slices.  And trust me, if the kids are good on the way out - beware the way back.

As much as you bring on the flight for your kids entertainment, they will get bored in 5 minutes.  Or like my older son, he'll just tell you everything he doesn't want to be on a plane right now.  Our friends at the FAA still don't allow you to use your electronics during take-off and landing.  This means no iPhone, iPad or DVD player.  Take off and landing combined is about 30-40 minutes.  Luckily for us, our 2 1/2 year old likes to look at the emergency pamphlet and menu for a good period during take-off and then getting him to look out the window during landing get us through those times, usually.  However, when he doesn't and he's flipping out, I just let him watch the iPhone videos and when the flight attendants are on electronics patrol I just hide it.  My wife gives me looks like I am making a decision that could affect the lives of everyone on the plane, and though I highly doubt that, at least you have your scapegoat if you and I are ever on a plane together and something goes drastically wrong during take off or landing.

So now you've made it to your destination.  You still have to get your luggage, which is no longer just a bag to split between you and your significant other.  You have a bag for yourself/kid A, a bag for your wife/kid B, some sort of sleeping items (a pea pod tent, a bassinet, pack'n'play etc.), two car seats, a stroller, three or four carry on bags (got to have the almighty diaper bag, a backpack for your crap and doodads for the kids, wife's purse and maybe another bag of need a lot of doodads).

Now that you are in costume as a Himalayan sherpa with 6 bags and 2 car seats attached to you (probably weighing at least 150 pounds), it's time to find a taxi or rental car.  Your kids are exhausted and whiney, and if you're like me then you have at some point during the flight argued about some mundane topic dealing with traveling with your kids with your wife, and now the two of you are not on speaking terms.  It's all grunts and head jerks to get your point across that either the taxis are this way or the bus to the rental car lot is that way.  Whichever route you went, you are now headed to your hotel - promised land you say?  Rookie.

It's likely not a glamorous hotel, and you never even looked up whether there was a bar or not.  It's probably not central, and very likely not downtown.  But it probably has a pool that you won't swim in (depending on the time of year you go and where you go), it's likely close to whatever theme park you are venturing to this year and it probably has a buffet - so essentially like your bachelor party in Vegas...oh wait, it's nothing like that at all.  Now, time to unpack and set up.

At home when putting things together I like to enjoy a beer.  I guess that's a guy thing.  So you check for a mini-bar.  This room has to have a mini-bar, right?  No self-respecting hotel that services families would not have a mini-bar.  Do they know what we have gone through to get to this point?  The answer is yes, they know what you've been through.  But sadly there is little chance for a mini-bar...hope you stopped off for a six-pack.  If not, this is a great time to catch a breath and go for a walk and find beer.  The hotel will likely have some for sale in the 'oh sh*t, I forgot to bring (fill in the blank)" store.  The selection will consist of glorified horse piss at best (Bud, Bud Light, Michelob Ultra, Heineken etc. - yes I'm a beer snob too, if you knew what was good for you, you would be also).  Now that you have your $25 six pack of *ss drool, it's time to get back to the room.  Though you and the wife may not be talking, you don't want to make matters worse and disappear for too long.  And besides it's probably late, the kids need to go to bed and you're going to need some rest too.

Tomorrow is going to be a whole other basket of fun as your kids inevitably get into vacation mode which includes sugar highs and sugar lows, the ol'I want-I want-I wants coupled with the ol'I don't want-I don't want-I don't wants, hellish nap schedules and so many long lines (assuming you went the theme park route) that it will make the Chinese iPhone release look like a Ron Paul vote tally.  Be sure to charge your camera battery, because there are going to be plenty of good times - honestly, though you might just need help remembering them.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Too Much Fun Makes the Kids Throw Up.    


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