Traveling with a child is a whole different ballgame than traveling alone, with friends or with your significant other. My husband and I are still learning the ropes, but to help us along the way, we’ve developed some tips to focus on.
- Honor Thy Schedule When Thy Can
If you’re a schedule-bound mama like me, travel requires a dose of flexibility. You might not always be able to stick exactly to nap time. You might not be able to have a meal in the high chair at the hotel or vacation rental. Sometimes it might make more sense to try to get baby to nap on the go (try!) or serve a meal on a picnic blanket in a park. One day of crazy naps won’t mess everything up so it’s all about balance. If you really can’t schedule an activity around a nap time, weigh out what’s more important. Is it worth a bit of schedule mayhem to take that tour? Will you regret not doing it when you get home? Then go for it, deal with the consequences and make up for it later.
- Thou Shalt Make Lists
Unless you’ve got a great memory, packing for your family trip will be a little more complex than it was that time when you threw some t-shirts and convertible pants into a backpack and went to Europe for two months. If you’re going to a place that still has big box stores, then you’re probably fine if you forget something. A run to Target and you’re good. If you’re going to spend two weeks at an ecolodge in Costa Rica, baby wipes or children’s Tylenol will probably not be as easy to find. Make a list of what to pack before you go. I generally start writing down things I know I’ll forget in the week or so before I pack so I’ve got a good, solid, well-thought-out list ready on packing day. If lists really light your fire, make more than one – a packing list, a medical kit list, lists for you, lists for the kids. Get as listy as you need to get. Or use ours. Here’s a list Suzi compiled so you can pack the ultimate first aid kit.
- Remember to Taketh it Easy
Travel can be challenging for families. As important as it is to go forth and adventure, it’s also important to take breaks. You’ll likely need more breaks than you did as a young, single traveler, both for your child/children and for you. Powering through a city for eight hours straight? Good luck! Instead, take rests throughout the day if you need to and be okay with it. Or mix in some low-key activities like a picnic in a park or a stop by a playground to let those littles get some energy out (and conversely let you relax a little bit).
- Thou Shalt Always Carry Extra Wipes
Spills. Messy meals. Blowouts. Wiping down airplane trays before or after your kids use them. Whatchu got? Wipes can help.
- Thou Shalt Not Forget Entertainment and Distractions
Maybe that magazine in the back of the seat pocket on the plane cuts the mustard for you when you’re bored, but the last thing your toddler wants to do is peruse SkyMall. Bring along some small toys and some books, but also be prepared with the big guns when needed – screens, snacks and sugar can do wonders in travel emergencies. Even if you don’t or won’t use those three S’s at home, if you’ve got a long road trip or flight in your future, you will probably not regret breaking your own rules if your kids really lose it.
Thou Shalt Remember That Nap Time is Adapt Time
Even kids who are on a perfect nap routine might have trouble napping while you’re away from home. It’s just how it goes. Even if you’re a perfectly scheduled family at home, consider being more flexible on the road and trying tricks you might not try at home. You might have to readapt once vacation is over, but it’s better than dealing with an overtired baby or toddler who has refused naps all day long while you’re trying to get some R&R (or at least, that’s what I’m telling myself).
- Thou Shalt Do Whatever Thou Has to Do to Stop Public Crying Fits
Baby is having a meltdown on the plane? Right in the middle of the line to visit that next big attraction? Refusing to sit still? Well, great. It happens. It’s time to do what you need to do. Let baby crawl up and down aisle of the plane. Bribery is also okay and probably welcomed by fellow travelers who are rolling their eyes at you and don’t know what it’s like to have kids yet (but see #9).
- Thou Shalt Make Sure at Least One Parent is Sober
Ahh, remember the days when you and your traveling companion could booze it up late into the evening? Yeah, those days are long gone if you’re traveling with a baby or kids. But that doesn’t mean you both have to suffer. One of you can party hearty, but one of you needs to stay sober because traveling is a big responsibility. Which of you stays sober is between you, though. Good luck with that.
- Thou Shalt Not Apologize for Thy Baby
Your baby might not like traveling. In fact, it’s a pretty solid guarantee that he or she won’t appreciate the finer points of sitting on a plane for hours, skipping naps or not being able to wander free whenever and wherever. This may or may not impact fellow travelers (just kidding, it will totally impact all of them), but that doesn’t mean you have to apologize for your baby. In fact, just say no to apologizing. It won’t improve the situation for other travelers and it won’t make you feel any better either.
- Thou Shalt Remember That This Too Shall Pass
At the end of the day, flights aren’t forever. Road trips aren’t forever. Babies who won’t take naps in weird hotel rooms aren’t forever. You will pop out on the other side of this and go back to normal at home. For now, just make the best of the situation and get where you’re going in whatever way makes sense to you