My family and I recently returned from a long trip: 47 days, 9 hotels/homes, 5 flights, 2 small children, and many unexpected changes of plans. We lived to tell the tale and be thankful for it! We’ve lived overseas for almost five years and are not strangers to travel, but we’ve realized the way we travel had to change once we became parents.
Yes, we’ve been the ones with a screaming baby on a plane and a tantrum-throwing toddler in the airport, but here are some tips we’ve learned along the way that help make travel less daunting with littles:
- Pack lightly. Unless we’re actually moving or going somewhere for an extended period of time, we strictly travel with carry-ons only! My husband and I share one, and the kids share one. That’s it. How do we do this, you ask? We take the bare minimum and use packing cubes:
- 5 outfits each
- 1 shared toiletry bag
- 1 jacket each that we wear on travel days
- 1 electronic device (iPad or laptop) to share
- Oh, and one of the carry-ons is a “car” our toddler can ride.
- Bring a few toys. Only bring toys that can be played in a variety of ways. In addition to the two carry-ons mentioned above, we let our 3 year old bring his own little backpack filled with toys and games, such as:
- 1 small set of magnetic blocks
- 1 set of markers or crayons
- 1 miniature coloring book
- Washi tape that can be used multiple ways (form shapes on an airplane food tray, create a hop-scotch court in a hotel room, or tear into pieces and use as stickers on paper)
- 1 toy car
- Small plastic toy animals
- 1 magnetic-shapes puzzle
- Stamps with ink
- Get creative! Some of our favorite play times this last trip included:
- Putting the toy animals in a bowl of used coffee grounds, placing a bucket of water beside the bowl and telling our son, “The animals got really muddy on the farm. Can you help them get clean?”
- Building a zoo for the animals or obstacle course for the car with blocks.
- Using hotel toiletries (toothbrush and Q-tips) as “paintbrushes” to paint water on a hotel balcony.
- Planning days around parks, playgrounds, or gardens.
- Keep your routine as much as possible. Of course, some of these things (like naps!) go out the window on travel days and when you’re on a plane. But your daily routine can be planned into the other days of your trip to help keep your kids sane:
- Make sure they eat when they usually do at home.
- Always have snacks.
- Go to bed at the same time.
- Have naps at the same times as much as possible. Sometimes I put our 1 year old in the carrier with a white-noise app on and a blanket over his head so that I can bounce him to sleep wherever we are.
- Plan the same play time, quiet time, and one-on-one time as usual.
- Make things fun! It’s hard to think of “fun,” when you’re dragging all your stuff through the airport and the baby’s crying and the toddler is whiny and wants to stop and have a snack and you’re about to lose your patience. But making these draining, trying moments into a game or an opportunity to find something to laugh about can help:
- While lost and trying to find a subway station we’ve pretended to go on a “bear hunt.”
- Through airport terminals we’ve pretended to be the 3 Billy Goats Gruff crossing a long bridge.
- We play chase . . . pretty much everywhere!
- Giving kids a job to do helps a lot. Our oldest loves to put his own backpack through security scanners and being in charge of one of the hotel key cards.
- Make a plan. Before your trip, discuss and plan ways to give yourself and your partner breaks and time “outs.”
- Airbnb’s are usually less expensive than hotels, and the kids have their own room. Win. Win.
- My husband and I make plans to exercise each day, whether at a gym or a run or walk outside.
- We each take the kids out one morning a week so the other one can explore and do whatever they want. I make it through frustrating moments much better when I know that I’m getting an hour of quiet time to myself later in the day or time to explore and grab a coffee the next morning.
These are our go-to strategies, but at the end of the day, traveling with kids requires a lot of flexibility, patience, and sheer determination to get through difficult moments, knowing that they are just that: moments. Whether, like us, your life necessitates traveling with littles or you want to know that it’s possible, it is! Traveling with kids can be a cup-filling, life-giving, and growing and rewarding experience for all involved!
About the Author: Bethany is an IDEAS Associate, educator, classically trained pianist, and mother of two young boys. She and her husband have lived and taught in China for five years. Enjoy other blogs by Bethany, such as Giving Birth Overseas. . . One of My Best Decisions.