12 things I wish I had known before traveling with my kids
1. Do not splurge on luxury vacations.
If you have a limited vacation budget, splurge on luxury when you are with your husband or friends, not when you have tiny little ones in tow. Little children could care less whether they are splashing about in a 5-star luxury hotel pool or at the local swim club. Neither do they care whether or not they are on the monkey bars at a small park or an exclusive children’s club.
2. Keep it close to home.
What would be the point of spending 10 or more hours on the airplane just to get to a beach? I know loads of people who put themselves through this ordeal when they have children in strollers. But there is hardly anywhere on Earth where you have to travel that far to get to a great beach. Save money, time, energy and endless hassle by keeping travel times as low as possible and staying closer to home. You have the rest of your life to take long flights and to see faraway locations!
3. Babies that fly and cry are not the end of the world.
Some babies are super easy on the airplane, others not that much. Keep calm and don’t freak out about crying babies. If you’re a first time parent, this is tough. By the time number three comes around, you could probably care less about any stares coming your way — that is a great thing. Just come prepared with the basics: food, drink, extra clothes, diapers, distraction toys. But most importantly keep your head screwed on, focus on the end game (arrival at your destination), and practice some Zen breathing technique when things get hairy. No one actually cares about crying babies that much, and you’re certain to find parents of older children who are happy to help out (it wasn’t so long ago they were in your shoes!).
4. No need to over pack.
Travelling with children can be stressful, but adding to that stress can be all the stuff you take with you. Sure you need the basics, but don’t go overboard. No need for mounds of toys and gadgets to keep them busy when airplanes show more movies than the local cinema, and cars are often equipped with DVDs. Travel time with young children is not the occasion to get nitty-gritty about screen time — airplanes, cars, and trains are the perfect place to indulge them!
5. Be prepared for “grey space”.
It is often the “grey space” of travelling that provides a challenge to travel with kids. You know, those moments waiting in airport security, hanging out in the plane once it’s landed, standing in line for tickets, or waiting for a taxi or bus. These are the times to get creative, smart, and sort out some major distractions before meltdowns take place. Stickers, crayons and a small notebook, a favorite candy or treat, a game of “I Spy” or a chunk of yummy baguette to chew on can make all the difference. Have a few tricks up your sleeve for those emergency moments.
6. Schedule kid activities.
Forget for a moment your travelling days pre-children. They are over for the time being, and if you don’t come face-to-face with that truth, you are only making life more complex than necessary. Don’t visit Paris and take the 4-hour tour around the Louvre with two toddlers in tow. Instead, opt for one short hour to visit a few favorite works of art, then take them to the playground next door in the Tuileries Park to climb and slide around, or take a short pony ride before getting a chocolate crepe or ice cream. Everyone will get a bit of what they need.
7. Don’t force kids to participate.
I’ve lost track of the times I’ve seen parents force their kids into some activity on vacation just because “everyone else is doing it”. Skiing comes to mind! Sure, take your kids to the mountains and plonk them into a children’s ski program if they are game. I’m all for sticking it out a day or two to see if the kid acclimates to the activity, but don’t torture them for a week if they aren’t into it. Put them into another care program where they can sled or just play in the snow. Same goes for horseback riding, swimming, whatever else. It’s about building fun and positive memories, not proving a point.
8. Down time is not a waste.
In an unknown environment little kids (and I reckon adults too) get overstimulated and may tire easier. If you don’t schedule down time during your holiday, you are going to end up with seriously exhausted kids. This means grumpy kids, which translates into a vacation headed down the wrong path. Be unambitious about the amount of time in one day. Schedule one main thing and then take the time for a relaxed meal and some after-lunch lazing around. If you have extra energy on your hands, then go ahead and plan something later in the day. Being unambitious can be the difference between a relaxing vacation and a nightmare week away.
9. Educational is not boring.
Never miss an opportunity to cultivate a new experience into your child’s psyche, no matter how young they are. Even the little ones who can’t yet walk can take in new sounds, languages, sights, smells. Cultivate their love of travelling, even when you keep it simple. Kids who are old enough can check out the maps, learn capital cities, learn a phrase or two of a new language, and memorize a few local facts about animals, geography, food or culture.
10. Spontaneity can be great.
Many times on holiday you bump into a street performer, a music band, or an activity totally geared toward children that would make them happy as clams. Don’t be scared to change your plans at the last minute when the opportunity presents itself. Sometimes these are the treats that make the best vacation memories!
11. Enjoy being a kid again.
I remember actually dreading visiting amusement parks with my children. For me vacations were about discovering new cultures, hiking up awesome mountains, or serious rest and relaxation in a beautiful setting. Roller coasters, cotton candy, and bumper cars never really factored into my vacation plans. But every once in a while, an amusement park with your children is a real treat in living in the moment, letting loose and just enjoying yourself while being a child again! There is nothing more precious to a child than sharing this with his parents!
12. Get your home ready for the return.
There is nothing worse than coming home to full laundry baskets, an empty refrigerator and unmade beds. Take the time before your trip to sort out your home, have a few staples in the pantry that can provide a quick first meal and breakfast the next morning (something that doesn’t necessarily require fresh milk is best!), and have laundry finished and put away beforehand. Post-vacation blues can only get worse if you’re tired, hungry and looking at a mess the second you walk into the house.