Family Vacation Belongs to Your Toddler Now

You might not drink as much wine or stay out as late as you did on pre-kid vacations, but you — and your toddler — can still find travel bliss. One dad explains how it's done.

by Bill Hinchen
A man playing with his toddler in the ocean

My wife and I recently went away with our toddler to a little island off the coast of Italy. This was his first vacation abroad, and it included a plane journey, three car rides, and a ferry. It was also the first time we’ve done any full-on parenting for this long in quite a while. I’m not sure which one was filling me with the most sphincter-clenching anxiety.

The journey was epic in its ambition: an hour’s drive to the airport, a two-hour flight, another hour-and-a-half drive across Italy (on the wrong side of the road), a one-hour ferry journey, and a final hour-long drive around the side of an actual mountain. My wife is a hero and did all the driving.

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Now, you know how your brain goes off on one and maps out every conceivable worst possibility? Hysterical tantrums at 30,000 feet. Ceaseless judgmental glances from everyone else at that toddler. And of course, the projectile vomit. Yeah, none of that happened. None of it. Okay, well, we did have one incident: the eight-minute bus ride from the long-stay airport car park to the actual airport. That bumpy little adventure was tantamount to torture and it had the screams and tears to match. Obviously. But afterward, it was all sorts of easy. Suck it, brain.

How? How did we manage this magical feat? Simple. The iPad. That little rectangle of dreams. That beguiling touchpad of serenity. Cheers, Steve Jobs. Apple parenting is real, and if you disagree you’re lying, mad or you haven’t made humans of your own.

You see, we had the digital essentials. A iPad with full battery. “Frozen.” “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure.” “Moana.” “Kung Fu Panda 3.” “Madagascar.” A copy of “Sucker Punch” I forgot to delete. With tools like this, no journey is out of the question. No situation un-calmable.

We strapped the iParent to the back of the passenger headrest and off we went on our adventures! Happy and content toddler in tow. iParent stepped up again on the plane. In no time we found ourselves cruising through the sky without a single whinge, seat-kick, or tear. Need to suck down some post-travel food on the quick? iParent to the rescue once again. Elsa’s “Let It Go” for him, pizza and wine for Mummy and Daddy. Again, all the thanks, Steve.

Okay, look, by now, we’re all aboard the Change Train. We’re not parenting noobs any more. We know ours lives are different, that we have to make adjustments, sacrifices, and all the rest. So, before you start down the “You decided to make a child!” path, just…don’t. The thing is, holidays hammer home exactly how different things are now (in case we’d forgotten). But despite that, you can’t help but immediately slip into that holiday mode you’re so familiar with. Arrival day: unpack only the essentials, take a note of where you’re staying, and head out for food and wine! Next up: breakfast by the beach and a bit of a meander around the local sights (markets and wine vendors). Then a relaxed lunch with local wine and more meandering/snoozing/existing. Finally, you’d head out for dinner, more wine, and late-night shenanigans. Yeah, okay, so there used to be a major wine focus.

Well, forget about all of that. Because you know that routine you’re already achingly familiar with at home?

  1. Get up at 5 a.m.
  2. Entertain the toddler
  3. Feed the toddler
  4. Watch the toddler empty his bowels
  5. Wipe the toddler’s bum
  6. Feed the toddler
  7. Put the toddler down for a nap
  9. Get the toddler up
  10. Entertain the toddler
  11. Watch the toddler empty his bowels
  12. Wipe the toddler’s bum
  13. Feed the toddler
  14. Bathe the toddler
  15. Put the toddler to bed
  16. Wage the eternal war of wits with the toddler over who controls bedtime
  17. Concede defeat to the toddler and read the toddler one more story, and then actually put the toddler to sleep
  19. Feed yourself
  20. Sleep
  21. Repeat

Well, it’s a lot like that, except you’re not at home and you have none of the usual conveniences. But you still get up at stupid o’clock. You still need to put them to bed at precisely the time those lovely secluded restaurants by the sea open. And despite the routine, being on holiday kind of made you forget that everything’s so different now.

I know I sound like a broken record: parenting’s hard, toddlers are joy sponges, woe is me, repeat ad nauseam. But, put them on the beach, give them a bucket and a spade and make some sand castles with them. Bliss. That’s what they experience. That’s what you experience. We spent that whole morning making sand castles and throwing rocks at the sea. It was actually awesome.

So, there we all were. Stood on an empty beach looking at the most gorgeous view of a calm sea, rocky bay and distinct lack of people. And our toddler gave exactly zero fucks about the the whole thing. Toddlers do not appreciate that stunning vista because they have no reference points. Nothing to compare it to. For him, running up to the sea and throwing rocks at the receding waves was as good as it gets. Everything else was unimaginable.

While riding the Change Train we knew that it wasn’t about us anymore. We kind of knew that going into the holiday, as well. But it wasn’t until we stopped trying to do our stuff and did what he wanted to do, that everything became clearer. Easier. And way more fun.

I hear people say all the time that, “You shouldn’t try to fit your life around your new kid’s. You have to make them fit into your life.” But those people are idiots. My son doesn’t want to be sitting at the table waiting for the food to come. My son doesn’t want to be strolling around the old town looking in old shops. My son doesn’t want to eat anything at 7.30 pm because he’s knackered and wants to go to sleep. And when I was I kid, neither did I! All I wanted to do was be in the sea. Near the sea. Or even in any body of water  —  with a whopping great ice cream in hand, if possible.

As soon as we stopped trying to fit things into how we expected or wanted them to be, everything got easier and more enjoyable. We spent the last few days romping around an empty beach with quick-fire lunches. We then stocked up on wine and cured meats before heading back for bedtime. Then it was time for my wife and I to enjoy our usual quiet time. Like at home, but with the benefit that we could see the sea and if we strained our ears, we could hear the waves. This came pretty close to that old holiday feeling.

So, stop trying to fit your toddler into your holiday. It’s their holiday now. Enjoy that. Leave gorgeous vistas as gorgeous backdrops. Sand castles and iPads are king.

Bill Hinchen is a biologist, copywriter, mediocre weightlifter, and grump.