When you are alone or a couple traveling, the things you are able to endure to see an extra sight or visit an extra country are completely outside the comfort zone you discover when you have children. And you know what happens when you bring a baby outside their comfort zone? If you are a parent, you recognize the screaming.
Small children will scream loudly in protest when they are hungry, when they are tired, when their diapers are wet and poopy, and when you have to leave the airplane you will continue on because they are changing crew. They do not take kindly to anything they consider a disturbance.
It is not until your kids are teenagers that they will appreciate sleeping in airports. As long as you are traveling with small children, from babies through toddlers to preschoolers, you should know better than trying to squeeze a multi-destination journey into a microscopic vacation. A trip with small children is better spent in one single location.
That does not have to be a poolchair in an all-inclusive resort, mind you. Even though you are in one single location that location can be pretty large. The subway system of a city like Seoul is almost a hundred kilometers in diameter. It does not take many minutes to go from an urban location to nature spot, even in a place like New York (although Central Park is cheating).
When you are in a place where there is something completely different within reach of a short bus ride or train trip, why not spend that short travel time to discover it? You can always go back to the pool later (and your kids are likely to want to). But if you miss something unique, like the Mayan temples of Tulum or the bathing monkeys of Jigokudani, you will not be able to forgive yourself once you start compiling the memories from the trip, start looking at a map, and realized what you were missing when you were lounging in the floating bar.
This is obviously a case for travel planning. Any trip with children actually requires a lot of planning in advance - and replanning during the trip. When you thought they would be able to manage half an hour without visiting the bathroom, they have one juice too many in the café and have to go between stations. Especially if they are still in potty training. And if they get too fascinated by something, you can almost count on there being a leak in the pants, if not the trousers. It happens especially when they are in new playgrounds or playrooms, no matter how often you ask them if they need to go. Including a change of clothes, including extra underwear, is a necessary part of the advance planning. And for yourself - yesterday my daughter was sitting in my lap when she suddenly started complaining about her trousers being wet. And not only her trousers, it quickly turned out.
But you also have to know where the toilets are in the stations, because when your child finally discovers she needs to go, you can count on that when she says "now" she means "in two seconds". Asking her to hold back and bite the bullet for a little while is most likely useless. She is in potty training, stressing training, after all.
Even if there are no toilets in Tokyo local trains and subways, there are toilets in all stations - unless there is construction work going on. That can both make access to the open toilets more difficult, and close the toilets for the duration of the construction work. You need to know where the toilets are in advance, whether they are open, and you need to know about them for all stations on the way to your destination. The travel distance between stations on the Tokyo subway is rarely more than a couple of minutes, so you can get off and go when you get to a station and continue on the next train - because the distance between trains is rarely longer than a couple of minutes either.
But this is getting around in central Seoul, or Tokyo, or Osaka. When you take a day trip, whether you are staying overnight or coming back the same day, putting your kids in diapers is a safer choice. Especially if you are still pottytraining them.
For the longer trips, there may be toilets on the trains, stressing may. If there are, going there may be too cramped for both yourself and your child. Since going to the toilet alone is probably not part of what a toddler in pottytraining is expecting or willing to accept, not having them in diapers may put you in serious trouble. Even if it is a step back in their training.
Wet trousers is just one of the discomforts you will experience if you take your kids on a daytrip. If you do not stay overnight, it means rising very early and going to bed very late. Unless your toddlers are sitting in strollers (or are infants in prams) you may end up carrying them - at least from the train to the place you have rented, perhaps also through the station to change trains. The first, by the way, is one reason you want to be sure you are not far from the station. A sleeping toddler can become quite unwieldy after only a few hundred meters, and you do not want to take the risk of dropping them.
It is better to stay overnight, especially if your kids are still taking naps at lunchtime. If you ask for it, you can usually get both an early checkin and a late checkout, which will let you cover the midday nap both days. At least during off season.
In Japan, there is a different reason to be close to the station: that is where the restaurants (and often the grocery stores) are. You do not want to eat the same food every day, and if your kids are picky eaters, you do not want to stray from the places where you finally got them to put something in their mouths. At the same time, you will want some change from the family restaurant fare. It has improved drastically over the past few years, but is still heavy on fried food.
Of course, a day trip is not just trouble. It is a great way to get some change into your vacation. And to experience something completely different. You should try it.
I am Wisterian Watertree, recently moved from Tokyo to Sendai, previously of Bangkong and Honolulu. I write about travel, especially with our three beautiful kids (two girls and one boy, soon turning seven - yes. they are triplets). Travel is education and fun rolled into one, and if you are like me, that is something you want to give to your kids. If you want more tips and want to find out when I will publish something, get it from my email list. If you want to be personal, drop me a note on firstname.lastname@example.org, or if you want general tips, follow me on Twitter @wisterianw.