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I booked our recent trip to Hawaii roughly a year in advance when my youngest daughter was around 8 months old. She had already taken well over a dozen flights by then and I thought she would be good to go to Hawaii a year later. Roughly calculating where my first daughter was at about 20 months old, I thought we could pull off a family trip to paradise with a toddler who would just be coming out of the “hardest age to travel” without too terribly much trouble. I mean, almost anything seems easy a year in advance!
At 20 months my first daughter was walking, talking, sleeping through the night, and not too far off from potty training. Ah, first borns.
Our second daughter is the sweetest ball of funny and snuggly spitfire you will ever meet, but she is, as she should be, her own person. Trying to guess what life with her would be like at 20 months based on what my first daughter was like at that moment in time was…off the mark. Not to mention the fact the life with two kids is just different than life with one.
All that said, as the big trip neared I started to get serious cold feet hauling my 20 month old through three flights, five time zones, and countless hours of travel just to get to Hawaii. I knew she would love Hawaii once we were there, but the process of getting there and back + the impact of the time change made me worry that bringing her would mean that no one would really enjoy the trip nearly as much as they should. We I knew we could do it, but the bigger question was should we do it?
I thought we were going to push through and take the good with the bad, but with just over a week to go before departure we changed course and took the grandparents up on their offer to keep our toddler and have us go to Hawaii with just our seven year old. It was the best decision I made in all of our Hawaiian trip planning. In fact, we 100% would have cancelled the trip the day before departure if we had tried to bring the toddler.
While I could easily also make a list of four (or more) reasons to take a toddler to Hawaii, the “cons” won out for us personally this time around, and as such here are my four reasons to not take a toddler to Hawaii.
1. Lots and Lots of Flying
Getting to Hawaii represents a really long time for a toddler to have to sit on an airplane, or two, or in our case, three airplanes. From the West Coast it isn’t horrible if you only had one five-ish hour nonstop flight to take, but from anywhere else you are looking at logging some serious diaper-in-seat miles to get to Hawaii. From where we are in roughly middle America it took three flights and from 10AM until 4AM (if we had stayed on Central time) to get from leaving my front door to the entering to the Hyatt Regency Maui, and that was with everything going like clockwork. It could have easily been worse.
That is a long day for anyone, but for a toddler it is very likely going to range from a real challenge to a total %@#$ show. Oh, and at the end of the trip you probably have a red-eye flight to the mainland waiting for you, and that also has the real potential to a very tough order for a toddler who probably will not understand they need to just go to sleep on the plane.
2. Time Zone Troubles
Again West Coasters win in this category, but for everyone else, the time change to Hawaii is pretty significant. This time of the year Hawaii is 5 hours off the Central time zone, so adjust that number up or down based on where your family lives.
For adults and older children I don’t hate the time change as it ensures you will be up early to start a day of fun activities, but for sleep challenged babies and toddlers the time change is really tough. I have no doubt that we would have been up by 3AM at the very, very latest for several days running if our toddler had come along. And I don’t “up” as in tossing and turning a bit in bed because your body thinks it is time to be up, I mean literally up. Not only that, but she would be ready to crash about the time anywhere was open for coffee, breakfast, and fun.
Our day would have probably looked like this if we had brought our one year old to Hawaii….3AM – 5AM hate life and watch Paw Patrol on the iPad while trying to keep her quiet in the room because she is done with sleeping. 5:15AM start wandering around the hotel looking for signs of life and coffee. Lots of coffee. 6 – 6:30AM find coffee and/or muffin and inhale it. 7AM take cranky toddler and adults back to the room and take a nap. The 7 year old would be very angry by this point that we weren’t doing something more fun than focusing on her baby sister. Maybe by 9 or 10AM we would have actually been ready to swim or similar after a nap, but our entire day would be centered around exhaustion, trying to rest, and trying to adjust the toddler’s internal clock as quickly as possible rather than enjoying paradise.
3. Kids Can Do More in Hawaii When They Are Older
This was my (very lucky) seven year old’s third trip to Hawaii, with her previous trips coming at 3.5 years old and almost 5 years old. On each trip she was able to do more and more, with this time around even including legit snorkeling and boogie-boarding. All three of us had a blast doing those activities together, and that simply wouldn’t have been possible with a one year old along unless she was left with a nanny or babysitter during that time. But, if you are leaving your toddler with a babysitter for a good chunk of time, would it not be better to leave her/him comfortably on the mainland with loved ones?
To be fair, I know my one year old would have had a total blast enjoying the pools and splash area at the Hyatt Regency Maui.
She would have gone face first into the rainbow colored shave ice.
She would have loved seeing the penguins and other animals at the Hyatt Regency Maui.
She would have enjoyed playing in the sand with her sister at the Andaz Maui.
She would have loved the evening happy hour live music at Japengo or overhearing the luau drums at the Hyatt Regency Maui.
There would have been beautiful photos and moments in Hawaii with our one year old, but they would have come at the expense of truly enjoying what Hawaii has to offer with our older daughter. In a couple of years, our youngest will start to enjoy Hawaii more than she would just some time splashing in a local pool. Unless you are okay battling some of the real challenges that will come from the distance, time change, etc. then I peg the right age to start bringing a kid to Hawaii at around 3.5 years old…with the ability to adjust that age down a bit if you live on or stop for a night on the West Coast coming and going.
4. Our Trip Just Wasn’t Long Enough to Bring a Toddler
In the end, our trip just wasn’t long enough to justify hauling a 20 month old to Hawaii and back and devoting hours each day to adjusting her to the local time, napping, etc. While I had meant to book five nights, we ultimately only had four nights actually in Hawaii, and that just isn’t long enough to justify what bringing a one year old will do to everyone’s schedule. If we were there at least a full seven nights the equation might have started to tip back towards bringing her, but that just wasn’t what we had to work with this time.
When we return to Hawaii and bring our youngest, we will have more nights both to adjust to and enjoy the islands. Anything less than a week in Hawaii just isn’t long enough in my book if you are bringing a toddler along for the ride.
The upside of only having four nights in Hawaii is that it wasn’t as great of a burden for grandparents back home to help out with the youngest while we were away. We flew in Josh’s mom for the first few nights we were away, and then my parents finished off the end of the trip caring for our toddler. Because I know how all-consuming toddlers can be, I get serious mom guilt when others have to care for my youngest for very long. Knowing that no one person was (hopefully) too burdened for too long made leaving her doable.
There were two other very key ingredients that made it possible to leave the toddler on the mainland without us. The first was that we had a successful long weekend away from each other just a couple weeks prior, though that trip was very hard for me at first, she was fine. Additionally, while she does still nurse a couple of times a day, it is no longer a primary source of nutrition for her.
Bring the Toddler Would Have Meant Canceling the Trip
Finally, as luck would have it, at about 3PM the day before departure, my phone rang with the caller ID showing as her preschool. Cue bad news ahoy. She had started vomiting at school less than 24 hours before wheels-up to Hawaii. Fast forward through several more rounds of tummy distress, an urgent care visit, some magical Zofran, some debate about whether or not we should even be leaving since she was sick, and clearly she was in no shape to be put through travel all the way to Hawaii.
Since she stabilized a bit after the Zofran, we did end up leaving her in the capable hands of grandparents, but she would not have been able to travel to Hawaii in that condition. She ended up spending most of spring break trying to get back up to full speed. Bottom line, if we had tried to take her to Hawaii, none of us would have gone.
I think family travel, and travel even with young is fantastic, but for me that doesn’t have to mean that every single family member goes on every single trip if you have capable and willing help back home. I know we made the right call in our situation to not bring our toddler to Hawaii this time, but I do look forward to when both girls can play on the beaches of Hawaii together next time around!
Know before you go.
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