March 17th, 2007

brain fry, traveling with kids guides and travel book comments

I seem to be having trouble understanding (or caring, not sure which) that "De meeste koeien liggen, maar een paar staan er." Possibly because I know perfectly well I will forget the "er" and be very annoyed with myself because Little Words Matter A Lot.

Dammit.

Anyway.

I finished TYKE (Take Your Kids to Europe 7th ed.). As I think I noted before, the resources section looks quite promising. There are a couple of really noteworthy comments at the beginning of some of the country-specific chapters. Especially the comment about the southern countries letting you take kids everywhere (like, bars, even) but the northern countries having more kid-specific activities at museums and kid-specific places. Matches well everything I've heard/read/seen elsewhere, but a generalization I had not made on my own -- and a very useful simplifying assumption while planning.

I'm now reading _Adventuring with Children_, which I am reasonably certain the author of TYKE read before setting out on her first tripe to Europe with the kiddies. The last update on this book was 1996 and BOY HOWDY does it show. Holy shit. Little comments like, unless you've got an unusually sedentary kid, they're basically all physically fit because they play so hard. Ha! Maybe, MAYBE still mostly true in 1996 but not anymore. I think the first edition was 1990. Unlike TYKE, this book is almost entirely based on the author's experiences with her family over the years. She developed (as we all do) A System and more or less stuck to it. There are a number of fairly obvious changes in her camping equipment that I would make (really worth it to explore technical gear, because you can solve the cool/cleans and dries quickly problem easily with some technical clothing; consider skipping the frame backpack in favor of ultralight gear), which is a fairly minor quibble. A more important quibble revolves around her assumption about kid-nature. I get that kids haven't evolved significantly in the last 10 years, but their default dependency on electronic equipment HAS changed massively in the interim. Also, where one could previously assume that only girls would dress ridiculously on their first major outing (and TYKE's author describes how they helped their daughter find reasonable clothing choices overseas once she came to her senses), these days I'm pretty sure you'd be up against it with a fair percentage of boys, too.

Both TYKE and AwC note that legos were a massively popular travel toy. Who knew? And in both cases, one of the kids at some point brought along a violate-the-pack-small toy and it was totally worth it. In TYKE, it was the skateboard. In AwC, it was a soccer ball. This kind of repeat comment, when so thoroughly non-intuitive (to me) is really worth paying attention to.

Inevitably, they both point out how important it is to bring along lots of reading material, because it's hard to find abroad. That's kind of a no-brainer, BUT I've made the mistake myself (in Amsterdam, it is easy to find English language reading material).

Both TYKE and AwC are proposing long trips (AwC less pushy about it) out of the country (ditto). AwC pushes the outdoor activities, however, for the whole family. TYKE recommended a lot to keep the kids from going binky-bonkers, but assumed that the adults wouldn't particularly be interested themselves. They both note that you can't travel in a car day-in day-out and expect the kids to behave. While both suggest renting out your home while gone if gone for months, TYKE gives a lot of how-to details; AwC leaves it up to you to figure out. While both suggest camping, TYKE tries to make it as close to a hotel as possible; AwC is trying to get your family out with the locals ... in North Africa. They intend for you to bring a full camping kit to Europe with you, not rent/buy while there. Illuminating is the different solutions for chairs/table. TYKE and AwC both point out that campgrounds don't have picnic tables the way they do in North America. TYKE sends you off to a camping store in Euroland (and suggests a few) to buy some folding ones just like the natives. AwC suggests buying some beach mats.

Both TYKE and AwC describe adventures in Morocco, altho TYKE never got out of Tangier. The differences are. . . amazing.

I point these out for a couple of reasons. First of all, the contrast is interesting in its own right. Second, these are the kinds of differences that might well make one of these guides useful to you -- and the other so useless and/or annoying as to not be worth your time. Most of all, however, they illustrate something I've been noticing about travel guides. People who write travel guides are, in general, frustrated by the lack of information to support them in their efforts to have a particular kind of experience in a particular place (generally one which is unfamiliar to them, but I've bought numerous guidebooks for Seattle, and you can't really say I am unfamiliar with Seattle). If you are looking for an experience similar to the one the guidebook author was after, yay! If you are looking for a very different kind of experience, you need a different guidebook. (In fact, as near as I can tell, this is why a certain kind of tourist is so frustrated with Let's Go!, making the inevitable, and stupid, Let's Go Get Another Guidebook joke. Well, if you don't want to have the kind of trip through Europe that a kid going to Harvard intends to have, you definitely should get a different kind of guidebook.)

People traveling widely with children is a relatively new mass phenomenon. It isn't new per se, obviously, but past cohorts have tended to not travel that far, only travel to places they are relatively familiar with (to visit relatives, to their summer place) and/or only travel to places which cater specifically to families (D-land, etc.). I can figure out part of what is driving this (the parents are older, and were in the habit of traveling before reproducing and aren't going to stop now AND are parenting in such a way that leaving the children behind is not an ideal solution). I can speculate about what else is contributing (Euroland makes it very easy for North Americans to go there, and even easier for Europeans to move about the region; Euroland needing a common language has further encouraged the spread of English as a lingua franca, ditto). While it's hard to remember here-and-now, crossing borders around the world is actually a whole lot easier than it was 20 years ago. And of course there are a couple of Brand Name guidebooks that cater to adventure travel and the web makes possible a kind of armchair dream travel planning that was just barely imaginable 10 years ago.

Interesting stuff to think about. I highly recommend TYKE (having finished it) to anyone with kids who has travelled in the past and would like to continue to do so, but would like some ideas. AwC I think I would only recommend to someone who either had done some outdoor/adventure travel, or had started heading down the path to hippie-dom and was really enjoying it. The kind of adventure travel AwC is encouraging involves a fair amount of drudgery: hand washing, cooking for a family on a campstove. Etc. Yes, the kids can be roped into helping (and can be really, really very helpful). But working out who does what in this setting can be, how to say it, contentious. And a lot of women have gotten stuck with a lot of work in this kind of context, a fact acknowledged by both TYKE and AwC. Both supply a certain amount of advice on how to deal with the problem, but, IMO, both authors are willing to take on a huge amount of work. Forewarned, etc.

All that said, AwC could supply a lot of useful ideas to a family which intended to take full advantage of Swiss hiking huts and other active travel options that do not involve drudgery (but which do involve more money).