Traveling with young children may seem scary, I get it! I know many parents who avoid traveling altogether, because they fear how their children will be, when confined in a small aircraft, away from their comfort space and off their routine. This is definitely a fair and a legitimate concern.
If you have followed me for a while, you’ll know that my husband and I both love to travel. One of my favorite philosophies in life is that “variety is the spice of life”. Nothing offers more variety than being able to see, experience and immerse yourself in different cultures and lifestyles from around the world. It is important to us that our children learns to appreciate the uniqueness and complexity of different cultures and understand the vastness of what this world has to offer. Not all classrooms need to be made up of four walls.
Having said that, traveling with kids can be a lot of work so I have tried my best to outline as many key tips for you to make your experience as positive as it can be. Let me be clear, I have had my fair share of disastrous trips so I want to help you prevent that from happening. Nothing is worse than spending a ton of money on a vacation and NO ONE is happy!
1. Be realistic about your travels: No one knows your child best so be realistic about your destination, activities and duration. For example, if you have a young toddler that does NOT like to walk for a long period of time, don’t plan long hiking trips unless you are fit enough to be carrying your child for most of the hike.
2. Accommodate some routine in your travel plans. I definitely think you should be able to relax a bit when you’re travelling. The reality is, you are on vacation and there are places you want to go, and things you want to see. Accommodating every nap, every routine, every day, is probably not realistic. However, we all know that kids are better and happier when they on a routine.
My rule of thumb is when we skip naps for one or two days, we’ll try to accommodate naps the following day. Or if we went to bed late one night, then the following night, we would try to go to bed earlier or at least on time. I consider this as an opportunity for your child to reset. The last thing you want is to have a tired child having an epic meltdown in the middle of the streets, while hundreds of tourists stare at you. I speak from experience! This on routine, off routine (or reset) method worked really well for us when our kids were younger. However, every child is different, so the schedule that worked for us may not necessarily work for you. You know your child best so determine a schedule/rhythm that works best for him or her. It may take a few trials and error before you get it down so be patient! As your kids get older, it will get easier to skip the day to day routines.
3. Book flight times around your children’s schedule. If it is a long flight, book an overnight flight if possible. It will be dark and late so they will most likely be tired and sleep through most of it. If it is a shorter flight, try to schedule it around their nap time. Sometimes the perfect flight time may cost more, so do what makes the most sense for your family financially. Any hour you can get them sleeping on a flight, the better and less stressful it is for you. If napping/sleeping is not an option, then select a time where your child is easiest to accommodate such as in the morning, after they had a full night of rest. Tired kids are often cranky ones.
4. Keep them busy on flights. The older your child is, the easier it is with flights. I personally had great traveling experiences with my kids when they were babies. They slept, ate snacks and when they got cranky, I would nurse them and that usually did a great job of calming them. Make sure to pack lots of snacks if you are traveling with infants, it will come in handy. For toddlers, if you are open to screen time, then iPads and tablets are great. Download activities, games, and shows prior to your flight so they can occupy themselves with that. Now if you’re like me and try to limit screen time, bring activities. I always hit up the local dollar store. For $10 or so, I can get a number of coloring books, fun packs, playdoh and some simple sticker crafts that will keep them busy for hours. Reusable sticker pads and audio books were also great hits with my boys.
5. Don’t care about the other people on your flight! For some reason, this is hard for most people. We get so occupied with not disturbing other flyers, and completely stress ourselves over it. Most people are understanding when they see you traveling with young children. But trust me, I’ve gotten a few eye rolls here and there (definitely not often), as I walked down the aisle by the business class section by myself with two young children. You know what, I don’t care! I have the right to be on that flight with my kids just as much as anyone else does. The reality is, most of these people were once in your shoes at one point or another. If they can’t sympathize with you, then that is too bad, and makes me want to care less about what they think.
6. Pack as much as you need (yes, this is probably different from what you are used to hearing). I’m not saying pack your entire house for all your trips, but if there is something that is going to make your trip easier, then why not bring it. For example, we went to Portugal this past summer and my husband didn’t want to bring a stroller. I thought he was crazy. Yes, my 5-year-old should be walking for most of the trip, but let’s be serious, there was a LOT of walking and he’s going to be tired, along with my 3-year-old! I am a fan of catering your trips appropriately to accommodate your family type. However, unless you have all the time in the world or a lot of money, you’ll want to get the most out of your trip. If you need a stroller so you can see or do more, then by all means, bring a stroller! Bring what makes your trip easier. If you think the benefit of having something outweighs the inconvenience of having to bring it, then bring it!
7. A little planning goes a long way. As romantic as the idea of being spontaneous may sound, routine and structure are good for kids. Plan ahead the various activities that you would like to do or places you would like to visit and create a travel itinerary. This way, you can accommodate some of your children’s routine as outlined in tip #2. For example, you don’t have to go back to your hotel everyday for your kids to nap, but if you are going to have a car, plan for your kids to nap while you drive from one destination to another or in the stroller as you push them to the next location.
8. Hand sanitizers are a must. Make sure it is in each bag. Let’s get real, kids are gross! Prevent germs from spreading or kids getting sick so pack those hand sanitizers.
9. Be flexible with the your travel plans. Now if you created an itinerary as suggested above, realize that with younger kids, you might not be able to tackle everything on that list. Prioritize your list of things to see and do each day, and try to get through the ones highest in priority first. Be flexible to move things around if you can’t get to something on a certain day. I think we often forget that we’re not able to move as quickly with younger children.
10. Make sure to include kid friendly activities or attractions in your trip. Most kids don’t get excited about art galleries, museums and sight-seeing. We took the kids to the aquarium in Lisbon in Park of Nations and they had a blast. They are on vacation too, so plan something fun for them as well.
11. If your child is old enough, give him or her a camera. I did this with Lucas in Portugal and it was probably one of the best things I did on this trip. He felt empowered with his camera and it provoked his curiosity wherever we went. He was excited to go sight-seeing because he could capture the experience himself.
12. Last but not least, JUST HAVE FUN! Enjoy yourself and not stress over everything. Traveling is about being present and immersing yourself in new experiences and having cool stories to tell later on. Appreciate the people you are with, in the surrounding you are in, so go have some fun!