Now that we’ve established how much I enjoy traveling without kids, I thought it would be prudent to share how much I like to do it with them, too. It’s certainly different (read: more crap), but still wholly worthwhile. I say this at the tail end of both a camping weekend and trip to Disney, the holy grail kiddie Mecca, maker or breaker of traveling with children. If I still love to do it, then you know I mean it.
When my now-toddler was a baby, we took him everywhere (except international, because we’ve selfishly kept that for ourselves). In fact, he visited 13 states in his first two years. While our now-baby hasn’t traveled quite to that same degree, she’s no slouch on travel protocols either. I recognize it’s not cheap to travel, whether by car, train, bus, boat, or plane. But in case you weren’t aware, kids under two do fly free on your lap within the U.S. As you can see, we really took advantage of that with our first and intend to do so as much as possible with the second, too.
Maybe you don’t like to travel in general. If that’s the case, skip this post. Just know that I think there’s a kind of travel for everyone, and it’d be a real shame if you–and your kids–miss out on the chance to explore the world around you. If you don’t like to travel because you don’t want to be around people–which is completely fair–take a road trip to somewhere in the country. If you don’t like to plan, try outsourcing it to a friend or travel agent. Just don’t dismiss it altogether.
If you do share my propensity to jet set, but are, like many of my friends, a little intimidated to do so with children, look no further. I’m here to help dispel your fears and doubts by sharing some of my wisdom for traveling with little ones. Many blogs have done this before, so I’ll try to keep it simple.
The Only Traveling-With-Kids Advice You Need
Have no expectations and go with the flow. End of story.Now’s about the point where you want to slap me in the face and tell me to STFU, right? No expectations and go with the flow? Yeah, okay. If we were truly able to do that, we wouldn’t be parents of the modern age. It’s nearly as bad as when people tell you to “just relax.” However, with the understanding that it’s never easy to just let go, that is precisely what I recommend you do when you’re gearing up to travel with children. Despite my rather long introduction, it’s not a big deal, guys. That’s what I’m trying to get at here. Ultimately, it’s just like every other part of parenthood: something that’s wrought with both challenges and rewards.
Because I’m feeling particularly loquacious today, I’m not going to leave you with just that. While I’m not lying when I say it’s your best bet for having a good time on your travels, I’ll do my best to impart my simplest, tried-and-true travel tips right in this here post.
Regardless of how much you read up beforehand or how much junk you lug with you, though, not everything will go according to plan and you’ll undoubtedly experience some choppy waters while you’re on your trip. If you don’t go in with a strict “plan,” you won’t be all that disappointed when things don’t quite follow it. After all, isn’t it the very nature of children to be unpredictable?
Some level of chaos will ensue
A tantrum or two (or what feels like infinity)
might will definitely happen, sleep might be interrupted to the point of exhaustion, or you might run out of some item you deem necessary. So what? All of those things can occur just as easily at home, too. At least in my mind, all of the positive experiences you gain on a trip–even if it’s just spending some quality time together outside of your normal routine–far outweigh those minor inconveniences. Tantrums? They subside. Sleep? You’ll eventually get it again. That’s what caffeine is for. Kid supplies? There are probably kids where you’re going. Ask someone where you can purchase something similar. If you can’t find it, take a deep breath and know that children survived for hundreds of thousands of years without it. Yours will too.
But it’s so worth it
All of those minor blips in time will pass and be forgotten, unlike the memories you’ll cherish forever. Sure, your kids may be too young to remember anything, but you will. (And if all you remember is how terribly something went, then I have two things to say: 1. You probably need a general shift in perspective; and 2. Time has a funny way of softening those blows, too.)
TL;DR: it’s all temporary, so you might as well enjoy it
If you’re going for a decent amount of time, then your kid will adjust to a new schedule. If you’re not, then you’ll just need a couple of days to get back on track. Either way, it’ll be over before you know it.Keep in mind that some of the biggest benefits of traveling are expanding your worldview and forcing yourself outside of your comfort zone. If nothing else, these are just magnified with children in tow.
All of that said, I’m not your therapist and lest I start advising you to try and relax (there’s that awful piece of advice again), I don’t have great counsel in terms of how to actually shift your expectations. That’s on you. Instead, here are some practical tips on how to ease your travel.
What to Pack
In general life terms, I tend to be a less-is-more kind of person. This extends to my parenting philosophy–which is why my daughter can sometimes be seen chewing on plastic cutlery in lieu of toys–especially when traveling. (It does not, however, appear to extend to the length of this post.) With that in mind, there are some things you’ll want to have in your bags to ensure smoother sailing, regardless of where you’re going.
Clothes and a hat
This is a no-brainer, but I’d like to remind you to bring a few extra outfits because much like movie-promoting celebrities, kids often require a midday costume change. If you’ll have access to a washing machine on your trip, this is obviously less important. If not, bring extra clothes and throw in a wet bag for good measure.
My other favorite travel accessory is a good ol’ sun hat. I’ve been a big fan of this one from i play because it shields kids’ necks and holds up well in the pool.
Tools of distraction
What I really mean is, bring food and new, exciting toys. One of the great things about having an almost-three-year-old is that he can finally carry his own backpack of crap, but believe me, you’ll want these regardless of your mode of transportation or age of your kids. This music maker from Baby Einstein is my favorite travel toy for babies, and for toddlers I love the Fire 7 Kids Edition Kindle (trust me, screen time will be your travel ally) and this Transformer car (though any vehicle would do).
Easy and transportable snacks include packets from Plum Organics, raisins, and pretzel rods (for kids of all ages).
One of my best tips for you, especially when traveling with babies or young toddlers, is to babywear. I cannot stress this enough. For the infant age, I loved my Baby K’tan Breeze.
For babies and toddlers, I’ve loved the ergobaby Mesh 360.
For hiking with older toddlers, I am a huge fan of the Deuter Kid Comfort 2.
Wearing your kid is beneficial for many reasons. It frees up your hands, keeps baby close to you for his and your comfort, and allows you to nurse on-the-go. If you haven’t figured out how to do this yet, I strongly urge you to experiment until you do. In fact, nursing is another one of the best travel tips I can give because it helps soothe your baby in an otherwise new environment.
All of these benefits are invaluable in an airport (despite my not showing pictures of me carrying my babies anywhere but on hikes). You’ll also find that a carrier comes in handy while you’re actually in your destination. Plus, kids love falling asleep in carriers. It’s a win-win.
This really only matters if you’re flying, but don’t forget the birth certificate, mostly if you’re taking advantage of the kids-under-two-fly-free-on-your-lap policy. I’ve flown on nearly all airlines with my kids and have found that while some airlines always require it (Southwest), others will occasionally request to see it, too. Your best bet is to have a copy in case it’s needed. I just keep a copy of both birth certificates next to my ID, and that seems to work well for us.
These are some things I usually end up packing with me, but I’ve also often just bought once I’ve gotten there. Either way, you wouldn’t regret them.
You never know when your kid is going to get sick or suddenly sprout a tooth. I usually sneak a bottle of ibuprofen in my bag because it lasts longer than acetaminophen and is an anti-inflammatory, meaning those achy gums will be better relieved.
My fair-skinned children require a good amount of sunscreen, so I typically bring it with me so I don’t have to worry about it later. I personally prefer Babyganics Sunscreen for everyday use and Badger Balm Anti-Bug Sunscreen for camping and hiking.
Pack ‘n’ play and other gear
If you’re traveling to a hotel, they most likely have a pack ‘n’ play or crib they can put in your room upon check-in. Just call and add it to your reservation. If you’re visiting someone’s home, ask if they have an extra or could borrow one from a friend. If you’re renting a place like an AirBnB, look into baby equipment rentals in the area. One of these three options has yet to fail me on all of my traveling-with-kids adventures. When driving, however, it’s often easiest to just bring it along if you have the space.
As for other baby gear, you don’t need it. Like everything else, you’ll figure out an appropriate workaround. Honestly, any alternative is easier than lugging all that clunky, heavy stuff.
Pack your carry-on with as many diapers as you’d need for the day, then worry about buying more for your trip once you’re actually there. Diapers are way too bulky and cumbersome to worry about packing in a suitcase, and you’ll find them no matter where you’re going.
Top 3 Tips for Air Travel
1. Check all your crap
If you’re taking advantage of the lap child policy, you’ll need to head to the ticket counter to add the kid to your ticket anyway. While you’re there, you might as well check your bag (I like to use a big one for the whole family) and your car seat(s) if you’ll be using a car while you’re away. (I’ve used rented car seats once and was so unimpressed, I likely won’t do it again.) While all airlines allow you to check your car seat and stroller for free (although some have weight limits, so do your homework), free checked bags are one of the things that differentiate Southwest to me. In general, I find them to be the most kid-friendly airline before, during, and after the flight takes place.
When checking these kid items, I’ve also found it’s easiest to get the big red bags for car seats and strollers since they’re so easy to spot and help keep the items clean. Unfortunately, you do run the risk of your stuff getting manhandled a bit, but in almost three years, it hasn’t been a problem for me.
My routine is such that I usually check the bag and car seat, get my boarding pass, then head to security with my baby carrier and lightweight umbrella stroller (unless I’m going somewhere I won’t use one). Then during the security check, I wear the baby, fold up the stroller, and proceed to the gate, where I get a gate-check tag for the red stroller bag. Then right before I board, I fold up the stroller once more, stuff it in the red bag, and drop it off on the jet way with other gate-check bags. This sounds involved, but it’s an easy routine when you actually move through the steps, and strangers are almost always willing to help if needed.
What’s nice about having the stroller in the airport is that you can lug around a kid who is otherwise slow and/or not cooperative. If you end up continuing to wear baby, then you at least have a nice little storage seat for your carry-on bag to help save your back a bit.
2. Tire your kid out before you board
Many airports have play areas for children. Philadelphia and San Francisco both come to mind immediately, though I know I’ve seen several. Take advantage of these designated areas to let your kid exhaust himself as much as possible before he’s forced to sit still for a few hours.
If you’re in an airport without a designated kids’ area, look outside and see wonder on your kid’s face as he takes in all the planes, trucks, and cars whirring by. This has provided us with endless hours of entertainment.
3. Choose a window seat
You may think it would be best to sit in the aisle seat so you can get up easily with kids, but I have learned (the hard way) that window seats are ideal. First of all, they allow kids to see outside and stare at clouds or whatever else is out there. Better yet, window seats allow you to turn to the wall for a bit more privacy if you need to soothe your kid. They also allow kids to play with the armrest without bothering your neighbors. More still, they provide a headrest or more wiggle room if your kid falls asleep on you and stretches out. Finally, window seats mean window shades, and boy have those come in handy for last-resort distractions. I’ve also had friends buy those dollar store sticky window decals for flights, and I think that’s a wonderful idea.
If you’re flying an airline that allows you to choose your seat ahead of time, book yourself or your kid in the window. If you’re flying Southwest, remember families can board between groups A and B. I’ve never had an issue finding a window seat at that time.
No matter the seat you do choose, if you’re a breastfeeding mom, be prepared to nurse a lot on your flight, especially during takeoff and landing, since the sucking motion helps prevent ear discomfort for the babe. The release in oxytocin should also help make your baby drowsy, and let me tell you, a sleeping baby is the best kind of traveling baby. When they’re not as pliable or likely to nurse at any time of the day, have a water bottle with a straw ready to go during changes in altitude.
Top 2 Tips for Car Travel
1. Plan on a few short breaks
I have to pee regularly anyway, so I already know I’ll have to stop on a road trip. This is beneficial during trips with our kids because it allows us time to get them out of their car seats to stretch their legs too.
2. Find music you and your kid will enjoy
Someone once gifted us with this CD of children’s songs, and it is incredible how instantly it helps both of our kids settle down when they’re feeling restless. Compared to a lot of children’s music, I’ll freely admit I even kind of like it. Maybe it’s because I’ve listened to 99,000 spirited renditions of “I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad,” but I can’t but help sing right along.
Camping with Kids
Camping with kids is really fun, too. See my previous post for tips on this particular version of travel.
Have Fun and Record Your Stories
Some of my favorite–or most laugh-out-loud–parenting memories have come from our trips together. For example, I remember the first flight I took with a newly minted toddler. He was extra active, climbing on my legs, yodeling at the people behind us, blowing raspberries and basically motorboating me, and being all-around wiggly. When I finally got him to stop and have a sip of water, I didn’t take into account that the pressure change would cause the water trapped in the straw to burst out like a geyser at all of those around us. If only I had this on film. (Moral of the story: appreciate while you can how easy it is to travel with a baby.)
With time and distance, I’ve now also come to find the silver lining in that one god-awful time my son screamed throughout the entire first flight, subsequent run through the airport, and boarding of our second flight. Once he finally fell asleep, he curled right up against my then-30-weeks-pregnant belly. His soon-to-be sister took the opportunity to begin pursuing her life goal of irritating him, because she wouldn’t stop kicking against his head. Little did he know how in-his-face she’d later become. Now when I think back to that day, I remember the cuddles and the belly kicks, and not the exact pitch at which I finally went insane (okay, maybe a little of that).
And that’s not even to mention all of the memories I have from once we’ve arrived at our destinations. For example, I’ll never forget the first time my daughter went hiking in the Rockies or sprawled out in our tent, effectively leaving me with a sliver of space between her and my snoring toddler. I’ll never forget the first time my son dipped his feet in the ocean.
I’ll never forget when he decided to go swimming with a sweet potato fry or the look of adoration on his face as he met the Disney princesses.
These memories are the ones that will stick with me, not the ones of nights without sleep. It’s true that traveling changes you, and I can assure you that traveling with your kids will do so tenfold, because what you learn on your journey may embed itself into the very core of who you are as a parent.
I do not deny that it’s expensive to travel, and more so with kids. But if it’s within your means, by whatever means necessary, I say you go for it. Don’t let children or your fear of traveling with them interrupt your desire to explore the world. Life is entirely too short to quell your sense of wanderlust because you’re not sure how to navigate with kids. Like anything else, sometimes the best and most rewarding way to experience something is through baptism by fire. You just have to jump in and take comfort knowing you’ll probably land on your feet one way or another. If you can parent at home, I promise you can parent afar.
Now go book your trip, pack your bags, and have fun. Bon voyage!