Then came kids.
So, lacking the global panache of Angelina, Brad and brood, we boldly went where we had never gone before: to a beach rental. Bleary-eyed and disheveled, we decamped to the quietest place we could find to embrace our new commandment: Thou Shalt Do Nothing.
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Doing nothing, it turned out, was eye-opening. Books were read. Naps were taken. Tans were cultivated. Now in its eighth year, our beach trip is an annual pilgrimage with its own set of rituals: inclusion of grandparents, mass consumption of oysters, collection of seashells as a full-time job. It's nirvana. Honest.
But lately, as sure as a seven-year itch, the wanderlust has come creeping back. Our youngest, now 3, is easily entertained on airplanes (thanks, iPhone) and with any luck will soon give up his afternoon nap. All signs, I'm thinking with visions of Costa Rican cloud forests dancing in my head, point to our first "real" trip as a family.
Overthinker that I am, however, I've got a host of second thoughts: What's the best destination for first-timers? Are they really ready? Are we? Brett Berk, author of "The Gay Uncle's Guide to Parenting" (Three Rivers Press, $13.95) helped reconcile my tropical dreams with my kid-laced reality.
"For young kids," Berk says, "visiting a new bathroom is a major adventure ... (so) they're going to be dealing with a significant amount of change. As long as they're properly prepared for what's to come, you're respectful of their capabilities, and you don't overdo it by trying to cram too much activity in, your child should be fine."
Choosing a destination, Berk adds, should be simple: Just pick someplace you actually want to go, and pass your enthusiasm along to the tribe. "Just don't expect them to be wowed by exactly the same things you are," he says. "You might be amazed by the sloths or the Korean restaurants; they might find the soap dish in the hotel room just as fascinating."
In fact, Berk's advice made me believe that the one thing we really need to know about next-stage travel with kids is the thing we already learned at the beach: Less is more. No need to bring along every gadget under the sun. No need to wage an unholy war against boredom. "Remember," he says, "part of the goal of leaving the house (and raising kids in general) is for your kids to voyage beyond their insular bubble."
Got it. So all that's left, then, is to figure out how to order chicken nuggets in Spanish.