Before we had kids, Jason and I did a fair amount of traveling. While we never ate cobra eyes or camped on the floor of a straw hut in a remote village someplace, I’d say we were more adventurous than the average American. We’d eat local food and try to explore the spirit of the place we visited. On our honeymoon to Mexico we made a point of driving the free roads, rather than the toll highway, because the free ones passed through small towns. The highway sped by everything.
Since we’ve had two kids, we’ve continued to travel with some success. Last year we had a so-so trip to Mexico and a great trip to France. This year we decided to return to Mexico again. Last year’s difficulties stemmed from trying to eat out every meal with small kids on Mexico time (= waiting thirty minutes just for chips and salsa to arrive at table) and staying at a tiny hotel with no windows, only screens and a breakfast that took forty-five minutes to arrive. I got it in my head that if we stayed at a resort this year, things would be better.
We’ve never stayed at any kind of big resort hotel because frankly, there’s nothing about being in another place when you stay at one. The uniformity that makes it comfortable and familiar obliterates any sense of what makes the destination unique. It was like going to Mexico without having to go to Mexico. For lots of people, this is ideal and I thought it was a trade-off I could make. I thought our room with windows would mean a better night’s sleep for the kids. I thought three onsite restaurants — kids eat free! — would mean easier meal times. I thought multiple pools would give us something to do if the ocean was too rough to swim.
But as we drove to the airpot in Cancun, we passed a little stand on the side of the road selling “cocos frios”, cold coconuts, and I was suddenly so sad. We’d spent a week in Mexico and never once had tortillas served with our meals, never mind the kind of food being served at the roadside stand. The kids ate free for sure, but it was hot dogs and fish fingers and burgers. And aside from quesadillas at lunch, which is hardly real Mexican food, most of what we ate was basic American hotel fare. The ocean was so warm and lovely, and the pools were super fun. But we had round-robin of family sickness. And Minna decided after one meal that she would no longer sit in a high chair and screamed when we put her in it.
Last year at the end of our trip to Paris I wrote:
Traveling with kids is really great because everyone gets forced from their routine and you discover, “Hey, that routine wasn’t so necessary after all!”
This year? Not so much. Of course the routine I like that we have at home is that Minna sits in her own seat at meals. And that my children don’t eat junk “kids’ food” at every (or any) meal. And that Ollie sleeps more than ten hours at night. I’m chalking this trip up to a “learning opportunity”. For future trips, I know I’ll do better when I can control some aspects of our meals, like if we rent an apartment and can cook. More importantly: if we’re visiting a place, we need to experience it as fully as possible. If not, there’s no upside to the disruption of travel, and no sense for me in going away.