I've got baggage

Can a vacation with children be carefree and fun?

When I think back to the carefree days of my life before kids, I marvel at how easy it was to travel regularly and on pretty short notice, like I was hopping on a bus across town. I started a new relationship in 2001, and six months later my love and I were eating and drinking our way through Amsterdam and Paris. Soon we were making a habit of vacationing overseas, picking hotels that catered to adults, ambling through quiet museums, enjoying the mellow buzz of good wine.

Then, in 2004, the unthinkable happened: She got pregnant. We kept it quiet for as long as we could, but after some 17 weeks, I finally had to come clean and admit I was the father. Our families were shocked! True, by that point we’d been married for more than a year, but our happily unencumbered lifestyle and penchant for blowing cash in short, brilliant bursts in Europe, while everyone else was spending money on violin lessons their kids didn’t like, suggested that the pregnancy had come as a surprise to us, too.

Yet this was no accident. My wife and I had actually made a secret pact to have our very own offspring, whose job it would be to complicate every travel arrangement we’d make until he was somewhere between 16 and, say, 50 years old. Vacations with late-night strolls on cafe-lined streets were for wimps! We were going to do something much more interesting, which was to have a baby and travel anyway.

At first, the scheme worked brilliantly. My two sisters are superb and enthusiastic aunties, and we left our 8-month-old with my younger sister’s family in upstate New York for five nights while we tooled around our nation’s capital on bicycles, took in several movies, and ate in great restaurants. Not exactly the same as our trips of yesteryear – our hotel was chosen less for its location than for its excellent freezer, which would allow my wife to pump and store breast milk, and we couldn’t stop telling each other about our son, as if the other had never met him. Still, it was close enough.

At that point, it seemed like a good idea to complicate things and add a second child to the mix. Sure, we’d have to shift gears and trade our usual urban vacations for something more child-friendly, like a condo near the beach. But I’d always wanted to vacation in a condo near the beach. Talk about relaxing! Nothing to do but amble down to the sandy shores of Sanibel Island, where we’d fly kites and collect shells.

This first major trip with both kids turned out to be among the most educational of my life. I learned how ear infections and antibiotics can present serious challenges to today’s high-tech diaper, especially on turbulent aircraft. I also discovered that super-cold air over Canada can travel all the way down to Florida, rendering the pool a forlorn place indeed. With much of this chilly vacation spent indoors preparing for and cleaning up after meals, plowing through diapers, and battling over bedtime, it was not so unlike being at home in Boston, except it cost a lot more.

Now we had no choice but to sell out entirely and take the kids to an all-inclusive family resort in Mexico – far enough south that vacationing Canadians were sure to leave their cold air at home. Everything would be taken care of, by virtue of our having paid six months in advance for more than we could possibly consume. We’d even be able to incorporate the little ones into a cultural trip to the Mayan ruins of Tulum, which my son would later call “the most boring thing I’ve ever done in my life, Daddy.”

So maybe it’s not worth spending several arms and legs to drag a 2- and 4-year-old farther than the Cape. Would they actually even notice if we didn’t get them out of New England for a week every winter? Maybe if we were to wait a few years and save some money, they might find going to a European or Latin American capital actually interesting. Come to think of it, our recent spring trip to Manhattan with them was a rousing success. We drove instead of dealing with airports, our kids loved Central Park, friends came to our hotel and were masterful baby sitters, and we got an evening alone and dinner in a nice French bistro, just like in the old days. This may just be the vacation of our future!

Patrick McVay lives in Boston. Send comments to Story ideas Send yours to Please note: We do not respond to ideas we will not pursue.  

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