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Travel How to plan a romantic vacation – with or without the kids

If that headline alone made you laugh out loud, chances are you’re in the trenches: those years when the thought of having a shower or using the toilet without little ones more than an arm’s length away feels like a pipe dream.

Or maybe you rolled your eyes because between home, work, homework and playdates you barely have time to wave at your partner, never mind plan for romance.

I feel your pain, but as someone who has just about made it to the other side – my kids are at an age when they are more interested in their own lives than mine – I can tell you it’s not only possible, it’s worth it.

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The trick is to make some decisions early in your parenting lives about what you want romance to look like. Will you squeeze in some loving while the kids are catching up with Elmo or are you determined to get and give the full attention you deserve?

My husband and I have always been the latter. Quick getaways meant we could speak in words that were longer than one syllable and focus on things that weren’t animated cartoons or detailed descriptions of diaper contents. In a Maya Angelou-inspired “You teach people how to treat you” approach, we made a habit of ditching the kids for time away and both of our sons seem to be growing up unscathed in spite of it.

But we’ve also taken them with us to places that oozed romance and squeezed in some hand-holding and knowing winks while we counted down the minutes until they were asleep.

Both are doable. Either is worthwhile.

So here is my advice no matter which way you’re leaning – as long as you’re leaning into each other.

Without them: Explore your own city

Not everyone can persuade (bribe) a family member into watching their kids for a few days. But a few hours? That’s possible. And if those hours happen to fall overnight, you can book a hotel stay at a spot where the romance is built in. Valentine’s Day packages – with extras such as Champagne, roses and sometimes even naughty accoutrements – abound in February but you can also do-it-yourself with a quick trip to the mall for supplies and treats. Can you only get after-school care? That might be enough. Take a vacation day from work and head off from the moment the daycare opens for an adventure in the city. Skating hand-in-hand while the less romantic toil at their desks has all the markers of a perfect day.

Without them: Double Bookings

Plot two dates into your annual planner: A getaway for the family to look forward to and one just for you and your romantic partner. Knowing that you have a grown-up outing on the books will help you get through the weeks when tantrums and food fights are taking over. That romantic getaway should be to an adults-only location; there’s no point in running away from your own children only to be surrounded by someone else’s. If you’re considering an otherwise family-friendly property that has adults-only sections, research it thoroughly: You want to make sure that the adult pool isn’t right next to the kids club.

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With them: Take advantage of ‘We’ll watch ‘em’ options on your family vacation

Sometimes there’s not enough time or money for both an us and a them vacation. In those situations, look for resorts that offer kids-only evening events such as movie nights or early dinners. Even babysitting services may be worth the extra fee. This year, since Valentine’s Day falls just ahead of Family Day weekend in most provinces, why not combine the two? At the Chelsea Hotel in Toronto (chelseatoronto.com), for example, Family Day activities can keep the young ones engaged by day, while an affordable ($10/two-hour session per child) babysitting fee gives you some extra cuddle time.

With them: Be Strategic

If it’s going to be a family affair, then take the time to plan it so that you actually get the romance you’re after. Consider bringing along some extra help. You know who’d welcome a winter respite and relish a trip with your kids? Their grandparents. If that’s not an option build in some opportunities for adult conversation: Bring a fold-up stroller and naptime can happen en route to the beach bar. Book a hotel suite or apartment instead of a smaller room and you’ll have a shot at your own bed and the opportunity to stay up after the kids have fallen asleep.

With or without them: Refocus your centre of attention

If you’ve managed to get away with your significant other, be away. Skip the hourly Skype calls and turn off the family’s text chat. Focus on the one you’re with. Do what you need to do before you leave to make sure you’ll be relaxed once you head out. Then take your date night on the road with a confidence usually reserved for the young and child-free.

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