Ten weeks after my oldest son was born, I planned a trip to Lower Michigan, 10 hours away (are you seeing a theme here?), with my best friend. I will concede I was young and perhaps today I might have thought twice (maybe not), but my son was perfectly healthy, I had recovered completely and so why not? She might regret saying this now but I candidly remember my mom saying,
Amanda, he’s a baby not an accessory. You can’t just pack him up and waltz around the world with him!
Huh? I knew having a baby would change my life in a LOT of ways but I knew the one thing I loved was to travel. To see new places, meet new people, eat new foods. There was no way I was going to give that up. I couldn’t wait to share that with him – and any future babies that might come my way. When the day came, we packed up little mister and drove 10 hours to lower Michigan and Canada. Guess what. He did just great and so did I!
Just recently, on our way to the airport for our relocation to Morocco, my mom made another insightful comment. As we passed the Wisconsin state capitol on the way to our hotel she said, “a few years ago you would have tried to squeeze in a tour of the capitol tonight.” It got me thinking about how my sense of travel and planning has evolved over the years. She was right, of course, there was a time I would have done that. But an older, wiser me knew that swimming at the hotel, eating dinner, and an early bedtime were going to be enough to lead up to the major travel day following.
Travel is a gift that is priceless. I firmly believe every family should make travel, whether it’s close to home or around the world, a priority in life. In 10 years, I’ve learned a lot.
Is there any mode of transportation that strikes more fear in parents than the thought of taking a baby/toddler/child on an airplane? Will they behave? What if they won’t eat? What if they won’t sleep? What if the people around me get angry? Been there. We started flying when our kids were only a few months old and have flown at all stages of their “growing up”. They each have in excess of 35,000 frequent flyer miles on both short flights and long, international flights. There are a few lessons this has taught me.
- Be prepared but don’t over prepare. Have you seen the moms at the airport wrestling a stroller, giant diaper bag, wheelie suitcase, purse and toddler? That’s over prepared. If you’ve got a long flight and/or long layovers plan accordingly plus a little extra, 2 changes of clothes, diapers and wipes (if needed) snacks, and a few favorite toys and books.
- Be prepared to spend the entire traveling time entertaining your child – so forget about carry-on activities for you.
- Even though airlines now charge for luggage, do yourself a favor and check as much of your luggage as you can. It’s one less thing to think about.
- If you are seated somewhere that you know will be problematic (think middle of a row) ask the stewardess if he/she can help you find someone who might be willing to switch with you.
- Crying baby? I know it’s so stressful for mom and dad. Do your best to calm the baby, take a walk up and down the aisle. Sometimes you’ll be allowed to stand in the back galley area. But, please don’t ignore the crying in hopes that it stops (I know you wouldn’t do that right…but some people do). Even though you shouldn’t have to apologizing to your neighbors is a small gesture that goes a long way. Likewise if you’re seated near a crying baby, give mom and dad a smile and words of encouragement, or even offer to help them in some way. It goes such a long way. On a flight to Morocco with our boys at age 2 1/2 and 5, a mom on the plane held K so that MarocBaba could take M to the bathroom and get him some food. We’ll never forget this small kind gesture on her part.
- It gets better. Having just taken a long flight with a 6 and 9 year old, was amazingly easy. They slept on every plane we were on, meaning mom and dad were rested too. They are also able to entertain themselves – this being said, they also are VERY used to traveling so they do have a bit of patience built-up.
Remember where I said above I used to be a serial planner? Vacations were planned to the “t”. We knew what and where we were going at every day, every hour. It was a little neurotic but I think it’s just a part of my personality. I didn’t want to waste a single second of the time we had. I’m not sure when exactly this changed, maybe I got burned out so bad the only vacation I wanted was one that involved me staring at the back of my eyelids. Planning now takes on a different feel. We aim for one or two things a day, the things that are most important to us. I do a lot of reading and research ahead of time to find out if something is really worth the hassle or not. I also try to use local contacts (or make some!) before we go so that we’re able to get the best value and have the most authentic experience. For example, when we went to Disney World a few years ago, my husband had a friend who worked for the park. He was able to get together with another friend and gift us their “guest pass” access – so we got in for free! It took some planning and connections but the cost savings were well worth it. Best advice: Don’t over schedule yourself (and your kids), so that everyone ends up tired and crabby. Be open to seeing what happens and remain flexible.
I don’t think it’s a big surprise that eating is important when traveling. I love to find new restaurants that are serving fantastic meals however, traveling with a family those bills add up fast and there’s always the issue of picky eaters. A few of the eating lessons I’ve learned on the road;
- kids choice – we let our kids choose one meal every day. It could be a choice of a restaurant if we’re going out, or something we’re making in. We’ve found this helps with the other meals that they’re not going to really get a say over.
- Eating New Foods – We have a rule at all times, that is you must try at least one bite. By instilling this young (and always) we don’t often fight in new places. Our kids will try a variety of things, with very little resistance. They might not like it but most of the time we can get them to at least try it.
- Picnics – Having a kitchen isn’t always an option on the road, but there’s always some type of market nearby. Pick up the items for sandwiches, yogurts, cheeses, vegetables you name it. Not only does this help with cost but it’s always fun to explore what’s for sale in new places.
I have a confession to make – I don’t do kid travel. When we go somewhere I don’t seek out zoos and aquariums, or waterparks. Unless that’s what we, as a family are looking for. Recently we went to Essaouaira Morocco for the weekend and we spent the morning walking around the port, seeing how the fishermen bring in their catch, tie their lines, and explore the different seafood that was caught. It was 100% hands on and our kids were totally engaged. Likewise when we were in Mexico earlier this year, we went to the beach and the kids wanted to snorkel – sure! We go out of our way to find interesting, engaging, activities for everyone in the family – not just the kids. We travel to show our kids the world, and not just the “kids-only” version.
The final and possibly most important lesson we’ve learned is that by starting young and traveling often we are able to do more and have more meaningful experiences with our kids. They think nothing of jumping in the car and driving 4-5 hours at the drop of a hat. We can pack our backpacks for a weekend trip in under 30 minutes. They have learned to occupy themselves without a lot of stimulation. They know how to measure distance and they pay attention to what’s going on around them. They can go through an airport security line as fast as any adult. They know what a passport is, and can identify different languages when they year them. They are also comfortable around all types of people in any setting. I have to believe that this is because they have developed skills through years of traveling.