2018 Destination: Nicaragua

It is still my plan to live abroad, in a Spanish speaking country, with my kids for a year or two. I almost wrote “goal,” but the words we use are important. This is a plan, not a goal. It isn’t on my bucket list, it’s something I expect will happen.

It is also my plan to travel with my kids to Spanish speaking countries for a few summers before we live abroad. Last summer I thought that 2018 would be a good first time to take them to a Spanish speaking country. Then the bed bug situation happened and I accepted the fact that my traveling money was going to be spent treating our tenant’s unit, if not our whole house. I let go of the idea of traveling abroad with them this coming summer, and I must admit I felt a significant amount of relief.

Then I did some thoughtful reflecting on 2017 and realized traveling to Ecuador was absolutely the highlight of the year, not just the experience, but also the fact that I made it happen. That trip is the accomplishment I am most proud of from 2017.

I let all that germinate for the first week of the break. Right before the new year I decided, tentatively, that the summer trip was back on. I didn’t feel super excited about it, but I recognized that it was important for me to at least try to make it happen.

The first step was getting the kids’ passports ordered, and I’m so glad I thought to do that over the break because it would have been a total PITA to get all four of us to a passport office during business hours.

The next step was to decide on a place to visit. I knew I couldn’t do all the work necessary to make this trip happen if I wasn’t at least a little excited about going. I first narrowed the destination down to Central America, because it’s closer, and cheaper to fly to, than South America. Then I took Mexico, Guatemala and Costa Rica out of the running because I’m still weary of traveling in the parts of Mexico I’d like to visit, I’ve been to Guatemala twice, and I want to save Costa Rica for when they can do the zip lines and white water rafting (and I’ve been there twice as well). Finally, I borrowed a bunch of Central America travel guides from the library and read about all the countries that were left.

Of them, I landed on Nicaragua and Panamá as possible destinations, and ultimately decided on Nicaragua because (a) it’s cheaper than Panamá, which uses the dollar, (b) it’s really hard to travel there without speaking Spanish (so we’ll need to use our Spanish!), and (c) it sounds fucking awesome. Nicaragua was not much of a travel destination–with that pesky Contra War in the 80’s–but now that it’s experiencing a period of relative political stability, the tourism industry is picking up. Nicaragua has volcanoes, coasts on the Pacific and Caribbean, and some amazing lakes. Since my biggest goal on this trip (besides speaking Spanish) is to get in the water on the cheap, Nicaragua seems like a great option.

My plan right now is to be there for three weeks–my husband with us for one–toward the end of July/beginning of August (when the rainy season is a little less rainy). I have a general area in mind, with some specific places I hope to visit, but otherwise I have no idea where I’m staying or what I’m doing.

The one thing I am certain of, is that this trip is not going to be the three (or four) of us prancing around pristine beaches, soaking up the sun. I know it’s going to be a roller coaster of highs and lows, and that I’m going to have to take a TON of crap from my kids. I’m not planning this trip to relax, or get away from it all. I’m doing it to have an experience with my kids that will force us all to grow and gain perspective, and that ultimately I will learn from. If I go into it hoping to gain experience traveling internationally with my kids, I will appreciate the trip no matter what happens. Ultimately I’d love to feel more confident traveling with them after this, but even that feels like a high bar to set. Mostly I just want to do it, to show myself that I can. That, I have some control over.

So, I’m going to Nicaragua this summer. I’ll let you know how the planning goes.

Have you ever traveled internationally with kids? Any words of wisdom?

20 Comments

  1. Fabulous!
    Do one kid-centric activity every day. Hard to manage on some travel day but food counts. Set an affordable amount of money per day per child for them to spend or save for later in the trip. With two kids the amount needs to be LOW but to cover trinket items. Think carefully if you wish to tell the children how much that is…..
    Get to the Legion of Honor for the current show and practice how to make a museum all about a child’s interests rather than an adult interest.

  2. I took my kids (ages 7 and 8) to Spain last summer. We stayed for 4 weeks and had an amazing time!

    My goal was to have the maximum Spanish exposure for the kids, so I enrolled them in a summer camp. The other kids at camp were all locals who didn’t speak English, so my kids spoke Spanish all day long. And it gave me free time to do grown up activities during the day.

    I don’t know if your kids are old enough for/ the right personality type for that kind of experience, but my kids loved it!

  3. That sounds amazing. I am so proud of you and happy for you that you are planning this. I know how important it is to you and its so great to be taking steps towards it! GO YOU!!!!

  4. Awesome! A great friend of mine lived in Nicaragua for years with her (now ex) husband and 3 daughters and raves about it. I think this will be a fantastic experience for you and your kids!

    Also, taking our kids to Spain last year was absolutely the highlight of the year. We had no intention of doing another international trip this year, but a couple of months ago we found a great deal on tickets and had a lot of air miles built up again, so we decided to take my parents, my husband’s parents, and our kids to Paris for 11 days in February over break. Definitely not a 3rd world destination, but it will be fun to see how much their travel skills have improved in just a year! My only advice for you is to keep expectations low. 🙂 Our goal was one big thing each day, and the rest of the day was just a bonus after that, depending on their energy levels. Ha!

  5. Exciting!! I haven’t traveled with kids (I don’t have kids) but I’ve been to Nicaragua twice and I think it’s a great choice for you and your family. I was last there eight years ago, shortly after visiting Costa Rica, and I felt like it had a lot of similarities (in terms of terrain/activities) but everything was so much cheaper and there were far fewer Americans in Nicaragua. Some suggestions (or at least places to research!) off the top of my head:
    – Granada (I actually lived there for three weeks while taking Spanish classes… lots to see, fun to wander around)
    – A couple days on Ometepe (Maybe when your husband is there? This is a pretty magical place, from what I can remember. I also remember it being a little complicated to get there but I think we took public transportation both times I visited and I’m sure there are easier ways to get there, especially now.)
    – Matagalpa (I honestly have no idea if this would be with kids — I remember going for a weekend and visiting a coffee plantation near there, plus enjoying the (relatively) crisp mountain air… worth looking into but you’ll probably have enough to do even if you don’t include it on your itinerary)

  6. That sounds awesome! Growing up we did some international travel with my parents but not until we were a little older. We took my daughter to Spain when she was 13 mo old but I don’t expect her to remember any of it. I hope to take my kids to other countries in the coming years- it helps so much with gaining perspective on the US and how lucky we are!

  7. So funny you landed on Nicaragua, because I was trying to find a Spanish-speaking place to go to this summer where the kids can be in the water and my husband and I can have some cultural/historical places to go. I really wanted Cuba, but figuring out how to do that legally seems just too hard.

    So Nicaragua ended up at the top of my list, too. But probably for 2019, which is great, because I can learn all the travel tips from you!

  8. This is great!!! I really admire your drive to get this experience planned and booked. Three weeks is a long ass time to travel with kids, so hats off to you. The experience you’re giving them is priceless!

    We’re not going international with the boys for another 2 years, primarily because we haven’t gotten passports for them yet and we’re traveling a ton in 2018 and there’s no time. Honestly, I’m glad we’re not doing it yet because all the planning will fall on me (Hawaii was his idea that I’ve completely executed myself, same with Florida, same with the big family summer camp trip this year, so on and so forth) and I’m not ready to do all of that just yet. I seriously admire you for wanting to do all of that planning.

    Traveling with kids… Everyone expects it to be awful and we’ve just never experienced that. I really think you’re going to be surprised by how well they do. I always laugh at people who make their traveling kids out to be super stars for doing it so well because I truly don’t know anyone with kids who don’t travel well, and we’re talking international trips, multi-day car rides, train trips, etc. It should be fine!!! Sure, someone will have a fit or two, but that’s par for the course!

    1. I find traveling with my son to be really difficult! He’s 4. The plane ride is fine but when he was younger (0-2) his sleep was awful and I found it difficult to function. When he got older the sleep improved, but he just seemed whinier than usual. Lots of problems transitioning from one activity to the other, often wouldn’t eat the food at restaurants and so was grumpy, etc. There were amazing moments but the routine disruption and the fact that the day wasn’t 100% kid centered was tough.

      1. We had 100% same experience with our son when he was younger. We did some short and very easy international trips with him but even those were probably not worth it. I had intense feelings of hate towards people saying things like “oh, our kid LOVES to travel…but I think it’s because we traveled SO MUCH with him/her right from the start!”

        1. *Shyly raises her hand* Sorry Sofia, I’m totally someone who has said that in the past, but I really truly believe there is some truth to it. Kids are all about routine, for sure. With that being said, my kids KNOW what they’re expected to do in security lines, on planes, on trains, etc. – so it *IS* part of their normal routine if that makes sense? They both were on 20+ flights before they were two, so they were introduced to air travel and eccentric restaurants and such before they knew any different, and I TRULY think that has helped us to have really fun, easy travel experiences with them 99% of the time. Of course there is the random meltdown, but honestly they happen less when we are traveling than we we’re at home because we are doing so many new activities and spending so much time focused on them instead of work and regular life obligations. Last year in Spain we had one big goal each day (a museum, monument, etc to visit), and then made sure to build in lots of park breaks, ice cream stops, etc. and to keep our expectations REALLY slow so we were always pleasantly surprised with our days! lol

          1. I agree that there are fewer meltdowns for our kids when we’re traveling than when we are home. For sure!

            We started air travel with our kids each when they were 8 weeks old, and even though staying in the hotels was horrendous with babies who are used to their own beds at home, we did it so that we could say we did and then know that it’s doable the next time. I recognize that not everyone has the same tolerance for it, but I truly think that most kids travel well getting to and from. What happens at the destination can be a total crapshoot, but when I made the statement about kids traveling well in general, I meant the getting there and getting home parts! We are at the point now, we’re sleeping in hotels is not a problem and disruption to read teen is actually enjoyed by the kids. So traveling with kids from the time our kids were probably two and older has been really really fun!

          2. I think all kids are different. It seems, from what you’ve written on your blog, that your kids are pretty easy going. At least one of them is. 😉 My kids are much less easy going. Transitions are VERY hard for them. Just putting on clothes and leaving the house on a weekend is a MAJOR DEAL EVERY TIME. And yes, it’s part of our routine, and yes, they know it is expected, but it is still really hard for them. Getting dressed an issue with my daughter EVERY SINGLE MORNING and it involves whining, complaining, stalling, negotiating, threats, or some combination every time. My kids are also horrible eaters. They will NOT eat something if they don’t want to. Every meal requires asking them to take every bite, even if it’s something they approve of. I don’t think any amount of traveling out make them more easy going. It’s not who they are. I think for some kids, travel is fun and relatively easy, for others it’s less so. And I think people who have kids who travel well travel more because it’s not so exhausting for them, and might even be fun. And those of us for whom travel is harder travel less with our kids, because we know it will be hard. That’s just my two cents.

      2. When I say that most kids travel well, I mean the getting there and getting home parts. What happens once there can go either way because of routine disruptions, but I find, from talking with friends and from your comment, that the travel to and from usually goes better than expected!

  9. Congratulations! It sounds like a great plan. We do travel internationally with the kids. My best advice is to have a plan and research everything while you’re at home, and then decide whether you need the plan when you get there. Our biggest travelling fails is when we assumed we’d just do X, and then X wasn’t open, and we were a deer in headlights for a moment trying to figure out what next because now we were in the middle of nowhere with no food, no transportation, etc. So… yes, have an air-tight daily plan and think of it as a safety net so you can be spontaneous.

    Pack snacks.

  10. So cool! We’re going to France for Spring Break this year. The first big trip with the kids. I’m freaking out, but like you realized we just have to DO or it’ll never happen.

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