Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Do a weekend trip with 6 kids. Because you need chaos in your life.

At the end of last year my husband and I were talking about Metallica concert, they're doing a 2018 world tour. He asked me one brief question: "they'll be performing in Vienna and Milan. Which city would you prefer?" My answer was sure: "Vienna. We can do the zoo too with the kids. They've been dying to see giant pandas". "Alright, Vienna it is" he added. Then we realized that Metallica would perform on Saturday, March 31, and that it was long Easter weekend. All of the sudden I got the urge to invite two other families to do a long weekend trip. And all of the sudden it was twelve of us, out of which six were children.

What the hell was I thinking??

We have been doing long Easter weekend trips for ages. We just always did it. We'd leave on Friday or Saturday, bring the whole Easter breakfast with us and arrange them on the table nicely on Sunday and we'll have nice Easter Sunday somewhere new. But we've never done it with six kids. And there are the other six of big kids adults (read: us, parents).

So the Metallica tickets were sold out already last year. But my husband never has ticket in advance for any concert anyway. He's overly confident that he'll get one on the spot. I was doing the kids-activities planning. All of us have been to Vienna anyway, so I focused this trip on kids entertainment: the infamous Viennese zoo (the oldest in Europe, with giant pandas), the Natural History Museum (dinosaurs, anyone?) and the Prater area for a ferris wheel ride.

I found a big apartment for all of us, a duplex with three bedrooms so all of us stay together. I was initially planning to get us three separate studios, but my husband said, let's go all out and put us in one common space! Thing is, our firstborn is crazy (she's brilliant, but she has the energy of three toddlers). And so is the firstborn of another family which is of the same age as ours. The worst thing is, they're best friends. Since birth. Put two 4-year-old that have been best friends since birth in one roof for three days. Stimulate them with new experiences like dinosaurs, huge zoo, metro rides and foreign language. You know what happens? Super excited and tired toddlers running around up and down screaming to each other, showering each other and makes floods in the bathroom, annoying the other two older kids of the third family (they're significantly older) and resulting in one thing: a neighboring guest knocked on the door on Easter Sunday morning threatening to call the cops if we can't make them calm down. They were up since 6am.

Now that I wrote about the messy part, ask me if it was worth it. My answer is YES. It was definitely worth it. I think we (at least I) do need this kind of chaos in my life anyway. The kids gained experience they can't buy with money. Adapting to other people's habit, synchronizing with other families' rules, and just being in a group that is doing something new together. The zoo was great, the giant pandas were okay, but they enjoyed riding in the wooden carts (that was something new!). They enjoyed being in the zoo together. The dinosaurs were a hit, but my kids did half the museum and they were done, we went out to grab lunch while the two other families did the rest of it. Only one family did Prater in the end, ours didn't because the kids were far too tired.

On the last day we did Bratislava, and we met my friend who has an older son. And the older kids from the third family finally had their peer and it was fun for them. The toddlers? They were just being their crazy selves in another country. We don't do much of touristy things and we don't take many pictures and selfies, but in the end of a trip we always ask our firstborn what she liked the most about the whole experience. And her answers were: the aquarium at the zoo, the time when I made pancakes with her and the other toddler, the times when she's playing with the older kids of the third family, and her ice cream that we ate by the Danube.

Was it a crazy idea to invite so many people? It was. Would I do it all over again? Probably. At the end of the trip one of us said "we should do Prague now. But for a week". Now if you decide that you also need a little bit of chaos in your life, I've got some points to pay attention to:

Go with families with kids with similar age to yours

It's much easier for kids to enjoy each other if they're at similar age. Our firstborn is 4, the other toddler is 4. We have babies too but they don't really play yet. Then the other families have a 7 and 9 year old. Small kids are fascinated with big kids. They like them and they want to be like them. They'd run around the big kids and climb on them and touch them and hug them and, well, some big kids don't think it's cool, which is normal. They also play different kids of games, and they might even have gadgets of their own. Of course it's not a definite no no if you have to travel with kids of different ages, everything is manageable!

You have to be very close personally, and know each other well

It's commonly known that we should never, ever travel with someone we're not that close with. Even friendships break up sometimes during traveling time. It's really hard to find a good match in traveling (I did find my match and I married him!) For some reasons, the chance of a fight is much bigger on the road than at home (yours or theirs). So be prepare for it. If you're close enough with somebody, you actually can fight with him/her. You argue and in one second you fix it and laugh about it. And it will happen again. If you can't manage to fix a problem and sweep everything under the rug, the trip will be filled with lots of awkward moments.

Plan everything well, but be okay if you can't stick to the plan

I did a full three day itinerary for all of us, and it helped us all coordinate and orientate with time. We didn't force ourselves to convoy all the time (we had three cars), but we have some planned meeting points and specific times. We managed to stick to most plans, but we had to give up and made changes for specific needs (meal time, afternoon naps, toilet breaks), which was okay.

Focus on the experience, don't aim too high on the touristy side

The key? I would say don't focus on sight-seeing and see as many places as you want (and document them), focus on your kids' and your family's experience. The dining together, the tasting of local foods, the trying of public transportation, the togetherness. Or as my husband always put it: I just love the act of traveling (read: he hates taking pictures and buy souvenirs).

By the way...

About the Metallica concert? He got a ticket and went in. He went with the other toddler's dad, they managed to find a couple who was fighting and decided not to go to the concert and sell their tickets. The guys bought the tickets at much lower price than they initially were. Sometimes I can't understand how the universe functions.

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