Photos show why I need a vacation from my vacation after taking my toddler to Hawaii

A family of three posing for a selfie all wearing sunglasses in a tropical location.
My family in Honolulu on Oahu.Emily Hochberg/Insider
  • 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.

A beautiful beach with calm blue water and a boat on the shore of gold sand.
The beach at Disney's Aulani Resort and Spa in Ko Olina on Oahu, Hawaii.Emily Hochberg/Insider

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.

Little girl with a pink hat on sitting in a shallow lagoon with palm trees in the distance.
I only book tropical vacations when traveling with my toddler.Emily Hochberg/Insider

Read more: As a travel editor, I vowed kids would never stop me from traveling. But one baby and a terrible trip later, that's exactly what I've done.

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.

A woman walking holding the hand of her small child to a lit up sign that says Aloha.
An Aloha sign in Hawaii.Emily Hochberg/Insider

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.

A toddler girl asleep on her mother while she takes a selfie.
One of many times when I was nap-trapped.Emily Hochberg/Insider

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.

A woman taking a selfie on an airplane holding her toddler next to the window who is holding a muffin.
On the plane with my daughter.Emily Hochberg/Insider

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.

A couple on an airplane with their daughter on their lap holding an iPad.
An iPad helped distract my daughter, some of the time.Emily Hochberg/Insider

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.

A baby laying across the laps of its parents on the airplane.
My daughter, sleeping across my lap.Emily Hochberg/Insider

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.

A man driving a car as seen from the backseat as he gives a Hawaiian shaka sign.
Getting our rental car in Hawaii.Emily Hochberg/Insider

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.

A line of people waiting in a hotel lobby to check-in.
Arriving to Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort.Emily Hochberg/Insider

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.

A toddler sitting on someone's lap pointing to a table full of food with someone eating across from her.
Our first meal at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort.Emily Hochberg/Insider

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.

A man standing holding a baby next to a tree and a gate and a stroller.
We couldn't find pool chairs at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort.Emily Hochberg/Insider

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.

The top of a child's head who is sitting at an outdoor dining table.
Waiting for our food to arrive at dinner.Emily Hochberg/Insider

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.

A woman standing and smiling at the camera with her child hiding below under her dress.
Standing in the corner at the teppanyaki restaurant.Emily Hochberg/Insider

So instead of my vision of waterfront dining, we ate many meals in our room with takeout. It was just easier.

A child watching an iPad on a table while eating takeout food.
Eating a takeout meal in our hotel room.Emily Hochberg/Insider

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.

A baby sitting on the beach facing the ocean.
My daughter at the beach before she asked to leave.Emily Hochberg/Insider

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.

A woman sitting and smiling in a pool with a toddler next to her.
Playing with my daughter in the pool.Emily Hochberg/Insider

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.

A woman holding a toddler in the pool at the end of a water slide.
She loved the kiddie water slide.Emily Hochberg/Insider

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.

A child sitting in a stroller that is upset.
Morning walks were short since my toddler didn't want to stay in her stroller.Emily Hochberg/Insider

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.

A man, woman, and baby take a picture with minnie mouse
Meeting Minnie Mouse at Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa.Emily Hochberg/Insider

Read more: I went to Disney's mega resort in Hawaii with my family. Here's a closer look at the hotel's 6 pools, character photo ops, and private beach.

Family photos in general never went as planned.

A woman taking a selfie on the beach with her husband and child.
Trying, and failing, to take a family selfie.Emily Hochberg/Insider

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.

A woman taking a selfie with a partially pictured child who has a sandy hand.
My daughter's sandy hand, right before it hit me in the eye.Emily Hochberg/Insider

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.

A mother and child sit at the edge of a step in a pool.
Keeping guard at the pool.Emily Hochberg/Insider

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 ...

A hotel room with two beds, a ceiling fan, a dresser with a TV on top of it, and a travel crib in front of windows closed by curtains.
Our room at Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa.Emily Hochberg/Insider

... so my husband and I sat in the dark looking at our phones instead every night, until we were ready to go to sleep.

A digital clock that reads 8:39 in a dark room.
Sitting in the dark at 8:39 p.m.Emily Hochberg/Insider

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.

An arrow points to a person on the beach next to a crowded waterfront restaurant with drinks in view.
An arrow points to my husband, far away from me and our drinks.Emily Hochberg/Insider

Then it was my turn to take her, so my husband could eat his dinner, by himself.

A woman taking a selfie at sunset while holding her child who is hiding behind her hair.
Taking my daughter onto the beach when she didn't want to stay in the restaurant.Emily Hochberg/Insider

For me, traveling with a toddler is not easy, and it was not the relaxing vacation I hoped it would be.

A woman taking an elevator selfie holding her baby with a man next to them.
Taking a family elevator selfie.Emily Hochberg/Insider

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.

A woman smiling for a photo on the beach while holding her child.
Listening to Hawaiian music on the beach.Emily Hochberg/Insider

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.

A mother and her child embracing in bed.
Despite any difficulty, I'll always cherish the memories we made in Hawaii.Emily Hochberg/Insider

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