We took our kids to London for a week two years ago and got off to a rocky start. It took us a couple of days to remember a very important principle—not every activity is right for every age, and it’s okay to split up. Here’s how things went down, and how we righted the ship.
The first few days on the trip, we were all together all the time, because we wanted to be together. We’d gotten train passes and planned several day trips out of the city plus lots of fun things to do together in the city. On about the third day we were all in Dover and it was windy with a light cold drizzle, and Dover is mostly walking and war sites that the younger kids got tired of quickly. By about lunch time, the younger girls had their meltdown, and we were done for the day. After a quick parent pow-wow, we decided that I would take the younger two back on the train and Rob would stay with the older two and walk along the cliffs, see the rest of the city, and take a later train back. This was a brilliant plan. The girls (mom included) had a little nap on the train and then spent the rest of the afternoon feeding the ducks in Hyde Park. The older kids had a great afternoon wandering around Dover without the little girls slowing them down.
This pattern became the norm for the rest of our week: spend the morning together doing something we’d all love (The Tower of London, The Natural History Museum, etc), then after lunch we’d split up so the older kids could do their big kid stuff. The little girls and I played in some great parks, fed a lot of ducks, wandered around looking for ice cream cones, and the older kids went with Dad to the Imperial War Museum, The Cabinet War Rooms, and the Sherlock Holmes Museum. It worked out perfectly for everyone, and it meant everyone had a great time. We got our time together, we had fun as a family, but we avoided meltdowns in the city center. This also meant that the instead of trying to please four kids with one activity, we could let them pick their favorite activities and actually have time to get to do those fun things. It’s hard to please so many people on one trip, but once we realized it wasn’t cheating to split up for a few hours at a time on our family vacation, everyone had more fun, and the outings when we were all together were even better.
We have four kids in our family, right now that’s two teenagers and two younger kids ages 11 and 7. We’ve learned to divide our kids into big kids and little kids—“the big kids and Dad are going to a movie, the little kids are staying home and going to bed with Mom.” In the past we have even divided up the kids for trips. When the little kids were really little, Mom and Dad took the older two to visit friends in Zurich and left the younger two home with a babysitter, that kind of thing. The big kid vs little kid dilemma is always something to keep in mind during the travel planning. A family trip with all of us is great, and it’s what we really love, but not every activity on the list is going to be ideal for kids of every age.
What strategies have worked for you in appeasing children of varying ages and interests?