Last month Will and I took our four kids—ages 12, 10, 8, and 5—to New York City for six days, just for fun. It was my fourth time, Will’s second time, and the kids’ first time.
It was awesome. (The conversation at my house these days: I’m ready to go back. Me too.)
Since we got back, it’s been pointed out to me that NYC isn’t an obvious destination for a family of six. Friends have called our trip “brave” and “risky” and sometimes, “terrifying.” It never occurred to me to think of it that way. Will and I love the city, we know what our kids like, it seemed like a great fit. It wouldn’t be a great destination for every family, but it made perfect sense for us.
Our experience made me realize anew just how important personality is when planning a trip—it affects not just your destination, but what you do when you get there.
1. We chose a high affect city.
Our kids are very interested in NYC for a variety of reasons, and have been ever since we first checked this book out of the library almost ten years ago. They’re fascinated by the architecture, Central Park, the subway system, the Statue of Liberty. They’re obsessed with You’ve Got Mail. Will and I went in May, just the two of us, and when we got home we kept telling the kids how much we wished they could go for themselves (even though we had no idea we’d be going so soon). They were dying to go.
2. Will and I did a test run.
Like I said, Will and I were just there. That trip paved the way for a successful family trip. We’d told the kids all about our trip. We knew the layout of the city and the site we wanted to show them; crucially, we already had the hang of the public transportation system. Will we take an adults-only preview trip before every family vacation? Definitely not. But it sure helped this time.
3. We were very deliberate about where we stayed.
We have several young HSPs in our family, and they could very well have lost their minds if we’d stayed in Times Square, with the nonstop lights and sounds and crowds. But we didn’t: we spent the first night on a quiet residential street in the Village, and the rest of the week on a residential street on the Upper West Side. That wasn’t a coincidence: we knew it would be more our speed than Midtown.
4. We didn’t do much touristy stuff.
When we were planning the trip, I thought we might do traditional touristy stuff with the kids: the Empire State Building, the Top of the Rock, the Statue of Liberty. But on our first full day there we did a Statue of Liberty cruise (we didn’t plan far enough ahead to go to the statue itself), and while the kids loved it, Will and I were worn out by the hassle of it all. Securing the tickets was time-consuming, the lines were long, we were on our feet for ages—it just wasn’t worth it.
After that, we reconsidered the Big Attractions on our list. We didn’t worry about maximizing our time in the city or at the individual sites. We considered going to a half dozen museums, but we only went to two: the Museum of Modern Art, which the kids tolerated, and the American Museum of Natural History, which they adored. (We visited that one twice.)
5. We went at our kids’ pace.
We didn’t walk as far, or as fast, as we would have if this had been an adults-only trip. Not just because their legs are shorter, but because some of them need more time than we do to let new experiences sink in.
6. We ate, and ate, and ate.
When we rented our apartment (with a kitchen!), I was thrilled that it was three blocks from a Whole Foods: I expected that we’d eat in some, doing inexpensive lunches and maybe some dinners. I never went inside the grocery: our kids were way more enthusiastic about trying new things—including the food—than we’d anticipated. (Plus, we were on the go all day long.)
My kids loved tasting what we couldn’t get at home, and the special treats we got because we were in the city. They sampled Sardinian, Indian, Turkish, Korean, Japanese, Middle Eastern, and Italian cuisines, and while they’re usually fairly adventurous eaters, I couldn’t believe how much they were willing to try. We had amazing babka and cannoli and cookies. And Will and I drank a lot of coffee, sampling old (Blue Bottle) and new (Birch Coffee).
7. We emphasized the fun of just being there.
We told them in advance the best part of NYC was just being there, walking around or chilling in the parks, experiencing the city. Somewhat to our surprise, they agreed.
A couple more important considerations:
8. We didn’t have to change time zones.
We didn’t factor this in when we planned our trip, but it was fabulous to stay on the time zone. This always throws us for a loop when we take much shorter trips, like to Chicago, Nashville, or our annual beach trip.
9. Our youngest kid is 5.
This would have been a totally different trip if we still had a two-year-old. I doubt we would have taken this trip if we still had a two-year-old. Silas is old enough to walk pretty far on his own, and young enough that we could carry him when he got tired. The older three were champs about the walking.
Was it a perfect trip? No way, these are real lives we’re living, and did I mention we have four kids? (Also, I tend to get very, very cranky when hungry. Ahem.) We had a meltdown from a thirsty child (not the child we expected) during a lovely walk in Riverside Park. Our youngest sulked (that might be putting it mildly) for a while when we left the Rockefeller Center Lego store without buying anything. Will and I were so excited about renting us all bikes in Central Park, and my girls hated it. On a beautiful Saturday morning, the bike paths were too crowded for their comfort—a problem we completely failed to anticipate.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences with personality and travel in comments. How does your personality—and those of your companions—influence where you choose to go, and what you choose to do when you get there?