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R&R: how to relax on vacation with kids?

In the diplomatic world R&R stands for “relax & relaxation.” The term is borrowed from the military and is used to talk about our annual vacations, usually “back home” to visit friends and family.


Everyone who serves the government abroad is expected to leave their post at least once during their tour because it’s the only way to really unplug, reset, and gear up for the next round. You’re allowed to stay in the country, but almost nobody does that.

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to relax when you’re told to do so. After all, we still have to do our own planning and pay for everything (besides the tickets); there’s the jet lag issue; and the expectation from family and friends that you come and see them.


Also, it’s not always easy to get the time off because the office is so busy. Personally I’m a big believer in taking time off because I think it increases motivation and productivity, but my husband was needed in the office all summer long, so we ended up taking our summer break well into October.


STAY CLOSE


We’re from the US west coast but we couldn’t bear the idea of flying all the way there and back for just two weeks; the jet lag alone would ruin our vacation before it even began. Plus our kids don’t do well on planes; they can’t sit still and they’re loud.


Once I took my then 2-year old son on a 9-hour flight from the Netherlands to the Antilles and the lady behind me said to me, as she deplaned: “thank you for nine hours of hell.” (I didn’t feel bad though since the plane was half empty and she could have sat anywhere. The fact that she chose to stretch out on the four seats behind us was her personal choice).


So we opted for a nearby destination. The main requirements, besides location, were: decent weather, good food, and maximum freedom for the kids to run around. The winner: the Spanish coast.


LIMIT TRIPS


Lucky for us, grandma was willing to fly to Valencia to meet up with us there. Also, my awesome sister-in-law and her girlfriend came, which made it quite the fun family gathering. With all the attention from family members, the kids were in heaven.


Now, we wouldn’t be diplomats if we’d just fly to Valencia and call it good. Set up shop in some hotel or apartment and stretch our legs. Noooo… we wanted adventure! Travel around! See everything! Expose our (tiny) children to the wonders of the world!


We soon realized, however, that we should limit our trips to the minimum amount that would still satisfy our wanderlust. So, we spend the first week beach hopping. New day, new beach, new restaurant. It worked well.


For the second week, we flew to Ibiza. Just the idea that we were in the Mecca for summer parties made us feel good. We didn’t actually do or see much. We spent about a third of our time sleeping, another third at the hotel pool and restaurant, and the final third, again, beach hopping.


ALL ABOUT THE KIDS


The key to our mental well-being was definitely keeping the kids in mind every step of the way. We went to kid friendly beaches; the ones with shallow water and nearby playgrounds. We slept in kid friendly hotels: with lots of other kids and a kitchenette in our room. We ate in kid friendly restaurants: the ones with outdoor seating and a dirt patch for the kids to play on.


True, I would have loved to have gone shopping. Instead, I bought two t-shirts at Mango while waiting for our sushi take-out to get ready. We would have loved to go to one of Ibiza’s fancy vegan restaurants. Instead, we had our hotel chef butcher every recipe on the menu to fit our needs. Oh well.


EAT, SLEEP, REPEAT


Ultimately, we had a great time with the kids and that’s all that matters. It’s strange to see how my vacations have changed from backpacking in Thailand and Nepal to sitting on European beaches with a stroller. But it’s not less good. Maybe it’s even better. Yes, it’s better. But with the knowledge that one day, we’ll be able to take our kids trekking and camping and kayaking to our heart’s desires.