Vacationing with children can be joyous, great for bonding and creating memories, but it's never truly relaxing. It's exhausting. The week preceding an out-of-town trip is torture, trying to cram packing, rescheduling and extra work into your daily routine. The vacation itself centers around kid-friendly activities, some of which inevitably involve long lines and crankiness.
You come back feeling like you need a week to recover.
Ever since we became parents nearly eight years ago, we've never taken a trip without our children -- not so much as a weekend away together.
There are three easy explanations for this: Guilt. Fear. Loneliness.
If you work and leave your children to do so during the week, it's harder to justify leaving them when you want to relax, as well.
A separation by choice -- not one caused by the necessity of work -- seems selfish.
And, there's always irrational fear to back up guilt. What if we both die in a plane or car crash? Are we willing to take the (remote) chance of orphaning our children for an extended period of uninterrupted couple time?
And, lastly, there's our self-interested desire to simply want them around. For years, it never even crossed my mind to leave them behind because we would miss them so much. Would we have anything else to talk about without them around? How could I enjoy a vacation when I would spend most of my time worrying about them?
In the couple of years of marriage before children, we loved traveling together and did so often. Apparently, we were once able to entertain ourselves without the offspring. Maybe we needed to rediscover this skill.
Parenting experts say adult-only travel is crucial for grown-up bonding. In the endless errands and task-driven activities of daily life, it's too easy to neglect our most intimate relationship. Once in a while, parents need a time-out to reconnect. Allegedly, we will be happier when we return, rested and recharged. Perhaps, being more relaxed makes us more open to remembering what made our relationship feel complete even before we became parents. It's healthy for children to see parents prioritize their marriage, as well.
Once this idea of a childless vacation took hold, I could not stop daydreaming about the possibilities:
I would refuse to eat in any restaurant that serves a chicken nugget.
I could read a book on a beach without worrying that a child might be drowning in the blue waves.
We could smile sympathetically as we passed by the weary families forcing one another to appreciate an age-inappropriate museum exhibit.
We would not step foot in an amusement park.
And, just maybe, we would get a chance to sleep in.
I had to find a way to rationalize this trip, giving us permission for this indulgence.
In their short lives, our children have taken many trips with us to several cities -- most of which were chosen specifically for the child-friendly attractions. But why do 5- and 7-year-olds set our travel agendas so often? We deserve a turn.
Next month marks our 10-year wedding anniversary. I've convinced my husband we ought to celebrate with an adult-only getaway. (It didn't take much convincing.) We probably won't have a chance to take this trip until later in the year because it will involve juggling several people's schedules, but I'm committed to making it a reality.
The children can spend a few days with their grandparents, who adore them and vice versa, and be surrounded by cousins, aunts and uncles. When visiting family, they are so wrapped up in playing with their cousins, they barely notice us even when we are around.
And we can buy two plane tickets -- instead of four -- to a place where the high-pitched whine of SpongeBob Squarepants shall never be heard in our hotel room.
TRAVEL TIPS FOR COUPLES1. Both contribute to the planning. It's important that both people feel invested in the trip's success. Take the virtual tours, read the guest reviews, check out the location relative to the sites you want to see and book it together.
2. Work with each other's strengths. During planning, one person can take the reigns as researcher and do the destination investigation while the other may be responsible for booking the flights or hotels. Working with each other's strengths is even more important while traveling. Let the one who prefers to be in control do the driving while the other partner navigates.
3. Pace yourself. Don't try to see everything and do too much, even if this is your long-anticipated, first vacation sans children. Take time for the small moments and relaxation. Factor in downtime, as well as extra time while sight-seeing. You never know when you will want to spend more time in a museum, on the beach, or sampling the vineyard's newest harvest. And you'll appreciate not having the pressure to rush or the disappointment of missing out on an opportunity.
4. Communicate. It seems simple enough, but we can quickly forget that our partners are not mind readers, especially when we are away from our regular routine. Make a point to ask a few questions: Are you tired? Are you hungry? Do you want to stay in this town for another day? And be sure to let your significant other know what you're thinking before it's too late to do something about it. When traveling, you are out of your normal rhythm, so it's important to share your needs and desires.
5. Take time for yourself. It's important on a vacation to have some time for you, whether to relax or explore. Factor in coveted "me time." For example, you could check out the local village shops, while he takes in a round of golf.
6. Do not disturb. Our sleep patterns can really wreak havoc with our vacations. Plan ahead and pack earplugs. If one person is a morning person, be kind and allow some precious time to sleep-in by taking a walk around town or reading a few chapters of that book.
7. Try something new to both of you. If you frequent the same destination, change it up by finding something new to do. Experiencing something for the first time is a great way to bring a couple closer together.
8. Budgets and splurges. Money is often an issue for most couples. It is important for a couple to understand their vacation budget before embarking on a trip. It's not fair to either person to feel constrained or overly frugal while traveling. Know before you go. Allow and anticipate splurges like dinner at a romantic restaurant you stumbled upon or a piece of locally created art.
9. Use the hotel concierge. Here's what frequent travelers know: The concierge can make things happen. They often have discount tickets to area attractions, know the best restaurants and want to help make your hotel stay special. Tell the concierge if your stay is to celebrate a birthday or anniversary and see how he or she can help make it memorable.
10. You don't have to go far to get away. A vacation is merely a break from the ordinary. Even a stay at a nearby resort can feel like a million miles away. A vacation close to home can be a great way for new couples to test the waters, and it's a great way for couples with children to have time alone without the worry that comes with traveling away from your children.