Ah, to immerse yourself in a country. To sit and stay, savoring the moment. It’s how I dream traveling would be, to intensely experience a culture and to truly interact with local people. But it couldn’t be farther from the truth. Sound of vinyl scratching. I’m traveling with kids. With limited paid leave. Ain’t nobody got time for that, girl.
I hate planning. My personal style is to do everything on the fly. I like to see how things will go. And I love to dream how things could ultimately be. So here, how illogical as it may sound, the planning comes in. It starts with the innocent Lonely Planet guide for ideas on the crazy beautiful places of the country. Next up: the hell hole also known as Pinterest. Hours of pinning crazy beautiful pictures of crazy beautiful places. So here’s my confession: although I actually abhor extensive planning, it’s my life line when it comes to traveling with kids. Here’s why.
Mental preparation for the weather
It’s a Dutch thing. We have a complicated relationship with the weather. We complain about bad weather, and bad weather happens a lot here. We complain about good weather too, being too hot, too humid. We desperately need the holiday climate to be better than ours. We watch the Dutch weather forecast on our holidays, feeling relieved when the weather back home is bad. We secretively gloat when the weather is worse where vacationers are going than it is back home.
So. I need to know what the weather will be. To mentally prepare for when it won’t be a typical summer holiday weather kind of thing. And to practice my answers when they ask me ‘WHY are going there?!’.
Budget wise packing
Knowing what the weather will be helps with budget wise packing too. I’m too Dutch to pay for that overpriced fleece jacket in Canada or those overpriced swimming shorts in Miami that I have back home. And I don’t have to buy and pack t-shirts for tens of euros when I can buy them for a few dollars at my holiday destination.
Efficient use of time
I know backpacking is all about the impromptu of how you feel, about the serendipity of going where tips of locals and other travellers take you. Impromptu also leads to exploring afternoons to find the right hostel, the right tour, the best price/value tour. And that time, in my opinion and especially with kids, is a waste. Your kids (and you) will get hot, get tired and get whiny and will in the worst case throw a fit (yes, me too).
Having a penciled itinerary, having explored some hotel or tour options back at home and knowing what you want and how much you’re willing to pay saves valuable time that you can then use for site seeing, beach fun or – what the heck – nap time.
Back up plans for kids
Except for a small paragraph in a section, or a thin chapter on its own, guide books usually haven’t been written for families. They don’t know you need something the kids will know and feel comfortable with. Something easy like a airconditioned mall to escape the worst rain season showers and heat. A crazy candy store of sorts. A toy store. A swimming pool, bowling alley or a simple playground. While we don’t choose our travel destinations to make the kids happy, we do take into account their needs while traveling.
So I like to research some backup plans for hot and humid cities like Hanoi, and for highly cultural towns like Hue. And Vegas taught me it’s important to know about the kidfriendly options in a party place. Preparing this sets my minds at ease in case it doesn’t go as hoped as planned.
Where’s the surprise?
Still, I feel ambiguous about planning. I’ve read so many travel blogs and seen so many pictures, I’m afraid it’s hard to create my own, unique experience. It’s easier to check off the places Anthony Bourdain had eaten at, than to get lost yourself and find a specialty noodles eatery. It’s easier to do as others do and book that pricy Halong Bay tour, than to carve out the time for finding a budget alternative. I may talk about traveling with kids, but actually it’s a vacation in a faraway destination and I’m still a tourist.
There’s no shame in that. 25 Paid leave days a year has you cramping up travel in a short amount time, leaving little room for true and immersive experiencing a country. So tourists we are, albeit a little more adventurous than some. There’s no shame in that. But no surprise either.
How much planning do you do before traveling? And how do you leave room for spontaneous decisions?
xoxo – Irene.