Some people prefer child-free vacation


November 13, 1994|By Eileen Ogintz | Eileen Ogintz,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

When it comes to kids and vacations, Florence Guthrie calls it exactly the way she sees it. And she doesn't like what she's seeing.

"I love to travel but I don't want any part of a place where there are children," the 76-year-old retired accountant writes.

"Their noise and lack of parental control, plus their running that almost knocks a person down is not my idea of a vacation," complains Ms. Guthrie, who lives in Nashville, Tenn.

The problem is that, these days, with so many families traveling, it's hard for Ms. Guthrie and like-minded travelers to find places that don't have small-fry underfoot. They're eating in the most posh restaurants as well as the fast-food places, splashing in the pools at the most romantic resorts as well as at budget motels, skiing and rafting and touring everywhere, from the Tower of London to the Grand Canyon to San Francisco's Wharf, Santa Fe's toniest galleries and New York's museums.

Last year, Americans took some 259 million pleasure trips 100 miles from home. Thirty-five percent of those included a child, reports the U.S. Travel Data Center, the research arm of the Travel Industry Association of America.

And wherever they go, they change the ambience. "They scream and cry and parents don't make them mind," says Ms. Guthrie. "When I'm spending my money, I want peace and quiet."

"Even well-behaved children add a level of noise and movement to an area that was not what other people might have had in mind," acknowledges Don Wertlieb, child psychologist and chairman of Tufts University's Child Study Department.

"There's a lack of consideration and a feeling of entitlement among parents today," said Dr. Wertlieb, himself a father.

No wonder I've been hearing from a spate of irate travelers. "You shouldn't glorify traveling with children," one Pennsylvania reader wrote. "And if your readers insist on taking the little brats with them, they should not let them ruin a vacation for those of us who are smart enough to leave the kids at home!"

A Californian, meanwhile, lamented that his choice on airplanes is either the smoking section (he's a nonsmoker) or "Other

people's children" which he went on to describe as "torment."

"Please inform your readers that an airplane is not a playground," he begged.

I sympathize completely. I've been on planes without my kids, trying to work, when a baby cried the entire flight or the toddler behind me kicked my seat across the country.

I've been at luxe resorts where I didn't want to even think about children, only to have a 1-year-old materialize on the beach chair next to mine.

So what's a happily childless traveler to do? Inquire ahead about the likelihood of the presence of children and what activities are arranged for them, suggests Hal Norvell, a spokesman on travel issues for the 33-million member American Association of Retired Persons. Ask if there's another property that caters more to adults than families. Bed and breakfasts are a good bet. So are escorted tours or rugged adventure trips.

"Be candid about your expectations and tolerance," suggests Mr. Norvell. Be ready to opt for a different trip if you learn there will be more children in the vicinity than you can handle. "Remember you're going for relaxation, not frustration," says Mr. Norvell. His tip: Carry along earphones and earplugs on planes to shut out noisy kids.

Try switching seats on a plane as soon as you discover your seatmate is in diapers, suggests Jane Goodman, a spokesman for the 36,000-member Association of Flight Attendants. If you can't, "just remember it's not the rest of your life," suggests Mr. Norvell. "It will be over in a couple of hours.

Don't travel during peak holiday and school vacation periods either. Remember, the more adult-oriented the trip, the less likely you'll be overrun with kids. A French cooking tour, a study week on a campus or a cruise to an exotic locale probably won't attract many families.

Parents, meanwhile, should try to be a little more sensitive toward fellow travelers' feelings. Everyone won't think the kids are as funny and adorable as you do. Think twice about taking children into decidedly adult environments. "It's an unnecessary stress to put them in a situation where they don't belong," Dr. Wertlieb explains.

At the same time, he believes, parents should try harder to teach kids "rules of civility."

"Even young children can learn to say excuse me," says Dr. Wertlieb. Teach them the difference between a "playground voice" or a "restaurant and airplane voice."

Make sure they understand that what may be acceptable at home won't pass muster in a nice restaurant.

Show them how to respect someone else's space on a plane or train.

Of course it doesn't always work. I know there's nothing worse than being on a plane when World War III is about to erupt next to you or in a restaurant when your 3-year-old won't sit still for even two minutes. I've been on tours when the kids have complained loudly that they're bored and at hotel pools where they've gotten over-exuberant.

I've endured my share of nasty looks and comments, though they seem to occur when I think the kids are behaving just fine. That just goes to show that my tolerance level is different than that of someone not used to being around children.

It always helps to acknowledge the discomfort of others. And when all else fails, do what I've done more times than I like to remember. Gather up the gang and leave.

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