Ok, so we’ve all heard countless stories about the joys (and horrors) of traveling WITH our children, but what about the joys (and horrors) of traveling WITHOUT our children? Six months ago, my wife and I got to experience our first trip alone since our 2nd child was born almost 3 years ago.
As a nurse, my wife gets two vacation weeks a year, usually during off-peak weeks that are planned as far as eight months in advance. My job allows for much more flexibility, so I always work around her schedule.
We knew last April that she was going to have the first week of November off, and since it had been a while since we’d been able to “get out of Dodge” we pretty much knew we were going to get on a plane.
The little birdies on our right shoulders were telling us that Walt Disney World would be the obvious destination for us, as the kids have never been there, and my wife and I have not been since we were each little kids.
It was definitely hard to ignore the little birdies on the left shoulders though, telling us that we had not been on a romantic getaway just the two of us since our Honeymoon back in 2006.
In the end, the left side birdies chirped louder. It’s not that we didn’t want to take a vacation with the kids, but more that we felt that we do so much already with them, that once in a while it’s important for the parents to have that alone time, to reconnect with each other, while having a moment to disconnect from the daily grind.
We had been saving up for a while for Disney, and had guilt about spending that money on ourselves. We wanted to have that week away for us, but didn’t want to set ourselves back too much, eliminating the possibility of a potential Disney trip in the next year.
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One area where we are extremely lucky: Our daycare/pre-k allows us to pay our tuition by credit card. In all the years we’ve been paying tuition, we’ve managed to save up enough airline points for several trips. We’d also heard about the Chase Hyatt Visa Card, which has a “spend $1000 in the first 3 months, and receive 2 free nights at any Hyatt around the world” promotion.
So, my wife and I each opened a card, and with 2 consecutive month’s tuition at the school, we had ourselves four free Hyatt nights! I asked my wife where is the one place she’s always wanted to go in the world, and I could not have been happier with her answer: Paris!
I had been a few times already, but I knew that every trip there is like the first trip. With so many museums, parks, restaurants, and sites, there’s always more to see. With “free” flights, and “free” hotel, the only thing left to do was pack! Of course, we didn’t anticipate the guilt and separation anxiety that WE would feel, as the trip got closer and closer.
It’s never easy to leave your kids for several days at a time. We kept telling ourselves everything would be fine, that they would be fine (we were leaving them with my parents), and that we’d have the time of our lives. As our departure crept closer and closer though, we had more anxiety and stress, and even considered a cancellation.
It was at that moment, a few weeks out, where my wife and I sat down one night, and came up with a real game plan to minimize our stress, and also minimize the impact on the children.
Our first thought was to make sure that the kids routine would stay as normal as possible:
- With my parents living in the same town as us, and very involved in our kids lives, we made sure that they would be able to bring them to daycare every morning, and pick them up at the end of the day.
- We went over their schedules with my parents, in order to keep their sleep patterns uninterrupted.
- We made sure to make a list of all their favorite foods and meals for them to have.
- In the days before the trip, we also allowed the kids to pack anything they wanted from their rooms, so that they’d never feel too far away from home. Of course, they had suitcases filled with 25 stuffed animals, and one pair of pants. We sold it to them as an adventure week at the grandparents as much as we could, and they were super excited about their “vacation” as well!
My wife also took the time to write each of the kids 5 letters, for my parents to read to them from us, one for every night that we were away. A short story, a memory, a poem, always with a focus on something that they enjoyed, so even if they missed us that night, the letter would cheer them up and make them smile.
Lastly, we asked the kids to give us something to take with us, and we promised to send them photos from Paris every day. They chose a mini stuffed Mr. Met toy.
Of course, the most stressful part of planning your first trip away from your kids, is the “what if” thoughts that keep coming up in the back of your mind. It can be scary and overwhelming to think about. So long as you have a good life insurance policy, and you’ve well thought out all the possible scenarios, and are comfortable and confident with the choices you’ve made for their care if the worst case were to happen, you have to try your best not to let it consume you.
We eventually told ourselves that the odds of something happening to us on the trip are the same as something happening to us right here at home, and we could not let those thoughts ruin the trip for us. Once we were able to get over these fears, we were able to focus on our own excitement.
We stayed at the Park Hyatt Paris – Vendome, an amazing 5 star luxury hotel, where one of the benefits is a strong and reliable wifi service. The first thing we did when we arrived, was send a photo of Mr. Met to the kids from our iPad.
We actually had a lot of fun carrying it around and taking photos with it! The time difference between Paris and New York actually worked well to our advantage. Just as we had gotten back to the hotel room after dinner late at night (amazing how long you can sit in a restaurant without kids!), the kids were themselves just starting to get ready for bed themselves. Over FaceTime, we were able to sing bedtime songs with them, talk to them about their day, show them Mr. Met, and virtually tuck them in at night. As far away as we were from home, it seemed like we were right there with them, and they couldn’t wait to talk to us each night. We went as far as giving them virtual tours around Paris as well, shooting quick videos as we moved around, and sending them to my parents to show them. We even sent them a video from the top of the Eiffel Tower.
Of course, my wife and I missed them terribly, and we couldn’t wait to get back home to them. While our anxiety was high before-hand, and certainly at times during, it was relatively painless and actually fun! We had an amazing time, worth every moment for us.
While we strongly believe in the importance of family vacations, we also just as strongly now believe in the occasional parents only trip. Seeing how well the kids behaved for my parents, and that they didn’t have any major issues while we were away keeps us optimistic that we would be able to go away on our own again soon, though for now, the next trip will most certainly include them, be it Disney or another destination.
A few tips before going on a trip without your kids, based on our experience:
- Don't lie to your kids. Tell them where you are going, and when you will be back. It will help with their anxiety about missing you.
- Make them as excited about your trip as you are. Let them help you plan! If they are staying with family or friends, make this a “vacation” for them too!
- Keep your caretakers informed of where you are at all times; hotel and flight info as well as cell phone info if you will have your own or a rental.
- Leave phone numbers of all important contacts, doctors, school, friends, etc.
- Make sure all your wills are up to date and in a place that someone will be able to find should the unthinkable occur. Let this never be the case!
- Try to the best of your ability to keep your kids on their normal routine. The more it deviates, the more they will miss you.
- Stay in touch! We're pretty sure these are the reasons FaceTime was invented. Your kids will always feel safe if they know they can just press a button and see you at any time.
Above, all HAVE FUN! You've earned it! Your kids will be fine!