Like many avid travelers, I'm particularly susceptible to Griswold-itis-- trying to squeeze too many activities and events into too short a trip. Which means we often return home entertained and enlightened, but exhausted. Our MLK weekend trip to Phoenix reminded me that this equation needs to change when children, especially young children, are involved. And, not just for the child's sake, but for everyone's travel well-being.
We got off to a pretty fortunate start on Friday. Despite TJ skipping another carefully-scheduled mid-flight nap (we're officially done hoping TJ will sleep on a plane) and arriving somewhat close to bedtime, we pushed our luck and stopped for some Mexican food between the airport and our hotel. Knowing we were facing a potential public meltdown, the travel gods smiled upon us, as the restaurant unexpectedly contained two of TJ's favorite things: real guitars (in the form of a strolling mariachi band) and balloon guitars (How many Mexican restaurants have a complimentary balloon animal guy? And how many of those guys know how to make a balloon guitar?!) We seriously considered eating the rest of our meals for the entire trip there.
Unfortunately, Saturday did not go as well. TJ had trouble adjusting to the hotel room and woke up early. We then spent a long morning at the Phoenix botanical gardens (the kid likes cacti almost as much as guitars) and, after a nice Mexican lunch with a side of mild meltdown, settled in for a long nap. . . that never occurred. Undaunted, we spent an active afternoon at the pool and then I got the brilliant idea to give Pizzeria Bianco a second try (I'd eaten there once previously and, although I enjoyed it, I was still trying to figure out how it entered the discussion for world's best pizza). This, despite it being a 25-minute drive each way. After struggling to park, we were greeted by a line of almost 200 people, even though the place didn't open for another 10 minutes. So, we dragged TJ kicking and screaming back into the car and drove around for awhile as my two backup restaurants also failed. Then, after more than an hour of driving and about ten CD playings each of BaBa Blacksheep and the Farmer in the Dell, we settled on a great restaurant five minutes from our hotel. Thankfully, a miserable TJ soldiered through the meal and eventually cried himself to sleep that night. I think I did the same.
So, the next morning, I waved the white flag and decided to follow the path of least resistance. And you know what? We had a great day. Rather than tour some other far-off attraction, we asked our hotel's concierge for the nearest playground, and TJ enjoyed playing outdoors for the first time in several months. We then had lunch at the same place as the day before (traveler's blasphemy) because it was convenient and good. And you know what? The food tasted even better with three happy diners. After TJ finally took a nap, we had a fun afternoon at the pool. Then, rather than attempt to check anything else off my culinary to-do list, we asked the concierge for a nearby southwestern or Mexican dinner recommendation and again were pleasantly surprised.
So, sure we may not have hit many well-known attractions or dined at bunches of buzz-worthy restaurants, but we spent one-third as much time in the car, which equaled more time spent outside, enjoying the 50-degree temperature differential between Phoenix and home. Most importantly, TJ was happy, which made us happy, which made for a great getaway after all.