Vacations before I became a father were different from what they are these days. That’s not to say I don’t have a good time, it’s just… different.
When I was young, my parents always took me on camping trips. In the Netherlands, camping is a popular way to have a vacation. The prime destination for such a camping trip is France, and that’s exactly where we went most years.
Now, I don’t like camping. When I go on vacation, I want to relax. My idea of relaxing is not to try and cram all my necessities into a few square feet of a low-ceilinged cloth tent. I want a home I can stand up in, that is no-assembly-required, and that has running water and a toilet. So, as you can guess, I was not a big fan of vacations with my parents. I love my parents, but I’m just not a fan of camping.
So, when I came of age and could travel by myself, I partook of the joy that is ‘hotels’. Also, having mostly seen rural France and Belgium, I started visiting the cultural highlights of Europe: Florence, Berlin, Paris, Istanbul, London, and so on. After my wife and I had become overfed on culture and walking — with a less-than-ideal week in Barcelona during a public transport strike — we switched to warm beaches. We combined those with culture by going to Rhodes and Malta, and then we ended up snorkeling on Bonaire and the Maldives. Environmentally, less than ideal, with the flying, but damn… those tropical fish.
Then we had a child and things changed.
Relaxing with children
Let me first say, I love my daughter. The above section might give you the idea she ruined my vacations, but that’s not true. If I could go back in time, I’d make the same choice to become a father. Vacations have changed, though, since we were blessed with our small bundle of joy.
As I wrote above, I want to relax on my vacation. A multi-hour airplane ride, car ride, or train ride with a young child is not my idea of relaxing. It’s possible, and some children probably handle it better than others, but I’ve been on train rides with my daughter, and she is all over the place in minutes. Talking, walking, climbing. It’s exhausting. But okay, put on a movie, play some games, and circle the inside of the carriage, and you could make that work.
Second problem is doing the culture thing. I like visiting museums with my daughter. Museums that are fun for kids. However, she’s too young to enjoy the Uffizi in Florence, or the Colosseum in Rome. Well, that’s not quite true. She’d have fun, but she’d probably rush through those places in minutes and/or try to climb things not meant for climbing.
Beaches would be a different unrelaxing experience. My daughter loves the beach… as long as there is somebody to play with. In the absence of other children her age, that would be me or my wife. So, going on a beach vacation would be Russian roulette of sorts: maybe there would be children to play with, maybe not. If not, then we’d be screwed. Even if we were to find playmates, my daughter’s love of the beach extends to maybe a day or two. That’s a bit of a short holiday, even for somebody like me, who’s usually had enough after a week.
So, our previous vacation options were out.
Cabins in the woods
And there we were, parents looking for vacation without much traveling, with preferably some playgrounds and other young children, and running water. Where does that leave you?
As it turns out, in a cabin in the Dutch woods. And by ‘cabin’, I mean a small house on a vacation park in the woods outside the Dutch population centers. I used to dread those places. Large groups of people with loud children milling along in a small park with bland restaurants and a too full swimming pool. But when you have a child, other children are great to distract your own child, and a swimming pool keeps your little tike busy as a bee. It also turns out, there’s a playground around every corner in those parks.
You could probably achieve the same thing by going camping. I understand my parents a lot better these days. I still don’t like it, but maybe it’s something I will try anyway. Because it offers even more of the benefits of keeping your child entertained. There are probably tents that I can stand up in.
If your child is entertained, you as a parent can relax. And that’s what vacations are all about, are they not?
You can try to cling to your life before becoming a parent, but maybe you shouldn’t. Not because you can’t, but because it’s not going to bring you any joy. That’s my opinion anyway.