V i v i a n  S o n g
Freelance writer
Freelance writer

Travelling with the kidd

Published online at msn.ca's Travel section, June, 2010.

Your innocent, cherubic tot has suddenly turned into a squirming, screaming, inconsolable demon-child and the eight-hour, transatlantic flight hasn’t even left the tarmac. You’re getting death glares from passengers within a 10-row radius and you can feel that stress vein in on your forehead throbbing, ready to pop. Maybe that family vacation to Venice wasn’t such a good idea after all. Depending on the age of your child, your goals will be different when planning your family’s summer vacation. Here are a few ideas on age-appropriate family summer vacations. 


Some call it a babymoon, we just call it common sense 

You’re nursing a new baby, a new schedule and some serious sleep deprivation. While scrumptious and even insufferably cute, the latest addition to your family is a bit of a mini-tyrant, screaming at ungodly decibels when hungry, falling asleep at the most inconvenient of times, or dropping poop bombs that make grown men cry. What you need is an all-inclusive resort where someone’s catering to mum and dad’s needs for a change. Some call it a post-natal babymoon. We just call it common sense. At an all-inclusive, you enjoy meals that someone else has painstakingly cooked. There are no dirty dishes and your bed gets made daily by a kind and magical fairy. You can sleep at will without having to worry about cleaning or doing the laundry, and lounge poolside with your baby. Select Club Med resorts offer Baby Club Med services for an extra fee, which includes child-minding services for babies between the ages of four months and two years. Beaches resorts also offer nanny services where you can leave your kids for the night and enjoy a romantic dinner for two — or just take an extended nap.

Visit www.clubmed.ca or www.beaches.com for more information.


Think inside the sandbox 

Your tot is a squirmy little monkey with an astonishing reserve of energy and an equally astonishingly short attention span. Your toddler is a human vacuum cleaner, picking up everything off the floor to eat, and can’t be tied down for five minutes. Perish the thought of a long flight or a destination holiday where you’ll be watching your tot more than the sublime scenery that you paid for. Consider a vacation rental, preferably from a family who likewise has babies or kids so that the place comes stacked with child-friendly amenities like a crib or toys. Check out www.vrbo.com, Vacation Rental by Owner, for water-front properties that span Canada and the U.S. from Malibu to Myrtle Beach. Your curious toddler is free to run freeand explore, and come nap time, you just tuck the tyke into their bed while mom and dad can have a drink —or three — without having to go anywhere. Another valuable site for tot-friendly accommodations is www.ciabambino.com, which lists family-friendly lodgings around the world, including Tuscan villas and resorts in the Caribbean. 


Hi ho, it’s time to meet the farmer in the dell 

Most kids love animals. They want to hug them, and squeeze them and never them go, to the unfortunate detriment of said animal. Farmstays are emerging as fun and educational vacations for the kids not only for providing endless, live entertainment in the form of Bessie the Cow, but also for teaching everyone to rethink their relationship to food. Strawberries don’t grow in plastic containers and that steak dinner you had for dinner the other night once had eyes, ears and a nose. They’re valuable lessons that children can be taught on both working and non-working farmstays. Some properties are more hands-on than others, inviting families to help out with the daily chores around the farm, like milking cows, feeding the chickens, collecting the eggs or shucking peas and harvesting foods from the garden for dinner. Others are more relaxing and offer bed and breakfast-like accommodations, and services like horseback riding and hiking. Check out http://www.accommodationincanada.com (click on Home and Farmstays)  http://www.farmstay.co.uk, http://www.sleepinthehay.com for information on farmstays in Canada, the UK and the U.S. respectively. 

Unplug and go offline 

Call it the annual family pilgrimage. A rite of passage for new parents with small children. Come summer, national parks become the mass gathering place for likeminded families who want to reconnect with nature and go offline. What family album is complete without a blurry, dark photo of children roasting — or burning — marshmallows by the campfire?  Or of a beautiful, young mom making a family lunch of sandwiches and potato salad on a picnic table Or of siblings hamming it up in the tent for the photo opp, only to launch into an all out war moments after the flash bulb goes off?Ah, memories. If you’re looking to stay close to home this summer and soak in the beauty of our own national parks, check out Parks Canada’s website, www.pc.gc.ca, for everything from fees, reservations and park and national historic site ideas. If you plan to hit up a lot of parks this summer, consider a national park pass which gives you unlimited access to parks across the country. A family pass is $136.40. To learn more about national parks south of the border, check out the U.S. National Park Service at www.nps.gov

And the kiddies slept happily ever after 

Walt Disney World Resort in Florida or Disneyland Resort in California 

Obvious yes, but we would be remiss to omit the Disney empire in a piece about age-appropriate family travel, given that it’s the one place on earth where youth is eternal and oversized rodents are cute and cuddly. It’s the kind of vacation that is the apex of a little person’s short life, and is talked about all year. From June 6 through to August 14, “Summer Nightastic” will light up the night skies at the Walt Disney World Resort with a megawatt parade, fireworks, dance party and tribute concerts to artists like U2, Janet Jackson, The Bee Gees and The Rolling Stones.  


Dude, where’s my steed? 

Ah, the tween years, when hormones are colliding like atoms and mood swings are more volatile than rabid Justin Bieber fans. Saddle up these untamed horses and herd everyone off to the wild wild west for a vacation at a dude ranch. Tweens saddle a fine line between childhood and adolescence: They need to be kept occupied and stimulated or you risk losing them to their cellphone or laptop. An activity-oriented vacation like this one indulges childhood fantasies of riding a pony and throwing a lasso, and also challenges these premature adults out of their comfort zone. Cowboys and cowgirls can stay at working dude ranches, hauling hay working with livestock, or you can opt for resort guest ranches, where you keep your hands clean. Aside from horseback riding, many ranches also offer swimming, fishing, canoeing, and hiking. Check out www.duderanches.com for properties in Canada and the U.S.  

Cruise through your vacation 

From teen-only discos and sun decks to youth spa programs, cruise lines are increasingly recognizing the need to please their teen market. Because as every parent knows, hell hath no fury like a grumpy tween scorned. To preserve the relationship with your generally good but sometimes maddening tween, there needs to be some degree of separation throughout the vacation, especially when travelling on a flotation device with nowhere to escape.. Thankfully, most major cruise lines have tween-targeted programs to keep them occupied — and happy. Carnival Cruise Lines, for example, splits teens up, giving the 12 to 14-year-olds their own pizza hangouts and game nights. Same goes for Royal Caribbean cruises, where tweens have their own sports tournaments, Karaoke and toga parties. But make sure to establish a maximum amount of time they can spend away from the rest of the family or your run the risk of never seeing your child again until the end of the vacation...depending on your kid, use these programs at your discretion.


Remake of National Lampoon’s European Vacation 

  Your tween has gained a few years and is now officially in the throes of adolescence. They’re older and wiser, know more than you, respond to every query with an eye-roll, and guffaw in incredulity when you ask them what a tweet is. Very little impresses this wired generation. But whisking them away to the old world in Europe may rouse them out of their general ennui. Take them to the Louvre in Paris and show them the real Mona Lisa. Or the impressive Colosseum ruins in Rome. Now that they’re older, they can appreciate the architecture, the history and culture of cities like London, Paris, and Rome. Kids who have travelled the world often turn out to be cultured, sophisticated, open-minded adults. Nurture that as a parent and share that experience with them. They will forever be indebted.

It’s not all about you 

Your teen lives the good life. He’s completely wired. She always sports the latest trends.  As every teen before them (including you, mom and dad) they’re completely self-centred. Maybe it’s time to instill in them a sense of appreciation, empathy and compassion for others and a strong work ethic. Consider a volunteer vacation or voluntourism, where you help build homes, and lend a hand to orphanages, hospitals and schools in developing countries. Cross-Cultural Solutions, for example, offers volunteer programs for families in countries like Ghana, China, India, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Peru. It’s bound to be a life-changing experience not only for your teens, but for mom and dad as well. Yes, expect a lot of moaning from the kids — a few “Everyone else is vacationing on the beach” and a lot of “You’ve ruined my life’s” — but odds are that by the end of the trip, when the kids behold the fruits of their hard labour in the form of a new house, or the smile of a grateful family, they’ll be glad they came. For more information on volunteering vacations and ideas, visit www.thevolunteerframily.org. 

Bright lights, big city 

It’s an itch few teens are immune from. It burns bright, this itch to hit the big city, to walk amongst the throbbing mass of humanity, in the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of,” where “there’s nothing you can’t do.” (If you’re clueless mom and dad, that was a holla to the Jay-Z and Alicia Keys song “Empire State of Mind.”) We’re, of course, talking about the incomparable New York City. Or, if you have yet to do the big city equivalent in Canada, maybe it’s time to see how the city folk live in Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal. If your teen has only ever lived in the burbs or a sleepy town, they only know life in its sanitized version. Maybe it’s time to open their eyes and expose them to the grit, the life and the excitement of big city living where people come in all shapes, sizes and orientation (sexual orientation, that is, city folk still walk upright for the most part). They’re old enough now to appreciate good food andinteresting museums. If you already live in an urban city, NYC still has no equal and brims with excitement for teens. Take them to see a show, allow a healthy chunk of time for shopping, or just plain people watch on a bench in Central Park. It’s a trip that’s sure to satiate that burning, endemically teenage need to flee — even if just temporarily.  

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