How to Have a Great Vacation with a 10-Year-Old Homebody
I adore experiential travel. I totally “use” my kids as subject matter, and they get paid in all-inclusive vacations. My son loves to travel. It’s just that like most “homebodies”—he prefers to go with the familiar. He NEEDS to have his stuff and a space. He likes his “vacation routines” and prefers to have his favorite cereal within easy reach. So, when I take him off to Costa Rica, Belize or some other unknown place without his stuff, it takes some negotiating.
One: PS3, ipad, Cell phone all packed in the carry-on luggage. No snacks for the flight, just his beloved electronics.
Two: NO boats. He even hates speedboats. Eventually, I convinced him to get onto a boat for a snorkel outing that led to two more snorkel trips.
Three: Four bags of his favorite cereal in the luggage, and, since we went this far, I admit I brought my favorite protein powder and about 12 bars of our favorite ChocoLove chocolate bars.
I had to drag him onto the boat all the while promising that if he hated it, I would somehow find a car to take us back to the hotel.
Now I am stoked because we have two whole weeks to explore Costa Rica. We are staying at a small hotel frequented mostly by Tico (Costa Rican) locals. We secured the rental car, drove off and within an hour were lost. There are no road signs in Costa Rica outside of downtown San Jose. The address of the hotel was something like “200 meters behind the ReMax office in downtown Playa Panama.”
What should have been a 25-minute-drive from the Liberia airport took us two hours, which was a huge problem for my son. We get to the hotel, get the car unloaded and my daughter and I are off to the store for munchies and such. This gives my homebody time to create his space in the room, set up his beloved PS3 and calm himself in his way. By the time I return, I have to throw down to get him into a swimsuit and off to the beach.
His favorite part of this location turned out to be digging in the black volcanic sand while racing the tide to see how deep a hole he could dig before the water filled it back in with sand. Remember the electronics negotiated? Neither did he, until darkness fell and then we were all happy he was entertained.
We took a multi-hour sunset cruise/snorkel trip. I had to drag him onto the boat all the while promising that if he hated it, I would somehow find a car to take us back to the hotel. Keep in mind that at this point I didn’t even know the name of the hotel, just how to get there AND our boat went North which meant we were really snorkeling in Nicaragua (so I am fairly certain that promised taxi wasn’t a real possibility). Sometimes I just have to promise and worry about fulfillment if it comes up!
He had a 12-pack of Coca Cola and an amazing time. He is now a lifelong snorkeler. We took two more trips in different locations on this trip alone. We procured a map, explored the area and headed to Playa Coco where there are a number of expats and a “proper” grocery store—his words, not mine.
By the end of our time at dinner our host had wrangled my homebody into trying all sorts of things that would have been a definite “No” to me.
The downtown area of Playa Coco is vibrant with an eclectic mix of Europeans, Americans, Canadians and Ticos. The food in the restaurants is great and in the evenings they all have live music so it gets a little noisy. No one in our group was a fan of the actual beach here. So we skipped it and dug holes at Playa Panama instead.
Our next stop was into the mountains and Lake Arenal region. We chose this area for the plethora of fun things to do like zip lines, cloud forests, rafting, etc. Turns out I had created a snorkeling monster, so he had little interest in any of these activities. We had two nights at the Toad Hall BnB, and it rained the entire time we were here.
We found a restaurant called the Gingerbread owned by a crazy Israeli. By crazy Israeli, I mean a man so passionate about his food that if you aren’t participating in the experience the way he feels best presents his food, he will invite you to leave NOW. By the end of our time at dinner our host had wrangled my homebody into trying all sorts of things that would have been a definite “No” to me. Another great reason to wrangle those homebodies out of their own space!
After some hiking, discovering of pottery fragments and lunch at Toad Hall, we were off again to a popular tourist beach in Playa Tamarindo by way of Nicaragua. I was sitting shotgun and reading the map with no street names when we had to make a U-turn and I failed to turn the map. Thus, we segued to the Nicaraguan border.
I firmly believe that there isn’t a right or a wrong way to travel. I’m not right, and he isn’t wrong.
As we turned around, we assessed the extra 2 hours added to our drive the rest of the car and howled with laughter that we could now count Nicaragua as a place we had been—but not homebody. He wasn’t at all pleased until I promised him a McDonalds run on the way to Tamarindo.
We stayed in a beautiful townhouse in Tamarindo which afforded us a place to make breakfast and snacks (which is always a bonus when traveling with a kid who needs some sense of stability and normalcy). My daughter and I learned to surf while homebody dug more holes with the help of a local dog. He took a shot at the surfing and declared himself good enough after a half hour lesson that he didn’t require any more.
We snorkeled again and found a zip-line and whitewater rafting outfit not so high up in the mountains. We went twice. Homebody was happiest wandering through the tourist stores, snorkeling and digging with his new best friend Fido.
Traveling with a 10-year-old homebody can be a challenge, especially when there is anyone else along for the ride. My son doesn’t transition as easily as my daughter. He likes to have his stuff with him, he prefers to never be gone longer than seven days and he isn’t as open to new foods as I am. However, with planning, inclusion, negotiating and a lot of cereal, you can have some of the best trips.
I firmly believe that there isn’t a right or a wrong way to travel. I’m not right, and he isn’t wrong. We are who we are, and when the grown-ups let go of needing it to be “their way” (because they are paying) and find the common ground, the whole family benefits.
My trip to Costa Rica with my homebody, his sister and my parents wasn’t at all what I thought it would be. Turns out, it provided some of my best memories with my little guy. Now that he is a teen, when we travel the negotiating is different. But the cereal always comes along for the ride.
Travel with Children: How to Travel with a 10-Year-Old Homebody