Families who vacation together, stay together
There’s one crucial insight that is often ignored when planning for a vacation with young children. Many parents, exhausted from their duties as indentured servants to their preschool masters, can’t wait to off on a family holiday and stretch out while their kids are happily digging in the sand or looking out over the beautiful scenery. What they fail to appreciate is that parenting obligations actually multiply once you’re on the road or staying over for a weekend at a resort. As you squat there trying desperately to calm your three-year-old who is suddenly “scared of shells” before he throws up all over your swimsuit, or kneel while fishing pieces of Lego out of the jammed curtain-raising mechanism in your hotel room while your tweenager is experimenting with the maximum volume setting for the TV in the toilet, you come to appreciate that a trip with the children is one of the purest acts of love you can ever muster up for their sake—because it’s all about them and not at all about you.
Yet family travel still stands firmly among those experiences that become the fondest of memories later on, and they are rites of passage that any family with the means to take their children on holiday should go through for the sake of bonding with their kids and providing them with enriching experiences to look back on as they mature. Being in Vietnam provides plenty of room for this, in a country where family unity is so important that going on trips without children is somewhat rarer than it is overseas. Making a family vacation work is possible when the best venues are neither all that far away nor particularly expensive, and there are plenty of great resorts in the neighborhood with much to keep the young ones interested—not that this lets you off the hook with the parenting, but at least it can still be fun.
The key to making a Vietnam family holiday work is all in the planning. A little thinking ahead can make all the difference between a sleepless drama of just wanting to go home and actually having a good time. Here are a few tips to get the most out of the journey.
Choose the Right Resort
It’s not enough to decide that a place looks awesome and presume that your children will feel the same excitement as you expect them to; neither is it guaranteed that they’ll have any interest in the activities you plan for them. Don’t be surprised if you decide to devote an afternoon to the pool only for your blessed offspring to sit pouting at the water’s edge because you took the iPad away. Involve your kids in the decision-making process when you’re thinking about where you want to stay, and try to choose a hotel with good amenities for children. Plenty of resorts have playrooms and activity stations specifically with children in mind, and some go the extra mile—Six Senses Con Dao, for example, has a free ice cream parlor with bakery items that is a dream come true for parents and kids alike.
If you can afford a room with a private pool (or at least a massive bath—Princess d’Annam is one resort that has rooms with both) you’re likely to be in for a pleasant stay. The size of the room you choose corresponds precisely with your sanity levels during your holiday, so if at all possible, book a suite or two connected rooms. Don’t forget that you can always beg for an upgrade when you arrive at reception, and occasionally you will end up with a better room if they take pity on you—it helps to have a crying baby with you when you ask, if you can arrange that.
A rookie mistake in planning family travel is to only think about the fun things you’re going to be doing while you’re awake. As any panda-eyed parent can tell you, however, the battle of the bedtime is part of the daily struggle of bringing up children, and it’s no different on holiday. No matter how classy your hotel is, there’s almost certainly going to be weird noises sounding all through the night, and some rooms are pitch dark or have lighting systems that are difficult to control. Bring along sleeping aids— things like nightlights and favorite pillows or blankets to make the nodding off process a little easier. Be very particular where you end up storing things like blankets at the hotel—if you leave them on the bed, they may end up lost in the laundry. For infants, most reputable Vietnamese resorts will have cribs—An Lam Saigon River provided one for us without even having to ask for it—but pack your own if at all possible.
If you have more than one young child, you’re well-advised not to let them sleep together in the same hotel bed, unless you want to deal with trampoline jumping, incessant giggling at 10 pm, and argument resolving past midnight after one has woken up with the other’s foot in their face. Kids do love holidays, but the irregularities of sleeping in a strange bed are always a challenge for young children.
When (if) you do manage to get them to sleep at a reasonable hour, you’ll need something to amuse yourself—sadly it’s inadvisable to leave the children in the room while heading off to the hotel bar, tempting as that might be. Your best tip here is to make sure you’ve booked a room with a balcony and a view for moments of peace at any time of day.
Pack for Parenting
If your kids are very young, bring some safety hacks with you to counteract the less obvious room hazards—covers for electrical outlets and table corners, plus some tape and rubber bands for anything unexpected that needs padding.
Do not forget to bring snacks that your kids love—there’s no guarantee that they’ll like the overpriced offerings of the minibar. As for drinks, take plastic cups with you and don’t let them touch the hotel glassware—smashed glass tumblers are inevitable if you ignore this step. Keep the wine glasses safe for your balcony time.
Prep the Room
After arriving at your hotel room, do your basic checks for kid hazards—and that includes a scan for unpleasant surprises under the beds, which are not uncommon in any country. Fully unpack your suitcases and keep things in very obvious places—there’s nothing worse than digging through luggage for urgently-required wet wipes. Your empty suitcases can double as storage boxes for kid-clutter, allowing rapid clean-ups after playtime: messy toy-littered rooms are the antithesis of stress-free weekends away.
One of the more under-appreciated features of a hotel room has to be the lock on the door. Make sure the latch is good as soon as you get in there—it pays to ask about this in advance, as kids tend to be inexplicably fascinated by hotel room doors. There may be times when you wonder if your little one is destined for a life of crime, but this suspicion is never so strong as when you see how quickly he or she manages to crack the secret of opening those hotel doors and wandering out to loiter in the hallway
The Golden Rule
There’s only one rule that absolutely must be followed if your trip with family is going to end up in smiles, and that is to be flexible with your routines. If you try to stick to a rigid schedule for sleep, meals, and playtimes, you are going to be setting yourself up for a lot of frustration. Even if kids are having the time of their lives, the adjustment to a new environment, even for just a couple of days, can be difficult. You’re going to have to play things easy and not expect them to fall in line just because you say so. The point, after all, of a family holiday is to go out and enjoy spending time together—so no matter how hell-bent your children are on ruining everything, just try to stay focused on the happy part and don’t let anything else bother you. This is a great country to travel in, and they’ll never forget the trips you take together here.
IMAGES BY NGOC TRAN