I went to Oahu, Hawaii, with my husband and 1-year-old daughter on a long-awaited vacation.
Except traveling with a toddler is not exactly a relaxing vacation.
I thought I'd relax on the beach and dine by the ocean but my reality was often tantrums and takeout.
Hawaii is a tropical paradise and after a long pandemic, it was where I really wanted to travel to this summer.
And as the parent of a 1-year-old, I know that at this age, the best vacations are low key, namely, to a place involving a beach or pool. Hawaii checked both boxes.
Since I live in California, the flight would be shorter than to most other tropical places. It seemed like a great idea, and I traveled to Oahu with my husband and daughter.
Our travels did not go exactly as planned. As I learned, traveling with a child is not a vacation, it's a trip. And it's not usually a relaxing one.
I booked an 8 a.m. flight thinking it would keep my daughter on a somewhat normal schedule. But she was cranky from waking up early and wanted to be carried, solely by me. Since she weighs 25 pounds, I was exhausted by the time we boarded.
Onboard, I thought we'd offer unlimited screen time and snacks and that she'd happily watch until she fell asleep. But she was tired, overstimulated, and kept kicking the seat in front of her.
Eventually, she went to sleep, and I looked forward to watching a movie. But I was too uncomfortable balancing her in my airplane seat to focus. I couldn't move or I'd risk waking her up.
When we landed in Hawaii, I was excited to get in our rental car and drive to Honolulu and soak up tropical vibes right away. But my toddler was jet lagged. She screamed the entire 30-minute ride to the hotel.
At our first hotel, the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort, I was eager to unwind. But the check-in line stretched the length of the entire lobby and I had to simultaneously hold a spot and chase after my toddler.
Next, I thought we'd go to the pool. But our room wasn't ready and I'd forgotten to pack a day bag with swimsuits. With our luggage already stored at the valet, we went to a restaurant instead in our sweaty plane clothes.
Finally, our room was ready and I couldn't wait to cool off in the pool and relax on a lounger. But we couldn't find one single empty pool chair and had to perch on a ledge by a trash can instead.
For dinner, I envisioned a meal by the beach. But my overtired daughter wouldn't eat and threw a fit when her granola bar broke in two. She screamed so hard I had to take her out of the restaurant, my eyes down to avoid any uncomfortable gazes.
Most meals were difficult. At the Hilton's teppanyaki restaurant, I thought my daughter would enjoy the effects of a hibachi dinner. But she was scared of the noise and sitting with strangers, and hid in a corner for the entire meal.
So instead of my vision of waterfront dining, we ate many meals in our room with takeout. It was just easier.
I also thought we'd spend as much time as possible on the world-famous Waikiki Beach. But five minutes in, my daughter said, "bye bye beach" and asked to leave. I never thought I'd come to Hawaii and spend so little time on the sand.
We fared better at the pools, but there was no time to sit and sip a piña colada since my daughter was always on the go.
She loved the pool with a kiddie water slide so much, I spent one afternoon bringing her on it over and over again. She had a blast, but when we got home, I threw out my back from carrying her so much.
Each day, I awoke excited by all the surrounding beauty and wanted to take a morning walk. But they never lasted more than a few minutes as my toddler didn't want to sit in her stroller.
When we switched hotels to Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina, I was excited for my daughter to meet characters like Mickey Mouse. But she was too antsy to wait in line and we only had the patience to do it twice.
Family photos in general never went as planned.
The beach at Aulani was also short lived. She immediately covered both of us in sand, most of which ended up in my eye, and we had to leave.
Like at the previous hotel, she preferred the pool. But rather than splashing and relaxing, I was on high alert as my daughter gravitated towards danger of all kinds, running in the pool or getting too close to a deep edge.
At Aulani, we shared a standard hotel room. I thought we'd use the balcony when our daughter was asleep but the only place to position her crib was next to it. This rendered the balcony useless as we'd make too much noise to go outside ...
... so my husband and I sat in the dark looking at our phones instead every night, until we were ready to go to sleep.
Back in Honolulu on our last night, I thought it would be nice to have cocktails with my husband to mark the end of our trip. But my daughter wouldn't sit still and he brought her onto the beach while I drank mine alone.
Then it was my turn to take her, so my husband could eat his dinner, by himself.
For me, traveling with a toddler is not easy, and it was not the relaxing vacation I hoped it would be.
But I also know a toddler is tiny human who is still learning how the world works. I was filled with joy watching her delight in the pool, dance to Hawaiian music, and become more of her own person.
While my long-awaited Hawaiian vacation didn't go as expected, I'll gladly return with her one day. The memories were more than worth it. I just hope we can stay at the beach longer next time.
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