These are a few tips, or things that we have found helpful when traveling with our Sweet Pea. Considering she is only 2 years old and our other baby has not yet arrived, I will update the tips accordingly as our children grow. As travel at each stage can be drastically different, it is important that parents with children of all age groups have the opportunity to experience the joy of journey…
0-2 Years Old
1. Know your child!!!! If you haven’t been dragging your child around the continent since or before birth, don’t be surprised if your five-year-old isn’t so keen on being restrained in an airplane seat or if he wants to go home and refuses to sleep in a hotel bed. If your child is normally reserved, shy, refuses to veer from routine, a screamer, or a ball of unrelenting energy… start slowly, this type of child is probably not going to be an ideal traveler. Regardless, I am convinced that even these homebodies can travel nicely. Just understand this and work with your child, not against.
2. Speaking of working with your child… remember that they are children and need normality on the road as much as they need it at home. What does this mean? Allow your child to nap, allow your child time to run (through the airport before boarding, in a local restaurant’s playground, or simply on a long stretch of sidewalk), allow your child to have regular meals and snacks (this means packing these things yourself and not depending on airline staff to provide for your family. Remember, travel can be unpredictable and we, as parents, must prepare for the worst-case situation), allow your child to break a few rules (after all they are on holiday, too and deserve a lollipop or any other normally restricted treat.) Although these are not all the things we could do to make our children comfortable, the big picture of travel with children should be becoming clear – if your child is happy on vacation, as will you.
3. Take toys that your child hasn’t played with for a long time. These old but new toys will be exciting again when you pull one out at a restaurant. Not to mention the time it will buy to savor your meal.
4. Packing, ahh, packing. Before children Ben and I prided ourselves on being the most minimalist of packers around. We have traveled to Europe with one luggage between the both of us and empty duffle bag for souvenirs.
Well, travel with Sweet Pea has changed our bare bones packing, but not entirely. With Sweet Pea we try to pack light for the same reasons we packed light alone. It makes our trips less stressful!!!
*Therefore, leave the 30-pound SUV stroller at home, ok? It is cumbersome to lug around airports, in and out of cars, in subways, in elevators, on stairs, in restaurants (they block your waiter, and who wants their waiter annoyed?) and they are almost impossible to hail cabs with and ride on most any public transportation you will most likely use during your visit. Instead, we recommend a simple $9 umbrella stroller that folds quickly, is light and we don’t mind if airline luggage handlers destroy it ultimately. Ben will even buy one at destination, but I like to use it for possible time-crunched-athletic sprints through the airport. I strap Sweet Pea in and haul it.
*Leave the big jumbo bag of diapers at home, too. Take what you need for the trip, including unforeseen delays and buy the rest once at your destination. Yes, they may be more expensive overseas, but the space it will save is worth the cost.
*With children, you must have a carry on bag for airplane trips on board with you. In it you will need all those snacks I mentioned before (I suggest fruits and veggies), toys, bibs (the disposable are great for travel), a few books, and for older toddlers, a DVD player with his or her favorite DVDs. We are not advocates of pumping your children full of television but on a long flight or car ride, these little wonders of technology provide awesome down time for us. We suggest making the DVD player a last resort method and therefore much more effective when it is used. Before we numb her with cartoons, we explore all the wonders of travel… the different people, the clouds, the sounds of an airplane, the flight crew, the seats… every little thing is fascinating to our daughter even after her multitudinous travel.
*Medicine. A sick child is a sad being, but a sick child on a trip makes all those around her sadder. We pack, Benadryl (good for time zone changes to help the little one regulate her sleep), Tylenol, decongestants, and a few pain relievers for us.
* A favorite sleepy time item. We take her stuffed dog and a blanket. She knows it is time for nap, wherever we are, when I take her shoes off and hand over a blanket and her Pup Pup. Normalcy.
* A few extra clothes but don’t go overboard. Just like mommy and papa’s clothes, her clothes can be washed in a hotel sink and hung up to dry overnight.
*One comfortable pair of walking shoes.
5. Of course there are as many tips for traveling with children as there are fascinating places in the world to visit, but I will get to the heart of what makes traveling with our Sweet Pea manageable.
We have slowed down the pace of our travel. We don’t plan to see five cities or more in one country or even better, we don’t try to see five countries in one 10-day trip. We have fewer plans scheduled for our days abroad and those days are cut in half by naptime. We schedule our events based on Sweet Pea’s best and worst time of the day. We see museums and quiet, adult places when she is at her best… we head to parks and open spaces when she is winding down. I must say we have seen very little nightlife of any city we’ve visited lately, but that’s fine with us. We’ve partied with the best of them in our younger travel days and we don’t feel like there’s anything we haven’t seen already at night, or more appropriately, during the underground-club hours of the morning.
Some wonder, “what is the point of taking children if your trip is so drastically altered this way?”
Well, we think that is has forced us to grow into a different type of traveler. One that can truly appreciate what each city, village or town has to offer. We have benefited from the transformation in ways we hadn’t expected. Being forced to stick to one country and fewer cities, we have had the opportunity to really feel the energy and rhythms of a place. We go to the same place for breakfast or the same park before naptime and meet some great people that way. Our previous schizophrenic way of travel left us with more cities to boast about, but less of an understanding of each. Best of all having a child on your journey often forces locals to stop and coo at the “foreign bambina.” (See photo) It seems to us that, as is usually the case with parenting, we learn much more than we could ever expect when Sweet Pea is in tow.