Traveling with kids
As any parent with small children will know, a family getaway can sometimes be much less idyllic than it sounds. Children are very active by nature, which can result in a trip that’s more work than relaxation. Travel is hard and traveling with kids is even harder. With that said, attitude is everything and it’s safe to assume that you will encounter a problem or two or even three along the way. If you treat your trip like an adventure, annoyances, missteps and mishaps simply become small obstacles for your hearty band of explorers to overcome. I mean, seriously, do you think Dora would let a two-hour delay get to her? Would Indiana Jones get stressed out because the restaurant doesn’t have chicken fingers? My recommendation… go with the flow and everything will work out just fine.
When you get ready to take a trip with the kids, talk to them about the different language, culture, and food they will encounter. Seek the right balance between the familiar and comforting and the new and exciting. You’ll decide the mix based on your kids, but since you cannot recreate home in a box (and why would you, isn’t that the point of traveling in the first place.) Prepare and excite them about the differences. Be careful not to over-promise, which might lead to disaster when a particular museum or amusement is closed unexpectedly.
With our kids, we like to start with picture/ travel books to wet their appetite and spur their curiosity. Look at a street scene, say the Eifel Tower in Paris, and ask the kids to imagine standing right there, there in the picture. What would they see? What would it sound like, smell like? Then shift to a map and try and find that spot. Where is it in relation to our hotel? How could we get there? Needless to say, it is exceptionally cool to in fact try to find the spot we picked out of the book once we actually got to Paris. Older children may be able to navigate the family to that very spot, with little or no assistance. Other ideas include: downloading music native to your destination, rent a movie from the library or make some flashcards of a few useful words/ phrases and quiz each other.
If at all possible, leave at just the right time. If your kids nap, use their schedules to your advantage. For example, if you’ve got a long car ride, see if you can’t leave an hour or so before their nap time. Most kids can entertain themselves for a little while. Once they fall asleep, you just bought yourself an hour or two of bliss on the way to your destination. This can work for flights as well. Consider a red-eye flight, especially if you’re flying across the big pond. You can try to entertain your child for 6 hours on a daytime flight or you can have them sleep on a flight that leaves at 11 PM. It’s a no-brainer!!
Be warned, however, this is a high-risk, high-return gambit. When executed successfully, you get on the plane; give your kid his teddy bear or favorite “blanky” and wake up 3,000 miles away, refreshed and ready for whatever comes next. When things go awry, however, you are awake all night enduring glares from the people seated near you and the whole family is transformed into cranky zombies the next day.
Trust your parental instincts when it comes to choosing your kids toys and books. Toys with lots of small, moving parts are bound to end up as vacuum food. “One-trick” toys also take the express train to boredom town. Things like a good set of portable art supplies with crayons, color pencils and some paper can transform into hours of amusement (or at least distraction). If your son can play at home with his Nintendo DS for hours, it’s probably a pretty solid bet it will entertain him on vacation as well. Make sure to pack the charger (to keep it working) and earplugs (to keep it from working on you.)
When packing for family trips, less really is more. As in, the less stuff you’re lugging around, the more freedom you’ll have. Take things that can serve double duty. The travel outfit should be loose fitting and comfortable. Keep in mind that airplanes are often chilly and layering is most effective against the changes in temperature. Buy a new toothbrush for each family member so you can pack everything the night before. Place personal toiletry items, baby lotion, and hand sanitizer, etc. in a sandwich-size Ziploc bag or transparent pouch and remember that current regulations prohibit liquids over 3oz in carry-on luggage.
A small, sturdy nightlight can help turn a scary hotel room into a cozy den. And definitely don’t forget the baby wipes. Even if your kid was out of diapers years ago, baby wipes are invaluable when traveling. You can clean hands, faces, toilet seats, almost anything with them. On a hot day you can even wipe your face & neck with them to cool down a bit. Other things that come in handy are: tissue for a runny nose, plastic bags for wet or dirty clothes, an extra change of clothing (especially underwear and socks) for each kid, a few pullups (just in case), children’s Tylenol or Benadryl, and gum, candy or fruit snacks to help keep tiny eardrums from popping on the airplane ride.
Food is one of the most pleasurable and, potentially most irritating aspects of traveling with kids. When kids get hungry, they get cranky, and it doesn’t matter where you are, it’s no fun. Food is also a big chunk of travel expenses for a family. Eating out in restaurants all the time can cost a bundle and little kids may not find anything thing “they like” on the menu. Most cities have all the well-known American fast food chains. McDonalds, Subway, Taco Bell, etc. offering a respite for picky or finicky children with variations on the food you’re familiar with.Make sure you have plenty of snacks for the in between times. Since my kids never passed a vending machine they didn’t like, I purchase cereal bars, pb&j and bread to fix a quick snack in the room and if I have a refrigerator, milk and lunchmeat as well. Snacks can also keep your children satisfied, won’t melt or crumble apart. Licorice, cracker sandwiches, cereal and granola bars are good bets. Try preparing these snacks in unique ways. Young kids will love cereal pieces strung onto yarn to form an edible necklace.
Many restaurants don’t understand the term “doggy bag” and even if they did, very few European hotels come equipped with a microwave to reheat your leftovers. With that being said… Why wait until you leave before trying some ethnic delights? Visit a Spanish market, go out for a kebab, or try to eat with chopsticks. Encourage your kids to help you prepare a few traditional dishes in the comfort of your own kitchen. You’ll expand your child’s horizons and create a fun memory in the process.
If your child is an avid reader, take advantage of their curiosity. Head to some used book sales or the local library to pile up on books for the trip. You can get a nice variety of books at a bargain or absolutely free. Since plane seats are narrow and spills are likely, you won’t be as upset if the used books get damaged. This is a great time to build curiosity for the things of interest at the destination you are heading to. Don’t forget about activity books, jokes books and those amazing I Spy and Where’s Waldo that will keep them busy for a long time.
Wouldn’t you and your child love a memory book/journal of their vacation? Before the trip, get each of your kids a small journal, markers and tape. Suggest that they journal about their trip by drawing, writing, and taping in pictures, ticket stubs, postcards etc. This will help them remember the special moments of the trip and their thoughts and feelings about what they are seeing. On the plane or in the car, they can tape in some fun things from the in-flight magazine, write about the movie they saw or log what fabulous or not so fabulous food they ate. Have them make a list of who they want to send
postcards to while on the trip. Then they can work through the list on the trip.
When planning you holiday make sure that you’ve taken each member of the family into consideration. Each of them have their individual likes (and dislikes), and trying to meet these will result in a better holiday for everyone. If it’s possible, give your kids a choice between two activities they would enjoy and let them decide. Not only do you get them involved in the planning, but you allow then to take credit (or ownership) in their vacation too. And for heaven’s sake, don’t forget about yourself! Remember mom and dad, this is your vacation too.
The most important consideration in selecting a hotel, when kids are involved, isn’t necessarily a scenic view or luxurious sheets—it’s the neighborhood near the places you’ll want to explore, and staff that welcomes families. It’s staying in a place that’s convenient for meals and amenities, such as fresh-baked cookies, Internet access, cribs and babysitting services, swimming pools, suites with kitchens, near playgrounds, etc. If your children are at the age where running around is their main priority, ask for a room on the ground level as far away from other guests as possible.
And finally, you’ve survived the planning, packing, plane, train or automobile ride, checked into your hotel room and now you’re ready to see the sights. Don’t ruin it now. Avoid cramming too many activities into one day. Traveling with kids requires flexibility and having an itinerary filled to the brim might not work too well. Instead, try to split the activities over more days, or only schedule a few important ones so you can spend some quality relaxation time together as a family.