Considering last year we went from “Oh no! Not another road trip!” to “Wow, it’s already been a month since we went on a trip!”… I would say we have come a very long way as parents of young kids!
Traveling and planning trips with kids can be extremely stressful. Since my husband and I never used to travel much – even when we were kids ourselves – we did not want to miss the opportunity of traveling now, in spite of being parents of young kids.
Initially as new parents, we were not very good at this. Early on, our oldest gave us pretty stressful experiences with travel and vacations, making us hesitant to take on the task with any level of frequency. But as the second kid arrived, something changed within us. We decided to take up more challenges and figured… how much worse could it go?
Our trip planning looked similar to what I imagine it is to dismantle a time bomb. We thoroughly thought through each step in the process.
- Get to the airport on time.
2. Clear security check with (at least) an hour to spare before our boarding time.
3. Get on the plane and take off with no tantrums or tears. And on from there…
As we reentered the world of travel as a family of four, the first trip we took was a 2 day staycation without much actual travel time. Unfortunately, our youngest – who was 2 months old at the time – still managed to give us the worst experience we could’ve imagined. The next trip we took was an international journey with two 9-hour flights on top of having a 4 hour layover. We kept thinking to ourselves, What could possibly go wrong? What is the worst thing that could happen?, as we prepared for our travels.
Kids not sleeping and a 4-month-old crying inconsolably was our worst fear. So we came up with a plan to let our youngest cry for awhile before nursing him once on the plane. Our thought was to allow him to work out some of his energy before calming him down since his tendency at home, if we immediately fed him when he started crying, was to finish nursing only to have him continue to cry afterward. Letting him cry and feeding at the right time worked for us. And with our plan in place, we managed to reach our destination safely with two kids and two adults who still felt sane.
But then came the return journey, which always seems harder. Have you ever felt that traveling away from home is easier than traveling toward home? This time our baby thwarted us, and did not do what we expected. I ended up having to hold him the entire journey in my arms. The moment I moved or repositioned he would wake up crying at the top of his lungs. We managed to reach home but everyone was entirely drained.
To be honest, after this experience we believed this was IT… no more traveling until our kids were older.
But then life happened, and before we realized it we ended up completing 6 amazing trips this last year. And honestly, I was able to gain incredible insight into how to prepare myself and my kids for trips both airborne and on the road.
First and foremost, the most important thing about traveling with kids is to have minimal expectations. Just because on one journey your baby sleeps like an angel in the backseat of the car, doesn’t mean they’ll do the same next time around. Every baby is different, every kid is different, every day is different… and every family is different.
But expectations aside, here are a few things I found to be helpful on our journeys with young kids:
- Travel Time: Always choose a morning journey, if possible. For our family, the post noon to evening travel time is the worst with our kids. If the morning doesn’t work, I opt for overnight flights (or drives). That way, it’s either wake up, have breakfast and leave; or have dinner, take a soothing bath, throw on their PJs and leave.
- Snacks: Pack easy snacks. I know that fresh fruits and vegetables are healthy, but they can be messy too. So I prefer cheese, crackers, raisins or apple sauce pouches.
- Packing: I tend to put so much effort into planning and sorting our baggage for both road and flight travel. In the case of flying, I categorize items as I pack them into our luggage. But not just that, I also write it down to keep with me because… mom brain. This makes our entire trip less stressful from security check onward because I know where everything is. Similarly, while in the car I know which bags should be reachable and accessible, and which ones can go in the trunk.
- Toys: Packable travel toys make things so much easier and keeps screen time to a minimum. Crayons, notepads, tic-tac-toe, play-doh (if you’re brave), gel clings, stickers… Pinterest can give you so many more ideas. And as nerdy as it can sound, we even do age appropriate worksheets while we travel. It keeps us all busy while avoiding the “Are we there yet?” question. On repeat.
- Stroller: I also try to avoid bringing our stroller, and rely on my baby carrier whenever possible. While almost all airlines give you free stroller and car seat baggage options, my boys are not good with sleep transfers. So a baby carrier helps me avoid this as once they are asleep on my chest, there they can remain. That said, sometimes during domestic travel, I do use the stroller to carry our hand luggage until the gate. But again, it’s all about thinking through your travel plans and what will work best on a trip by trip basis.
- Devices: Let’s be honest, iPads, mobile phones, and videos can be a savior during any kind of travel. Unfortunately, neither of my boys really love the device option. So, I use it under extreme conditions as a last resort. But sometimes, it does help to distract one with an iPad while I attend to the other. It’s all about balance, right?
- Potty Breaks: Sometimes, on road trips when we find ourselves not able to take a bathroom break in time for our potty-trainer, I have found diapers to be a quick answer. Yes, you read that right! When in a pinch, I use my younger one’s diaper for my elder one. Problem solving at its best, and less stressful than the alternative of a potential accident.
- Be Flexible: If you can, try to sit back and relax. Traveling with kids is not a walk in the park. It is hard and our little humans get excited, sometimes going beyond our control. Sometimes, there is nothing you can do about it, even with the best of plans. On one of our recent journeys, we had a flight at 9 pm. The toddler slept in the airport before boarding only to decide to stay awake after boarding as he got all excited about everything around him. I knew getting him back to sleep would be the more stressful option. So, I let him play without disturbing other passengers. He and I had fun exploring and walking the aisle until he was tired enough to rest.
- Be silly: Sometimes you work so hard on planning games for the road trip only to have your kid just want to play some silly, made up games. Go with it! Believe me! I have played so many games that don’t make any sense. But playing them helps my kids stay occupied on the trip. So worth it!
At the end of the day, if emotions and behaviors get out of control just try to ignore the stares and comments. Not everyone is baby-friendly and understanding. We never know what that other person (who just stared at you) is going through. It’s common for people to frown when they see a family with a baby and kids behind their seats on an airplane. Don’t react and don’t stress yourself. Just continue to do what you have to do.
So… where are you traveling with your kids this year? With a little bit of planning and flexibility, the sky can be the limit!