Just got back from a very long overdue vacation to the Dominican Republic.
10 people, 8 days, 4 plane rides, 2 parasites, 1 villa and a partridge in a palm tree.
Long story short – we survived.
All in all, it was a great vacation. Amazing people, amazing place, amazing food – everything was, you guessed it, amazing. But it’s so damn good to be home.
I’ve put together a recap of certain aspects of our family trip that I thought were worth mentioning. If you plan on traveling this summer, you may want to take a quick peek at some of my “do’s and donts” when traveling with kids. I’ve also added some friendly tips on how to avoid “Mexi belly” or “Bali belly” or “fill in the blank belly.” Last but not least, if you plan on venturing to Panama – don’t. Find out why.
The dreaded plane ride with kids:
1. DON’T travel with kids.
2. I’m kidding ;). The difficulty of traveling with kids is directly proportional to their age and your ability to relax. Wes is now 18 months and I definitely thought this was easier then when we traveled to NYC when he was 9 months and just starting to walk. That was a bit more, demanding, shall we call it? Since this was our second trip with Wes we felt a bit more at ease this time around. We had less anxiety about what other people thought and about what to expect. Wes is also at the age where he is a little better at self soothing and entertaining himself so that definitely helped relieve us from constant “jestering.”
DO chill out. In the end – it is what is is. If you think it’s going to be hard – it will. Don’t have ANY expectations of regular schedules, nap times, behavior, eating habits or any down time for yourself. Do your best to take deep breaths, practice patience and go with the flow. Seriously. Go. With. The. Flow. If you need to, grab a glass of wine or a beer and take the edge off.
3. Avoid over packing half the toy chest. I searched high and low for ways to “entertain a toddler on a plane.” I found a billion of suggestions and common mom favorites from other bloggers, recommending their “top 10 best” for just about every age group. I obsessed over every suggestion and ended up buying the coveted blue painters tape, wrapped up some new toys from the $1 store, and packed about 12 other sources of entertainment that Wes never touched.
What he did do at this age: slept, played with empty cups (stacking them, transferring pretzels from one to the other, wearing them like a hat & using them as telescopes), watched downloaded sesame street episodes, open and closed the tray tables and windows about 100 times, played with his shoes, stuck a straw in and out of a cup with a lid about 100 times, tried to master the art of seat belt buckles, lowered and raised the arm rest about 100 times, ripped pages out of the sky mall magazine, sang songs and flirted with the girls behind us.
4. Did I mention the IPAD? IPAD, IPAD, IPAD. Your new best friend. Your only friend and saving grace.
5. Food. That is your second saving grace. Snacks are key. Feel free to indulge, it is a vacation after all. I liked the lolipop suggestion – that took up a good 20 minutes. My mom grabbed us some sugar free ones and they were the perfect treat when Wes got antsy.
6. To bring the car seat or not: depends. Sorry – no words of wisdom here. I brought it and wished I hadn’t. He slept fine in it on the red eye but slept even better during the day flight back home without it. He snuggled up on my lap, and sprawled out between my husband and I and we were all perfectly comfortable. We never used it on our trip but then again, the only mode of transportation we used was a golf cart that took us from the house to the beach 1 minute away. My suggestion – really think about where you are going and what you will be doing. The less crap you have to schlep, the better. Plus, trying to have hubby install it on the plane at 11:45pm after a very long day resulted in one more thing to be frustrated about. If you are going to bring it, I highly suggest this car seat roller for getting through the airport in a breeze. Wes sat in his car seat and we pulled him along – made traveling with the car seat moderately bearable. But think about it.
7. If you can afford it, do get them their own seat. This will save you any smidgen of patience you have left. Give yourself some room. Give the kids some room to stand up and move around. Save your marriage…get the seat.
8. Boarding the plane. You may remember my post about the top 6 reasons you need your kids, one of which is the luxury of boarding flights early. Yeah, about that. Boarding early with kids sucks. You’re essentially locking yourself in to a confined, non air-conditioned space, with grumpy people and impatient toddlers. My suggestion…if you’re traveling with another person, have one person board early with as much luggage as they can, have them secure your overhead space and seat while you continue to run the kids all over the terminal until the last possible second. Trust me. It’s a parent trap. Board last.
9. Layovers. Run Forrest, run! Again, let your kids run wild like banshees and burn off any energy they have left in hopes that they will crash on the plane. I used to think a direct flight was the best bet for long trips but I’m starting to think that breaking up the flight is actually a great way of letting littles release some pent up boredom. Sometimes is just about breaking up the monotony.
10. Benedryl. Listen, don’t judge. When you’re kid has been up for 20 hours and is now too cracked out and overtired to get themselves to sleep and you can see they’re about to blow a gasket, I say give them some help. By the time we boarded our red eye heading to DR, Wes was falling apart from exhaustion but was too excited and overstimulated to sleep. A little night cap finally helped him relax enough to get to sleep. I have no shame.
We had a layover in Panama both there and back so my observations are based on a total of roughly 5 hours of exposure to Panamanian airport workers. Nonetheless, I would try to avoid Panama at all costs. I’ve traveled a lot. In all the years, in all the countries, across all cultures, I have never met such disgruntled, rude, miserable and indifferent people in my life. There, I said it. They were like unorganized robots, so immune to any form of customer service skills that we witnessed 4 different fights break out between passengers and airport workers in the 2 hours we sat in the terminal waiting for our flight to board. It was like watching a Jerry Springer episode with Spanish subtitles.
I won’t bore you with all of our frustrating encounters but the last straw was when a girl told me I was not allowed to board the plane with chicken. WTF? Oh yes. Because my cooked chicken tenders from the airport terminal are considered a serious threat to the national security of the United States. Whats that you say? Chicken just beat out cyber attacks and terrorism as 2014s biggest safety concern? You learn something new everyday….even in Panama. Anywho. I protested, against my better judgement because this chick was like 7 feet tall and looked like a frikin gladiator, but I was a sleep deprived mom with more adrenalin…so I won that battle.
If you don’t believe the hype, call Copa Airlines yourself and try to make a reservation. Then fly to PTY airport and let me know if you think I’m going overboard in my opinion. The only thing they have going for them is their cool looking hats.
The Dominican, on the other hand, is exceptionally beautiful and relaxing. The weather was sunny but mild enough to spend all day at the beach or by the pool. Most of the locals were very helpful and sweet. We happened to have a pretty killer set up that really made this trip extra relaxing and extra swank. But the trip was just a tad too long….at least with kids.
Pros: Gorgeous villa, on site chef with 3 fresh meals prepared daily, 2 on site housekeepers, stunning pool and grounds overlooking impeccable golf course, access to private beach club – all inclusive pricing so there are no added costs or pricey hotel meals to account for. House slept 16 people comfortably so with 8 people and 2 kids – we had more than enough space. Weather is typical of a tropical region. Hot, humid, sunny and accustom to an occasional thunder storm, we had gorgeous day after gorgeous day.
Cons: It’s a long trek to get there. Cabo is about 2.5 hours away from LA and we probably could have had a very similar experience had we not been set on visiting a more exotic location.
Punta Cana is almost too relaxing. So much so that after 8 days with kids, you go a little stir crazy. We happened to stay in a private development tucked away from the hustle and bustle of any city so we felt a little “stuck” in our paradise. While there are a few excursions to partake in, overall Punta Cana is good for making cigars, growing sugar cane and relaxing by the water (we were only interested in the latter). After 4 days in the sun, even the kids were over the pool and the beach so we spent the next 5 days trying to entertain 2 toddlers in an unfamiliar house with only a few creature comforts from home (a book or two, some coloring books etc). We did manage to leave the kids home with the family and escape for a day trip to some local towns, Higuey & Boca de Yuma, but even that ended up being “shitty” ;).
Good thing we went into “town” sans kids because the hubbies ended up bringing home a fancy parasite that left them shivering, shitting and eventually sulking in a nearby infirmary. 3 days later, a couple of hospital trips and some antibiotics and the boys were finally feeling like humans again – just in time to get on a plane and head home. Turns out, the gorgeous seaside restaurant where we lunched wasn’t just serving freshly caught lobster and beers. Apparently they specialize in bathroom E. coli too.
That will teach us to leave our kids behind for one day…that and all the kid accoutrement that comes with them….like the hand sanitizer 😉
Those last 5 days being stuck in the house with sick husbands and bored kids made our little slice of Eden feel more like Dante’s Inferno. Didn’t need to fly all the way to the Caribbean for that!
Look – if you want to avoid “Punta Cana Poop” or “Bali Belly” or “Montezuma’s Revenge”, lock yourself in a bubble and don’t ever leave the house. Either that or keep some sanitizer on you when frequenting establishments or countries with questionable hygiene. You can also check out tips from my girl, Julia Dimon: Travel Junkie, on how to stay healthy on the road.
Pack ‘N Plays
I seriously think these are the worst inventions in the world. Wes had an easier time adjusting to the time change than he did trying to get comfortable in the villa provided pack ‘n play. It was the standard Graco style pack ‘n play. I tried to retrofit it about ten times so that it didn’t feel like he was sleeping on a piece of cardboard placed over a bed of rocks. I was mildly successful. Mildly. As a result, he slept like shit which meant that we slept like shit which isn’t supposed to happen in paradise.
I know there are a lot of other options out there for cribs but this seems to be the standard provided by hotels. If it were me, (and here is where I fully contradict myself from above when I said the less shit you have to bring the better), I would totally lug a far more comfortable style pack ‘n play if it meant I got some f-ing sleep on my vacation. I’ve never tried any of these travel cribs so I can’t say much about their quality or functionality but they are worth checking out as alternatives. You can find a ton of reviews online…
1. Baby Bjorn Travel Crib Light – at $299 it’s definitely pricey but if you purchase from BuyBuyBaby you can use any 20% coupon from BedBathBeyond!
3. JourneyBee – $199 – can also be found at BuyBuyBaby
4. Phil & Teds Traveller – $154 on Amazon
So…we survived paradise. I realize how lame that sounds. Even though Wes was actually quite the trooper, next time we decide to post up for 8 days at a relaxing resort, we will probably leave him home…but bring the sanitizer.
– The Confessioness
Some favorite pics from the trip!