After our three week trip to the US with a 3-year-old and an 8-month-old, I’ve learned a few lessons that I think would benefit most parents who plan on traveling with children.
Flexible parents = flexible kids
Many people were amazed that we were traveling with our young ones for so long, and to so many places. We slept in seven different places in six different states. Certainly having the opportunity to take three weeks off at once is incredible, but traveling with children is not rocket science, nor is it particularly hard. It’s vacation for god’s sake!
The key is flexibility. You have to take things as they come, be open to all possibilities and go with the crazy flow. If parents lose their cool (as I have a number of times) than how can you expect the kids to remain happy?
On our latest trip, we flew to Washington D.C. from Sweden. Jet lagged, the first morning we all woke up at 4:00 am What to do? Well, we got dressed, went to CVS, Starbucks and then we drove down to the White House and past the National Mall and viewed some of the monuments.
Then we checked out a few neighborhoods. All was good, until Olivia got car sick and began to vomit. It wasn’t even 8:00 am yet. On other occasions one of us could have become super stressed or angry, but not this time. We pulled over. Molly and Olivia walked a few city blocks, soaked in some fresh air and then got back in the car.
We drove to Dupont Circle and ate a great breakfast at the Dupont Hotel. That energized us for the rest of the day. We headed back down to the National Mall and checked out some of the monuments. Then it got really hot. So we went into the National Aquarium.
What, never heard of the National Aquarium in Washington, D.C? We didn’t either. And truth be told, it wasn’t anything special. I have been to better aquariums, but this one was perfect for us. Olivia was super excited to see Nemo and Dori and Herman loved the crocodiles. We had planned to go to the Smithsonian, but it didn’t work out.
The point — you’ve got to be flexible.
Read the signals your children are sending you
It’s always important to read the signs, to know if they are hungry or tired, cranky or happy. It’s even more important when you’re traveling with children. In our experience, it’s always better and more fun for everyone if you satisfy the kids’ needs first and then attempt to do what was planned.
While that may sound obvious, it’s not always easy. My wife is better at this than I am. I have learned a lot from some bad experiences with my eldest, Olivia. When she was an infant I would try to push the limit, to get more things done when traveling. That wasn’t good for her, or me. Now I know a bit more.
So make sure they’re fed, happy, and well-rested, which leads me to my next point.
Your children must be able to sleep anywhere
It won’t be fun for anyone if you have to go back to the hotel room or get in the car and drive around to get them to sleep.
The prep work for getting them to sleep anywhere starts before you travel, in our experience when the child is about four months old.
At four months, we started putting both Olivia and Herman in their cribs during the day for a little bit. At first, not to sleep, but to get used to that environment and to be familiar with being alone. If they would cry, we would pick them up.
Then, we would try to ensure that when they fell asleep, it wasn’t always when we were holding them. Better that they could self soothe (and I’m not talking the cry it out method). When they would seem sleepy, we would put them down in their crib or stroller. If they started to cry, we would go to them, rub their back and walk away. We would do this one hundred times if necessary. Of course, if they were screaming and going nuts, then we would pick them up. But only as a last resort.
At night, we started to follow the same routine with the sleep, the consoling, and, if needed, the pick up. After a few nights, in both of their cases, they were able to self soothe.
Of course this can’t and won’t always work. But I think for most parents and children, it will work most of the time.
Now when you are out and about on vacation, when you see that your child is getting sleepy, you’ll put them in their stroller and they will fall asleep. With some patience, this model will work. Believe me, traveling with young children is much easier if you can get them to sleep anywhere.
We took a duck tour in Boston on the last day of our trip. Both kids fell asleep while boating on the Charles River.
Why you should travel with young children
Children who travel early become more flexible because they have to be more flexible.
You are showing them the world. You are exposing them to new places, smells, sounds, foods and music. You are making memories for them. You are forcing them to adapt to new situations. You are teaching them that the world doesn’t revolve around them. You are showing them how to be patient. That they must wait for some things and that they can’t always get what they want.
These are all great things for your kids that they will keep with them for the rest of their lives.
This is not an extensive list of advice and I’m no super expert on traveling with children like Debbie Dubrow from DeliciousBaby, and many others. The above list simply includes some tips that have worked for us.
What has worked for you?