A while back there was an article on CNN GO titled the “5 Rules of Traveling with Kids.” I’m not sure where the author got her information, but most of it was inaccurate. Credit was not given to kids. Credit was definitely not given to parents who are actually parenting.
Even more flabbergasting than the title of the article was the subhead, which read, “ You’re not in control.” I’m sorry, but I am the mom. I am in control of what my little guy does. Yes, plans change and we butt heads over what he should be doing at any given moment or what he should eat, but I have never doubted that I am the mom and Dek is the kid.
Above all, the author underestimated just how amazing families are and what a great job parents are doing at raising their kids around the world. Travel with babies and toddlers doesn’t have to be the painful, torturous experience some would lead you to believe it is. Just have a little patience, persistence and a sense of humor. So here we go. Let’s get down to the reality of traveling with small kids.
- Babies and toddlers can get over jet lag, sometimes quicker than you. The author claims that the younger the kid, the harder it is for them to adjust. I have actually found the opposite. The older Dek gets and the more set he is in his sleep patterns, the more trouble he has switching over. But he does switch over. Dek may get up at 3am for a snack or a little play time the first night, but I’m up anyway because of my own jet lag. Sometimes I pull him into bed with me and we pass back out. Sometimes after a snack he is ready to crawl back into his own bed. We make it work. We certainly don’t stop traveling because of jet lag. Heck, even with infants, you are up every few hours for feedings anyway. What’s the difference if you are on a different time zone?
- Kid-friendly food is not necessary. Do not underestimate your kid’s palates. They may just surprise you with how much they are willing to explore and try out when no other options are available. One way to help prepare your kids for new tastes is to eat a variety of foods at home. A diet of hot dogs and Hamburger Helper isn’t that great for them anyway. Dek has had McDonalds all of 3 times. He also does not get junk food or sugar snacks. All of these contribute to his love of new foods. I never look at a restaurant and think “oh I hope there is mac n’ cheese on the menu so Dek will eat something.” No, I look at the menu and say, “wow that pasta, steak, lamb chop looks amazing!” It all starts at home. Give your child variety, let them try new things and start early. Babies love to pick food off your plate, so make sure your plate is full of fantastic flavors you might encounter around the world. Do not let your kid’s eating preferences determine where you travel too. You can always find something to keep everyone happy.
- Entertainment comes in many forms, shapes and sizes. With the invention of the iPad, Kindle Fire and Leap Frog gadgets packing just got a lot easier and lighter. You don’t need two duffel bags full of toys, books, crayons and games to keep your kids entertained on a plane. I pack a small zip lock bag of favorite (and sometimes new) matchbox cars, 5 crayons, a small coloring book or notebook and my Kindle Fire loaded with games and movies. Dek is entertained for hours. Literally. And what is wrong with getting up from your seat to take a walk and explore the plane a little more. It’s good for all of you to stretch and get some exercise regularly on a flight. If you are worried about your kids demanding TV the entire trip just because you have your iPad with you, set a precedent early. Videos are for planes only. Once you arrive stash the electronics and go out to explore.
- Don’t pack every single thing you could possibly need.
- Toys: You are going on vacation. There will be plenty of things to entertain your child. You shouldn’t be sitting in your hotel playing with toys all day anyway. Bring a small bag of favorites and let your location be your main source of fun. If you get desperate, many popular vacation sights have agencies that you can rent toys from for a few dollars a day.
- Books and Bedtime: Some kids, including my own, can not live without their little blankie or stuffed animal. If you start early enough, you can make sure your kid is attached to something that is easy to pack and won’t take up half your suitcase. Now all you need is the security blanket or animal and 2 books for bed time. That’s it. That’s all you need.
- Clothing: Baby and toddler clothing is tiny. They don’t take up much room. I still pack more clothes for Dek than I do for myself and yet we still travel with the exact number of suitcases we did before Dek was born. And I even pack a couple of pairs of shoes for me!
- Buy it there: Shopping is fun in a new place. Diapers, wipes, etc. can usually be found in most places. Unless you are going to a remote area or are very specific about what brand you will use, you don’t need to worry about packing this stuff. If you are worried about the price difference, just figure you are saving $25-50 in baggage fees. Use that as your extra cash for baby necessities. Another option is to order what you will need online and have it shipped to your final destination. I do this all the time when we head back east to visit the family. Diapers, wipes and formula are waiting for us when we arrive.
- Strollers are multifunctional. We use our stroller for everything. Kid carrier, luggage cart, shopping cart. You name it, I’ll use a stroller for it. We don’t pack a huge, bulky, over the top stroller on any trip. I have 2 such strollers, but after Dek’s first few months they got stashed in a closet. We only used our umbrella stroller now. It weighs less than he does. If it ends up sitting in a closet in a hotel the whole time, oh well. If it gets demolished in baggage, you will see no tears from me. It’s so cheap you can just replace it anywhere you go. Yes, we still travel with our Ergo baby carrier, but that folds up nicely into a day pack. These two items save us endless baby carrying in our arms or missing out on another sight down the street because we were walking at toddler pace.
There you have it. My reality when traveling with a small child. It’s simple. It’s low stress. It helps me keep my sanity.
One last thing the author slips into the article is that traveling with infants isn’t really worth it because they won’t be able to appreciate the wonders of a new country since they haven’t explored much past their main food source. I’ve said it a hundred times and I will say it again, you aren’t traveling just for your kids. My mantra when I was pregnant with Dek was that I would not let it stop my travels. Short of medical necessity we would be hitting the road. It is my wanderlust that gets this family on an airplane and exploring new places. One day I will ask Dek where he wants to go, but for now he is just so excited to ride a plane he doesn’t care where it lands. When his baby brother is here, I won’t be asking him what he thinks he will appreciate more, Disneyland or Versailles. He’s going to Versailles because I want to go there.