Ah, togetherness, ain’t it grand? Traveling as a family: stepping over each other in cramped hotel rooms, cooking in tiny apartments, queuing up for the bathroom, sleeping on each others’ shoulders aboard trains, sorting dirty laundry… Oh, togetherness.
But here’s the thing: You don’t have to spend all your time together. It’s
okay… No, it’s critical to spend some time apart every now and again if you’re on an extended family trip.
It’s a paradox: You save, plan and daydream for these big trips so you can spend quality time together traveling as a family — certainly, travel is the answer. Yet, you must be willing to let go and allow everyone — especially if you’re traveling with teenagers — a little breathing room. Parents need time away from their kids; siblings need time away from each other; and, yes, even parents need to spend some time apart. It’s healthy and reinvigorating to part ways for a few hours, an evening or a day.
My wife, son and I are very close. We all get-on magically. In London, toward the tail-end of our summer trip to Europe, we no longer felt the need to do EVERYTHING together.
One day, my lovely wife, tired of military museums, hoped to meet an old friend living in London at the Tate Modern art museum. My son, having had his fill of art museums, wanted desperately to see the Imperial War Museum. This was our opportunity to split up for the day. While my son and I reveled in British military history, my wife caught up with her friend, took in some art and enjoyed some cafe time — and some time away from her boys. We met for dinner, swapping stories about the day. Those six hours apart reinvigorated the family dynamic, while satisfying our different sightseeing interests.
What did we learn? Just because we’re traveling as a family doesn’t mean we must do everything as a family.
[bctt tweet=”Just because we’re traveling as a family doesn’t mean we must do everything as a family.”]
How to spend time apart without feeling like a jerk:
First, make it an expectation. Talk about doing things separately early in the planning process. Get everyone involved in planning so you can hear what interests them as you start to gain an idea of when and where you might break off. Don’t go all spontaneous and decide to split apart after a big fight. Make the split a fixed and pre-planned part of the itinerary — not necessarily down to the exact day and time, but have a general idea of when and where you should split.
Next, make sure everyone’s clear about where they’re going, how they’re getting there and when to meet back up. All parties should have a map, money and the address (or business card) of your lodging. Devise a simple contingency plan in case someone gets lost or is running late.
Lastly, enjoy your time apart. Don’t think about what the others are doing. Don’t worry if your teens are off independently exploring a foreign city. Focus on enjoying yourselves — whether it’s time with your spouse, time alone or solo time with one of your kids, you’ve earned this renewal, this recharge, this break from the group.
So, next big family trip you take, remember to include some time apart — the temporary distance will bring you and your family closer.
Interested in backpacking Europe with your family? Get a head start with my guidebook, Paris with Kids. Coming winter 2015/16: Southern Spain with Kids, London with Kids and Washington, DC with Kids.