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Taking small children swimming at the lake or at the beach or pool
Our big family having a lake swim at a Virginia state park

Going swimming with a big family is basically an All Day Deal, even though it may only amount to two hours in the water.  So how do you agree to let there be swimming, without letting that single activity (which you could really do almost anywhere!) consume your entire vacation? What we've worked out with our kids is...

...something of a compromise. We tell them from the get-go:

We will definitely be swimming on this trip...but we will not be swimming every day.

When we travel, we (the parents at least) tend to want to see things like architectural ruins, ancient temples, amazing cities, marketplaces, live music, maybe a museum or three, and any number of things that you can only see in that specific place, in that specific country. But any one swimming pool is basically like any other swimming pool, really, isn't it?

So we let our kids know in advance, before every trip, that for us the point of traveling is to see and do the sorts of things that can only be seen and done in the place we'll be visiting.  Swimming doesn't meet that parameter.  We do want them to be able to swim, but just not all the time, or every day even.

Going swimming with young children at a condo
Checking out the Swimming Pool
at the crack of 8:00am, at a Rental Condo in the US
This is because every time our big family goes swimming, this activity (this allegedly, relaxing activity) seems to consume basically the entire day. There's a whole process involved with getting a tassel of kiddies suited up in swimsuits, and slathered in sunblock - and it's not exactly a fast process. "Let's go swimming right now everyone, okay?" basically means "Let's go swimming about an hour from now, if everyone can get ready that fast!"

Without fail, from the moment swimming is announced as the main event, there's the usual litany of questions and requests which basically sounds like all of the following, but said by multiple voices more or less simultaneously and on repeat for about an hour:

I can't find my swimsuit! / Has anyone seen my flip-flops? / Can you put sunblock on me? / Mommy, do I have to wear-sunblock? / Me first! / I can't find the other part of my swimsuit! / Where are my goggles? / Can we go yet? / Do we have to bring towels? / I don't like this kind of sunblock / Where are the towels? / Mommm-eeee? I can only find one of my flip-flops / I don't know where my backpack is / Should we bring water? How many then? / Daddy, can I bring my snorkel set? / Are we going to come back before we eat lunch? / How come he gets to bring his goggles? / Honey, I don't want to go out to eat wet / Are we walking or driving? / Does everyone have their sunglasses? / I don't think I brought my sunglasses / I left my flip-flops in the car / Do you have the car keys? / Are you bringing a hat? / I don't want to bring a hat / Everyone is bringing a hat / Okay but I'm not going to wear it then / Do we have to stop by the car before we go? / I'm hungry / Can we go yet? / Has everyone gone to the bathroom? You know there is not going to be a  bathroom at the beach right? / Do you have the apartment key? / No and I don't think I know where it is either...

This family routine of ours - the chaos of getting ready for swimming as though it was an activity that none of us had ever before done in our entire lives - every small detail of the preparation catching us unaware and totally unprepared - has become a habit, a custom, an inevitable ritual to be followed nearly word-by-word, for every swim outing.

Then after that rather exhausting process of getting ready is complete, there's the flip-flopping trek downstairs to the pool or to the beach, then swimming for a couple of hours or so. For some kids "swimming" is actually 90 percent playing in the sand - just being near where swimming is taking place - which counts, apparently.

Then there's the continuous requests and issues related to fixing goggles that are too tight or too loose, misplaced towels, someone using someone else's towel, demands for snack recounts, mixed up water bottles, sand in the eye, pool water or sea water swallowed by mistake, and then generally Travelin'Dad, being a pinkish-pale Irish-complected laddie, is ready to get out of the sun a good 2 hours before everybody else.

At the end of the hour-long process of getting ready to swim, and perhaps 2 hours of swimming (or being near swimming), we all immediately want showers and a meal - even if we just ate before we went out, and even if we packed snacks and were eating basically the entire time! Going swimming with a big family takes up so much time and is so fatiguing that we (the parents, that is) definitely wouldn't even want to have the ability to hit the water every single day of a trip.

Swimming with Babies
Quick sidebar...On one of our trips, we rented a cabin in a wooded area near a lake, which has a sandy swim beach and another nearby swimming area with a wooden dock where you can run and jump into the water.

Going swimming with small children in a lake
These docks just basically demand that you run to the end and jump right off, don't they? Or is it just me?

At the time our youngest was still a diaper-wearing infant-in-arms. One day we all got changed to go for a swim and we were just about to head down to the lakeshore. We had all put on our swimsuits, added our sunblock, found our flip-flops and sand toys, and were finally just about stepping out the door when we heard an absolutely explosive sound coming from that diaper.

My wife took one look and changed her mind about going to the beach.  "Go without me," she said. We tried to convince her that we could wait, and she could join us anyway, but she declined. She didn't like the thought of being on the beach (with no access to soap, or running water from a tap) and having that same explosive event happen again, and possibly multiple times throughout the afternoon. So she decided she'd be staying right there in the cabin, near the bathroom and the supply of soap and diapers. She spent the afternoon reading and napping with our baby, while I took the other three kids for an afternoon swim.

Months later, my youngest son, who was in kindergarten at the time, created a work of art in response to the teacher's assignment, which was:  Draw a Happy Day.  He drew blue waves, a delighted orange face (with gigantic eyelashes) bobbing on the waves, and some sand. The teacher asked him to describe the scene, and to our delight, the kindergarten teacher added a transcription as a footer to his drawing:

We went to the beach. My daddy took us. We played and jumped off the diving board...

Mommy couldn't come, because the baby pooped.

We still crack up about that drawing. An entire family trip, and the one thing my kiddo remembers about it is that an explosive diaper situation derailed my wife's swimming plans.

So Why Swim at All?
With all the minor headaches and chaos involved with getting a big family ready to swim, is it even worth it to go swimming?  Yeah, we think it almost always - or at least, usually - is worth it. Some of our coolest vacation memories have been formed at awesome swimming spots. And swimming is just one of those things we feel like we kind of have to let the kids do. It's way, way up there on their list of vacation priorities and I remember how badly I wanted the hotel to have a swimming pool, back when I was a kid, and how I wanted to use it at least twice a day, every day we were there.

One excellent compromise for our family is combining the parents' travel desire - seeing something cool, awesome, different, unique, exotic, or some combination thereof - with the kids' desire to go swimming. This is a great compromise because it leads to finding unusual swimming spots that are scenic, remote, wild, or beautiful, which we all enjoy. For many of our destinations, I skip booking a place with a pool, and instead find somewhere very different or out-of-the-ordinary, that we can travel to see, and swim while we're there.

Going Swimming in Thailand
Our Big Family Swimming at a National Park
on an Island Near Krabi, Thailand
We try to arrange trips so that we either have a pool, or access to one, or are near some other swimming location, such as a beach or lake, and preferably, one that has something very memorable about it.

But we still prefer that it not be available every day of a trip - just some days, maybe one-third to one-half of each international trip. The kids understand: sit through a museum or three, or an archaeological ruin or five, then tomorrow will be an entire day arranged around swimming, even if they still don't know where their swimsuit is, or where their flip-flops are, or will most definitely be taken wholly unaware, then become shocked and dismayed, by the horrendous injustice of our insistence on sunblock...

Can you swim in Lake Geneva?
Basically my all-time favorite swimming spot anywhere in the world:  Lake Geneva, Switzerland

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