Travel with the Kiddos: International

Written by: Jill Bishop

“You took your son WHERE on vacation?!”

We get that question a lot (though we’re not exactly sure why).  When our son Henry was just over a year old and full of endless energy, the thought of the long, dark winter filled me with dread.  My husband Mark and I started talking about how to give Henry a bit of summer in December, and we decided to spend 4 weeks in Guatemala, where we knew Henry would get the sunshine he needed (OK, and us too) and the language and culture exposure we wanted for him (I’m a linguistic anthropologist and owner of a language school, so that’s important to me).

For a while we alternated between Guatemala (primarily Antigua and Lake Atitlán) and Mexico (Mérida and Oaxaca). I would enroll in four hours a day of one-on-one advanced Spanish classes while Mark worked and Henry played with a Spanish-speaking babysitter.  As Henry got older, he was able to take Spanish classes that were play-based and immersive, and we’d spend the afternoons together, people-watching in the central plaza, exploring Spanish colonial courtyards, touring coffee plantations and searching out the best tres leches cake we could find.

After our third family trip to Guatemala, I was torn between another visit to what had become a very familiar yet foreign country or trying something new.  I was encouraged to consider Nicaragua, and that’s where we spent our last two Decembers.  Volcanoes, crater lakes, colonial cities, beaches, fresh fish, cheap mojitos and a high of 90/low of 72 every day – not a bad way to spend some time.  Better yet, it’s super affordable, and it’s also considered to be one of the safest countries in all of Latin America.

Parents often wait until their kid are older so they can better appreciate international travel, choosing instead more standard kid-friendly options, but big plazas to run around and people watch, ruins to explore, volcanoes to climb and craters to swim in sounds pretty kid-friendly to me.  And if you think a trip like this will break the bank, think again.

Some tips:

  1. Both parents have to be present to apply for your child’s passport, and if not, one has to fill out and notarize a parental consent form.   
  2. Don’t confine yourself to a hotel room.  Check out Vacation Rentals by Owner for apartment or house rentals, which not only give you more space to spread out, but typically have partial or full kitchens.  Eating out three meals a day with young kids can be exhausting, not to mention expensive, so give yourself the option of eating in sometimes.  Besides, it’s a great opportunity to explore the local grocery store - often a cross-cultural experience in itself.
  3. If you’re leaning toward hotels, try to find small hotels with shared common space.  We’ve stayed in lodges and renovated colonial houses that allowed for lots of contact with other guests (not the “Ninth floor, please!” kind of contact), which has been great for us and great for Henry, too.
  4. You can filter TripAvisor by family reviews, which is really helpful when looking for hotels, restaurants and activities that are a good fit for your family.
  5. If you’re interested in language immersion, consider signing up for a week of half-day classes or tutoring.  In Nicaragua and Guatemala, you can typically find great programs for about $6-$8 per hour.  I’ve always asked my teachers to focus on conversation rather than grammar, and I then get hours and hours to talk about different approaches to parenthood, marriage, taking care of elderly relatives, cooking, folk medicine, gender roles, holidays and more.  You can of course tailor your classes however you want, but it’s nice to get such intensive time with people who actually live in the place you’re visiting.

Life is short, and the world is big.  Resorts can be great, but traveling a bit off the beaten path can be a wonderful experience for your family.

Questions?  Just let me know!

Posted on March 03, 2014 at 8:51 AM