It has been over two years since I started Sprouts En Route, and today I wanted to write a post that overviews the most important things I’ve learned about traveling with children since this whole adventure began in my life. These are the trip makers and breakers in my opinion, and I wanted to share them with you!
Pack for the what-ifs
When you travel with children you need to be prepared for unplanned situations, or else when something that isn’t on your itinerary happens (when, not if) your misery level will be significantly higher. If you are prepared you will be able to roll with the punches, and your flexibility will help you to stay positive, which your children can feel. Trust me, when you start panicking, your children will also begin to panic, which you want to avoid.
You should always have these things in you when you travel:
An entire pack of wipes, an extra set of clothes for each member of your family, water, snacks, a water proof bag, identification, some way to carry your little ones (under three) such as a stroller or baby carrier), a list of emergency contact numbers. With these times you can pretty much get stranded, and have everyone turbine without having a major family breakdown. Yes, I am speaking from experience. Here is a list of what I pack in my own carry-on.
Even though you now have your emergency kit for the what ifs, you still need to have some kind of plan, especially when you are dealing with kids because there are things they expect to do in a certain order everyday including using the toilet, eating, and napping. Even if you don’t have a minute by minute itinerary, make a general plan that includes these basic things. If you keep your kids fed, rested, and able to use the restroom, I promise they will be much more delightful travel companions.
Have reasonable expectations
When you are traveling with your family, you will be out of your normal everyday routine. Remember that this affects children’s behavior and you cannot expect them to act above their age. There are reasonable things that children at each different age should be able to do, but do not go above these expectations. Children get cranky, and sometimes you have to use bargaining in tight situations. Always keep something fun like a candy (or grape sugar candy for the health conscious) with you to use as a distraction when needed. If your child is older, acknowledge that your child is in a difficult situation and offer a solution. For example, if your kids are hungry you might say something like, “We will be able to stop for food in twenty minutes, I understand you are hungry, please hold on for a little longer.” Communication is important in any relationship, and that definitely applies to our kids!
Bring the proper equipment for your trip
Are you traveling with a small, wiggly child? Bring the right type of restraint. There was a news story about a couple on Jet Blue last year that had to be escorted off of the flight after their two year old would not remain buckled in the seat. A lot of people got mad at Jet Blue, but the couple should have had a CARES harness or a car seat, and their problems would have been solved. Need a few ideas? Check out my personal arsenal.
Not everyone loves kids
It’s a sad fact, but it is very likely you will encounter some anti-child adults when you are traveling (they forget that they used to be kids at one point). The best thing to do is kill them with kindness, and if that doesn’t work, don’t let them guilt you. Be as courteous as possible, when possible. Sometimes kids freak out, and adults have to deal with it. If you are a parent, you know what I mean.
If you encounter someone saying something rude about your child, just smile a great big, annoyingly sincere smile at them. There is no point in trying to argue that your kids have the same rights they do. The best thing is to let another person come along and shame them for being so inconsiderate. Strangers to the rescue! Don’t forget that there are more people out there that love being around kids. My traveling experiences have definitely confirmed that fact.
Avoid culture shock
Whatever you do, don’t depend solely on guidebooks to give the accurate information about the culture you are going to visit. I once made a complete idiot of myself by listening to a guidebook. If you are going somewhere truly exotic (for you) then try to find a cultural center near you where you can learn about the culture from people that are actually a part of the culture! If that isn’t possible you can also search for a blogger online that lives in the place you are going to so that you can get an idea of what life is like there. I know plenty of bloggers that would love to answer questions about how to best enjoy their homeland, without offending the locals. Don’t forget to spend time talking to locals when you travel as well. It is fun and really helps you understand the people in the place where you are visiting. If you aren’t considering going international, remember that even in different states and provinces, cultures is different and there are new things to explore and experience. You are much less likely to get annoyed on your trip when you realize that things that are considered rude in your culture might be acceptable manners in another culture. For example, in California, we like our personal space. In Greece, if someone is having a conversation with you, they want to be as close to you as possible. They aren’t trying to be rude by invading your personal space. They want you to know they are friendly and standing close to you is their way of showing you that. It is also likely you will get advice on how you should dress, feed, and treat your child. Even if you don’t understand, just smile and nod, that way the person you are being approached by feels respected. Of course, you are not obligated to follow their advice.
Be prepared, not paranoid
It is no fun to travel when you assume everyone you meet is trying to rob you blind. Make sure you know how to avoid being pick pocketed (the most common tourist related crime), and then relax. Traveling is a wonderful opportunity to meet new people who think differently than you. You may learn something wonderful! And in case you need a refresher on the difference between careful and paranoid, check out my two friends, the Misters, in this article.
So there you go, my quick list of things I’ve learned several years and two continents later. I hope it is helpful and you have wonderful travels and adventures of your own with your children.