Having kids doesn’t have to be the end of travel
As we stood to exit the plane after the short flight to Toronto, another passenger looked over and said “they did really great!” She nodded at our two little kids.
“We’ve got 13 hours of travel to go. We’ll see how they are doing by the last flight,” I joked back.
A pained look crossed her face. “That’s a long day. Where are you headed?”
The sympathetic look disappeared instantly. As it should have, we decided to take our kids on a trip to Hawaii to piggy back off a work trip my husband had. It’s hard to feel sorry for us about any part of it.
Travelling with a kid is not new to us. By the time my daughter was two she had been to the U.S., Portugal, France, Germany and to Canada’s East Coast a few times. Our son was on his first flight when he was ten days old, but this would be the farthest he had travelled and the longest he had been away from home.
Based on our experience, here are a few tips to surviving travels with children:
1 – Check your expectations.
This is something I have to remind myself of every time, but honestly, everything always comes back to setting realistic expectations and planning accordingly.
Let’s start with the flight; the first time we booked a long trip with our daughter we booked an overnight flight thinking she would sleep the whole time. She didn’t. We tried and tried and she cried and cried. It was horrible. By the time we landed in Europe we were all bagged. I realized afterwards that the most peaceful moments on the flight were when we stopped trying to force her to sleep. We learned not to expect her to sleep no matter how long and what time our flights are and suddenly flights became much more manageable. If she sleeps it’s now a bonus.
Being realistic about what our kids need drives our decisions about where to travel, where to stay, how often to change hotels, and how we are going to plan our days. Setting expectations too high always leads to trouble!
2 – Be prepared.
For any long travel I pack a tablet packed with big G’s favourite shows and some healthy snacks. We also pack some paper and markers, and a few small toys. I have no problem relaxing the rules a little on a very long travel day and allowing her to watch TV as long as she wants. The rules around snacking are also bent; if she wants one of the healthy snacks I packed for her she can have it. No matter what the time (smarter travellers than me realized a long time ago that you can pack a lot of food for flights without any problem. It sure beats buying something off the cart).
Read my post on our list of must-have gear for travelling with kids.
3 – Don’t veer too far off the routine.
This one really is key but it was also the hardest thing to wrap our heads around. When we travelled without kids we were on the go the entire day. With a kid that’s a one-way ticket for the crazy town. We realized early that when they’re on two naps you can have them do one in the stroller while we were out doing touristy things, and one in the hotel for a better sleep. In Hawaii we found if we were out close to nap time it was better to let them sleep the two hours in the car (road trip!).
Keeping their regular bedtime is just as important even if it’s a drag to be back at the hotel so early (keep this rule in mind if you are on the fence about travelling. You might want to wait until they are done with naps).
4 – Get a hotel with extra space.
Whether it’s a suite or just a nice balcony you’ll need that space to follow the rule above. One night sitting in a small Portuguese bathroom was enough to remind us how crucial this is. It’s also nice to have a place with a kitchen so you can prepare some of your own foods. As awful as it might sound to be cooped up in your hotel for a nap and early bedtime, we’ve found it forces us to relax a little. We sit out on the balcony and do some reading during nap, and even watch some movies after the kids have gone to bed. It means we are a bit less frazzled by the end of the trip too!
5 – Find out what you can leave at home.
Kids need a lot of gear. We often rent a car when we travel which means packing car seats on top of strollers, a playpen, all our luggage and personal items. Find out if there is a way to pare some of that down; whether you are travelling to stay with family or friends, or heading to another part of the world, ask what equipment you can borrow or get from your hotel.
We rented an apartment in Portugal and the owner had a stroller and high chair which meant we didn’t have to lug them around.
Just make sure you are confident you will have everything you need on every stop. You don’t want to arrive at a hotel without a place for the baby to sleep!
When we plan a trip that doesn’t work with our regular cloth diapering routine, we make a temporary switch to disposable diapers but we never pack enough diapers for the whole trip. We pack enough to get through our travel day with a few extra just in case and plan on buying the rest when we arrive. Diapers are easy to find, so we don’t want to use up precious packing space on a giant pack of them.
6 – Remember to pack a little bit of home.
My daughter has a playlist she listens to before bed at home. While we were driving around Oahu, Hawaii she was struggling to fall asleep in the backseat. I put the playlist on through the car’s stereo system and before we hit the third song she was snoring softly. For our son we brought his sleep sack and owl stuffy he loves to sleep with. We always pack a few books to read before bed and follow our regular bedtime routine. Everything is so foreign to them when you travel that little bits of home can provide much needed comfort.
7 – Pack a first aid kit.
We make sure to pack a small pouch with bandaids, infant or child Tylenol or Advil, Benadryl and anything else we might need if one of the children falls ill or takes a tumble. You never know when a fever might spike or a child will hurt themselves and you want to be prepared – especially if you don’t understand the language of the country you are travelling to.
Of course you’ll want to remember sunscreen and bug spray if you think you’ll need them.
8 – Keep in mind the trip is for you, not them.
Don’t be surprised when they are more impressed with some rocks they’ve found to stack than the stunning architecture around you. Our kids would be just as happy being home with their own toys, friends, and bed. They certainly could care less about museums. Make sure you plan to do things they will actually enjoy. A pool is a huge hit for our kids, as is the beach, or a hike (just plan on going slow).
We obviously still find it worthwhile to travel with young children. It’s definitely different, but what I really love is that it takes us away from the the to do list at home to just explore and enjoy new things together.
If I haven’t completely put you off travelling with your children, read my list of essential gear!
Note: but buy buy BABY did let me borrow products to feature on CTV Ottawa Morning Live. All product choices and opinions are my own.