Teens: 13-17

Traveling Before Kids vs. Traveling After Kids

See recent posts by Cynthia J. Drake

One of my great shocks as a new parent, who previously had about three decades under her belt of relatively carefree travel with friends and spouse, was how different it is to travel with kids.

A family on a road trip.

You might be thinking, “Duh, lady! Of course traveling with kids is different.”

But it’s one thing to know that in your mind, another to re-learn your entire pattern of travel, going from “Oh, I think I’ll take in that lovely art opening followed by late night cocktails at the trendy bar on the corner” to “DEAR GOD, WHY WON’T MY KID JUST SLEEP ALREADY IN THIS HOTEL AND WHO IS THE MONSTER DOWN THE HALL DARING TO LAUGH RIGHT NOW?”

Here are some ways I’ve found travel to be different now that I have kids. Hopefully you’ll be able to relate to some of these, and if you can, maybe we can bond over drinks at whatever local bar happens to have a playground nearby (hint: it won’t be the trendy one).

A family packing for an upcoming vacation.


Before Kids: Pack color-coordinated everything, tucked carefully into packing cubes, with multiple shoe choices, cute bathing suits, jewelry and books! Because you are going to read so many books!

After Kids: Don’t forget three changes of outfits for every person in the family in case of spills, blowouts, vomiting, etc. ALL THE WIPES. WIPES ARE THE ANSWER TO EVERY TRAVEL CONCERN. WORSHIP AT THE SHRINE OF WIPES. Toys for every hour on the plane, some gift-wrapped. Headphones and iPads, loaded with appropriate content for each child’s age. Diapers, swim diapers. MORE WIPES. Should we bring the white noise machine? Strollers, the umbrella one, right? But maybe we should bring the full-size one… and the car seats… Is it humanly possible to carry all of this?

You have five minutes remaining to pack your own suitcase, and you end up bringing a pair of your kids’ socks instead of your own. Farewell forever to color coordination. You are going to read so many books – namely: Goodnight Moon and Curious George.

Related: Interactive Family Packing List

Mom and baby at the zoo.


Before Kids: Your pre-travel research includes scouring reviews of all the shows and late-night hot spots. You’ll sleep in, spend a leisurely day doing some shopping and sightseeing, then possibly a nap followed by dinner and nightlife.

After Kids: Your pre-travel research includes internet searches for zoos, children’s museums and local transportation – because riding a bus or a train is going to be the singular highlight of this whole trip for your kids.

You’ll wake up at 6 a.m. like normal because your kids are hardwired against sleeping in at all costs, watch cartoons in the hotel room until you feel like you have the energy to emerge into the unknown and spend the day chasing after them. No naps today, which equals cranky kids followed by a quick, half-eaten dinner, a strenuous jumping-on-the-hotel-bed session, and finally sleep. For a special treat, you can hang out in the hotel bathroom and surf the internet on your phone.

A family of four enjoying a nice meal out.


Before Kids: Naturally, you’ve landed reservations at the newest hard-to-get in spot in the city. You’ve scoured the reviews in advance and are salivating just thinking about the multi-course gourmet meal awaiting you.

After Kids: That kids-eat-free restaurant deal is looking pretty good right now. Oh, they offer pancakes in the shape of a happy face? Sold.

Related: 10 Family-Friendly Food Tours You Need to Experience

A happy family looking at a photo album together.

Vacation Memories

Before Kids: You have that restful vacation glow about you, plus a phone full of well documented memories of the interesting new places you visited and the people you met.

After Kids: Is it possible you look even more tired than usual? In any case, your kids won’t stop talking about that bus ride for a long time (“And then I pressed the button again and that man gave me a mean look!”) and you have a phone full of photos of their smiling faces — which is truly all that matters in the end.

Related: 5 Crafts to Commemorate Your Family Vacation

More From Family Vacation Critic:
12 Things Every Parent Should Do for a Road Trip With Toddlers
7 Lessons I Learned From a Road Trip With Teen Girls
The Best Family Vacation for Every Age

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