Before becoming parents, my husband and I would earmark our extra cash to visit destinations on our bucket list: the Grand Canyon, Tahiti, Belize, Turkey. When we became parents, we were excited to share this passion with our kids and show them the world.
Of course, any parent can tell you that traveling with children is not for the faint of heart. While we have taken big trips with our kids (now ages 4-and-a-half and 2), the preparation would always cause me to overstress.
Surprisingly, the pandemic gave me the chance to reevaluate our family vacation strategy. We had to cancel three planned trips and took our one and only pandemic vacation in January, which changed my perspective on what we really needed to have a meaningful vacation. Here’s how COVID-19 changed the way our family travels.
WE EMBRACED THE ROAD TRIP
Having to cancel a much-anticipated trip to Hawaii was disappointing — but I was also relieved that I wouldn’t have to keep my son and daughter preoccupied on a seven-hour flight or deal with the possibility of being rerouted.
Before the pandemic, we rarely considered taking a road trip over two hours. But in January, when we decided to do a family trip to Big Sur, California, and then onto Lake Tahoe, we didn’t have a choice because of flying restrictions. Our plan was to split the trip up in two legs: a four-hour drive from our home in the Los Angeles area to Big Sur, and then staying a few nights before driving five more hours on to Tahoe.
But a week before the trip, we learned that all accommodations in Big Sur — as well as any other city we could stop in along the way — were closed due to limited capacity in their intensive care units. We'd have to do a nine-hour drive straight from our home to Tahoe. I braced for the worst.
But to my surprise, all it took were snacks, a tablet for my daughter, a midway pit stop at an empty playground and two fast-food kids’ meals to keep the kids entertained. My husband and I even caught a few episodes of a podcast.
Not only did we skip the hassle of the airport, the flight and renting a car (which alone saved us at least $1,000), but we arrived at our destination with our sanity intact.
WE OPTED FOR THE HOME AWAY FROM HOME
I used to spend hours scouring hotel room layouts online when booking trips. My goal was to determine if we could stick a crib in a dark corner — or the bathroom — so that we could all sleep. I always assumed that hotels were the best for traveling with kids because they provided room service, housekeeping and proximity to food that I didn't have to cook. In reality, we rarely ordered room service, housekeeping typically conflicted with nap time and hotel restaurants usually had limited (and pricey) menus.
For our Tahoe getaway, we tried out a vacation rental with enough space for everyone. Not only was it a safer option during the pandemic, it provided the comforts (and then some) of home. There was a hot tub, a master suite for me and my husband, and toys, sleds, games, books and craft supplies for the kids. We had our own car if we wanted to venture out, but there was enough snow for playing and sledding right out the front door. We used Instacart for groceries and although I did cook our meals (which was more enjoyable in the chef’s kitchen), it saved us at least $500 over eating out.
At $600 per night, the house wasn’t cheap. But we paid nearly the same price for a one-bedroom, residence-style hotel room in Park City, Utah, the year before. Finding a true home away from home made our family trip feel like an actual vacation.
WE GAVE UP THE FOMO
Before the pandemic hit, I felt a lot of pressure to say yes whenever our friends put together group family trips — even if they were to inconvenient destinations, which meant more work and more worry.
During the pandemic, all that pressure disappeared. I was able to spend more time with my kids and see how much they’ve grown over the past year: My daughter who struggled with sleep is now a nighttime champ, and my son is now talking and able to communicate his needs.
Although it felt disappointing to cancel our big trips, it ultimately made the trip we did take to Tahoe more meaningful and restful. Because the pandemic forced us to plan outside the box when it comes to travel, I believe what we learned will make our future vacations more relaxing as well.