Whether you’re a young honeymooner in search of undisturbed romance, an empty nester celebrating retirement or a parent that just needs a break from your own little angels, you may be considering a child-free vacation. But sometimes it isn’t as easy as it sounds — especially if you’re traveling over the summer or during the holidays when the kids are out of school.
How can you avoid the kid crush? Arm yourself with a little advance planning. Read on for our tips on picking the right destination, the right hotel and the right time of year for your grownups-only getaway.
When to Go
If possible, plan your trip to avoid school holidays like summer, Christmas/New Year’s and Easter. September is often an ideal time to travel, with kids back in school and balmy temperatures lingering in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere.
You may also want to travel during the week rather than on weekends — you’ll avoid not only kids in school but also their working parents. One notable exception to this rule is museums; call ahead to make sure the institution of your choice isn’t hosting a school field trip on the day you’d like to visit.
Where to Go
Families flock to beaches, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to avoid them yourself. If you’re planning a beach getaway, be sure to do your research before you go; you’re less likely to find families at, say, Miami’s trendy South Beach than at other public access points nearby. Try to seek out more secluded stretches of sand that might be harder to get to or that are missing some of the facilities (snack bars, changing tables, restrooms) that make beaches more convenient for families. Many upscale hotels offer access to their own private shoreline, allowing you to avoid the families that rent apartments or condos and visit public beaches.
Another traditional vacationing spot for families is national parks. Luckily, most parks offer hundreds of miles of trails for hikers, bikers, climbers and motorists alike — so with the help of a good map, you’ll be sure to escape the crowds around the major sights. If you can schedule your trip outside the summer vacation season — even better!
If you’re planning a getaway to a major city, try to plan your trip during that particular destination’s off-season if possible, and call ahead to major attractions like museums and monuments to make sure your visit doesn’t coincide with a school trip. Seek out adult-friendly attractions, like pub tours, art galleries and boutique shopping, and spend a little more to eat in upscale restaurants rather than casual chains. Or go where picky children fear to tread and try out some ethnic eateries! Eating later in the evening often helps too.
When choosing a destination, think exotic. Instead of traveling to more popular Caribbean islands like Jamaica or the Bahamas, try quieter ones like Dominica or Curacao. (Better yet, if your budget allows, go to Tahiti!) The longer (and more expensive) the flight to get there, the less likely it is that families will have the money or the stamina to make the trip. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to go all the way across the globe to enjoy some adults-only time — just that you may have to seek out the less-traveled corners of the place you want to visit.
Though cruises are becoming an increasingly family-friendly vacation option (particularly on mass-market cruise lines like Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian), there are still plenty of ships where you won’t have to worry about being splashed every time you walk out on the pool deck. Try an upscale luxury line (such as Crystal or Regent Seven Seas), a small-ship expedition cruise line(such as Lindblad or Natural Habitat Adventures) or a river cruise line (such as Viking or AmaWaterways); all of these draw older travelers. British P&O Cruises offers adults-only sailings on three of its ships: Arcadia, Adonia and Oriana.
Alaska, Canada/New England, and more exotic destinations like Tahiti and South America tend to draw older, more sedate crowds than family meccas like the Caribbean and the Mexican Riviera. You’ll also see fewer kids if you book a longer cruise (more than seven nights), and choose the late seating at dinner. For more on child-free cruising, see Kid-Free Cruises: 7 Options for Adult Experiences.
Other adult-friendly travel options include spa vacations and wine-tasting excursions.
Where to Stay
If you’d rather not hear the pitter-patter of little feet charging past your hotel room every morning, it’s best to do plenty of research before choosing your accommodations. Skip the well-known budget chains and seek out intimate bed and breakfasts, historic inns or upscale hotels. Be sure to scrutinize the property’s Web site — if it’s offering family packages or boasting about amenities for kids, you may want to look elsewhere. Call the front desk and inquire about their children’s policy; if it’s a small enough property, you could even ask whether there will be any families staying there during the time period you’re considering.
Consider hotel alternatives too, such as vacation rentals, home exchanges and even monasteries. See Ditch the Hotel: 10 Cheaper Ways to Stay for more on these options.
Kids on Planes
Few things cause more angst — even among travelers who otherwise are fond of children — than an infant who wails throughout a three-hour flight or a tyke who won’t stop kicking the back of the seat in front of him. While a small handful of Asian airlines have set aside kid-free zones on their planes, you can count on encountering at least one or two children aboard most flights.
Arm yourself with an iPod and some noise-canceling headphones, and consider avoiding the spots in which families most commonly sit. “Smart parents choose seats in two locations on a plane — the back of a domestic flight and the bulkhead on international flights,” writes Erica Silverstein in An Open Letter to People Who Hate Flying with Kids. “While most travelers avoid the back of the plane, parents flock there for easy bathroom access and extra time to hunt for dropped pacifiers while everyone else deplanes. International travelers book bulkheads because this is where the in-flight bassinets hook up so babies can sleep on long-haul itineraries.”
If You Can’t Beat ‘Em …
If you’ve taken all our tips and still find yourself next to a howling child on the subway or surrounded by little ones cavorting at a campground, it may be time to cut your losses and remember that you were once a kid too. In between your all-adult moments, let loose a little — grab a Frisbee and play along, help build a sandcastle, make funny faces at an unhappy child. After all, you’ve got your whole life to be an adult.