How to Travel with Kids without Losing Your ^%#@%!! Mind - Part 1
When I became old enough to pay for my own trips, I caught the travel bug - not the one I always seem to catch in Mexico, the “bug” that means you love to travel. My husband and I used to finagle deals with every airline or friend who had vouchers to Miami, Vegas, New York, New Orleans, Greece, Moscow, London, various “St.” Islands in the ocean (after a few cocktails they all seem like the same island to me).
My hubby once had a loft in his Hoboken apartment that he and his group of roommates used to rent out, short term. For a few months, an international stewardess stayed there and paid them with travel vouchers. Best first class flight - ever. We were in our 20’s and flew for free, first class, full beds, champagne, movies, warm meal, real silverware. Epic trip. We ate, drank, took excursions, celebrated a sudden and random local wedding ceremony in the street, met funny locals in cafe’s. Another long night of singing Journey songs at a piano bar with strangers in New Orleans resulted in two free tickets to a Saints Game.
Flight delays were adventures and packing was easy.
After I married my husband and started a family of our own I didn’t quite catch the notion that travel should cease or even slow down - not to mention we had so many younger cousins and siblings that were getting married, graduating, etc. So we just kept traveling. After a few horrible experiences (waking at 4 am to catch a flight - that ends up delayed for 3 hours, sleeping in a hotel room with no luggage and two toddlers); I realized travel was not the party boondoggles they used to be, but we could still satisfy the need for adventure and discovery.
So I got prepared, got organized and kept bravely saying yes to trips. So here’s what I’ve learned makes travel so much easier and fun for everyone.
Rule #1 - Prep for your flights. Flights are not the times to be a hardliner on too much iPad time or snacks. Everybody gets a Sprite, an iPad, old iPhone, Kindle Fire and a bag of whatever the stewardess is passing out. If you have a picky eater on a flight at mealtime, pack a cup of instant oatmeal in their fave flavor or cup of ramen with a plastic spoon in a ziplock. My youngest likes powdered peanut butter mixed into milk if she doesn’t want what’s available at the airport. I’ve also packed instant mashed potatoes after a bad run of stomach bugs the day before an international flight and ended up using it for picky eaters. I keep this stuff in a gallon ziplock in case someone has an accident, leaky diaper, etc. Sadly, I’ve used them more times than not. At the least, you can clean up all the massive trash a family of 5 accrues on a long flight and hand it all to the stewardess together. Pack a Turkish towel in the backpack of the kid that’s always cold. It’s thin but big enough to wrap around their legs and chest. If you have a budding writer, encourage her or him to pack a little notebook or journal to write about their adventures. We’ve gone back and read the stories, and they are pure gold.
Rule #2 - Everybody has to carry their own stuff after the age of 5. Every kid has plenty of movies, music, and books downloaded and packed in their own backpack. We started making the kids carry their own backpacks as soon as they were 5. Mom’s & Dad’s spare your backs. If you feel bad about it, google “children working in third world countries.” Trust me, your kids have got it good, and they can carry their own stuff. With that being said, check/edit your kids’ backpacks before you leave the house. I didn’t once, and in our first connection on the way to Norway, I discovered that my daughter had packed a hardback she’d never opened as thick as the Bible and a sack of change weighing 6 pounds. Stop and check at the security spots and restaurants in the airports that everybody has their own stuff. This only takes an extra 5 seconds, but you’re teaching them now to keep up with their stuff, a valuable life lesson. We pack headphones in everybody’s backpacks and a splitter, so there’s no fighting about watching certain movies. For some reason, my girls get along better when we have a splitter. Maybe it’s the “cool sharing” opportunity but it works.
Rule #3 - Puking prevention or containment. Half the reason parents fear taking their kids on trips is from those horror stories you’ve heard about kids throwing up on flights, in cars, catching a stomach bug that everyone gets, etc. Next time you are at your pediatrician ask her to prescribe some Phenergan and always keep some on you when you travel. Some adults will tell you that you shouldn’t give this anti-nausea med without a doc prescribing it, but it will give you peace of mind knowing you have it on-hand. I’ve only had to use it twice in my 12 years of travel with kids, but I thank God I had it. Once in Germany, when my then 5-year-old had a stomach bug and puked in our friend’s car racing down the Autobahn and once when my son had altitude sickness skiing. If you get car sick, and or notice that one of your toddlers seems to vomit and then “feels just fine” when you travel he/she may be getting carsick. Again, I’m no doctor, and you should talk to your pediatrician about any drugs you give your child. However, after my then 4 year old threw up randomly driving through a hilly part of Colorado a light popped in my head (Hey, she did this when we drove through hilly parts of Austin!) I started proactively giving her Children’s Dramamine on bumpy/curvy road trips and we have all been happier since. It can be hard to find, so order it on Amazon before you go. Dear Lord, if you ever have to take a cab from Gatwick to London in rush hour traffic and you or your child is prone to motion sickness TAKE A DRAMAMINE. Why you say? Start with British round-a-bouts + a group of you piled into the backseat of a stick-shift van + lack of sleep = puking or at the least, extreme nausea.
Rule #4 - Don’t drug your child thinking they will sleep soundly, and don’t fall for the old “they will all conk out on the flight” advice. I tried the “Give ‘em Benedryl” advice once on an overnight flight, and it was an epic fail. My poor kids were so sleepy, and the seats were so uncomfortable they just flopped and flounced around frustratingly in their seats. I now sell them on overnight flights that we get to stay up all night watching movies, and we’ve done much better. They will take short naps when they get tired enough, but I don’t expect a full 4 hours of deep sleep. On international flights, we’ve planned the first day to sleep as soon as we land, then set the alarm 3-4 hours later, get up and go spend the afternoon and evening seeing the sites. Then the kids are tired enough to go to bed on the new schedule. The “they’ll sleep on the flight” has also been an epic fail on the crack of dawn flights where you are getting up at 4 am to catch your plane. How do you feel when you have to get up that early? Cranky?? Don’t expect your little people to feel any different. Kids, just like adults are miserable when they have to fly exhausted, so don’t expect them to do any better if you are waking them up in the middle of the night to catch an early morning flight or skipping multiple naps thinking they will sleep it off on the plane. Tired kids mean more crying, fighting, whining, and misery for all of you. Sometimes you have to catch that inconvenient flight because of a delay or great price, it happens, just lower your expectations and pack your patience, so you don’t end up losing it too.
Rule #5 - Meet other families on your flight. If you are boarding with the family groups or just see a family with kids your own kids' ages, talk to them, introduce your kids. Our kids have quite often ended up sitting with one of their kids on the row across from us. It not only keeps them occupied (no, “Mom, can I use your phone, mine doesn’t have good movies on it”), it also helps them to learn early that there are lots of people they don’t know but have similar interests with, and not to be afraid to introduce themselves and to make new friends. It takes a village to raise a child, and also travel with them. We’ve met some really great families on flights. Group parenting on flights can be amazingly awesome.
Rule #6 - Remember, it gets better. Awful travel experiences are not a sign that you should quit doing it. Do your best to look back on a bad trip and change the next one to be better (different flight times, a different type of hotel, more research beforehand, etc.) And as your kids get a little older, bumpy travel experiences become the funny stories you tell around the table when they grow up. I honestly get so much closer to my kids & spouse via time spent experiencing new places, traditions and cultures (ex. lots of boobies on the cover of Italian newspapers) with them. Travel with my kids at 1, 3, and 5 was comical but we kept at it, and now at 7, 10 and 12 it’s truly remarkable for all of us. Good luck, more to come on travel tips and let me know any travel hacks or tips you love!
P.S. I just screamed at my kids on a trip home from NYC.
P.P.S. All photos below were taken with the Hipstamatic app on my iphone. ;)