Long-distance traveling is often something that parents of young children aspire to, but not something most actually do. I’ve heard some say that they’d love to travel “when the kids are older.” I say, you’ve got to carpe this diem right here and now, and it’s really not as hard as you think it is. As a mother who has taken my young daughter to a dozen countries, I’ll tell you my tricks.
Start Them Young, Baby
Let’s start with this bit of counterintuitive fact: Infants are easy to travel with. You may not think so, considering the immense difficulty involved in raising an infant, but bringing a baby along to see the world adds potentially very little stress. They can’t run off. They’re lightweight and compact. They don’t require restaurants with kids’ menus. They often don’t need a ticket on an airplane. They can’t even complain yet (with words).
Easy as it may be, here are some tips when traveling with an infant. Consider forgoing the stroller for a baby carrier instead. It avoids gate-checking, lightens the load to make for ease of movement, and lets you navigate through crowds much more efficiently. Also, be ready with the milk. Nursing/feeding on takeoff and landing protects your baby from the ear pain caused by pressure changes, and full babies are always happier babies (with happier co-passengers). Not just on the plane, but at any time throughout your travels, if you’re prepared to feed on demand you’ll have an easier time of it. While the rest of this will focus on little kids, traveling with your children when they’re babies makes traveling with them when they’re a bit older more manageable as well. The more they’re accustomed to getting out of their routine and around the world, the more well disposed they’ll be to it.
First and foremost, train them before you go. If you know you’ll be walking a lot on an upcoming trip, take a lot of walks around your neighborhood, progressively lengthening the distances. If you don’t want to bring a stroller but your child, while capable of walking, is still attached to it, leave it at home when you go out for a few weeks. If you don’t expect to find familiar foods in the place you’re going, especially if you have picky eaters, introduce new snacks to their diets so that they’ll be more receptive to trying new things. If you worry you won’t find a public toilet when you need one, maybe let them become comfortable with peeing behind a bush (we all do it). This is not drastic boot-camp level training here, but gradual changes in routine can help a huge amount.
This one is basic and I’m sure every parent already has a toolbox of distractions on hand to appease an irritable child even during everyday life at home. Traveling is no exception. Don’t always expect kids to be as excited as you are to see a new country or new city; sometimes they’ll need an added form of entertainment, either to be engaged or to unwind. Take advantage of screens (don’t forget chargers and travel adapters), games and toys; just try not to pack the bulky ones.
I found that the way to cover a lot of ground during a day of sightseeing is to dangle that proverbial carrot in front of your kids. Entice them with the next stop. Research where you might want to go for a local treat and remind them of where you’re headed throughout the day. Take a look at the map and locate playgrounds, then plan your walking route to include them along with the landmarks and attractions you adults are interested in. I cannot stress the importance of playgrounds enough. We’ve covered many miles in a single day by walking from one playground to the next, seeing what we wanted in between and keeping our child happy and on the move. Plus, your guilt about over-exerting your kid will be wiped away when you see how fast he sprints to that playground. Occasionally we’ve employed this tactic on a bluff (the the-oasis-is-just-over-the-next-sand-dune play), but if you do that you had better be ready to buy them some extra ice cream once they make it through the day.
That’s it! Go forth and enjoy the world with your children. I’d love to hear what other parents do to make traveling with children more enjoyable and feasible.