- Traveling With Little Ones: Introduction
- Traveling With Little Ones: Before You Go
All right. You’ve got a trip coming up and you’re planning on bringing your littles.
You’ve come here looking for insight, wisdom and all of my magical secrets, Pinterest finds, and Amazon purchases that are guaranteed to provide you with the most incredible and successful travel experience of your post-baby life. Right?
Well, if you read nothing else in this series, then you picked the right post. While I think there are without a doubt some useful packing tips, Pinterest hacks and selective purchases that you can implement into your family’s traveling, my biggest secret to having the best experience globetrotting with little ones is all about one thing…… your attitude.
Not what you wanted to hear, is it? I don’t blame you! If it feels like I’ve tricked you into reading this far, I apologize. It wasn’t my intention. I honestly, truly, whole-heartedly believe that the biggest factor in having a good trip (heck, scratch that, just having a good day!) comes down to my own personal attitude. And while we all hope for some magical success formula, that just isn’t how anything in life really works! Let me tell you a story.
When Shiloh was three months old, we took a four week trip to Kenya. We had been planning this since before she was born, so I had plenty of time to research and prepare. Some might even say too much time. For weeks I made lists, pinned pins, bought small toys to entertain her with, and filled up a carry on bag with every possible thing we could need including several sets of clothes, pajamas, blankets and every stuffed animal she owned (ok not really, but there were a lot!). The big trip finally came and guess what? SHE SLEPT PRACTICALLY THE ENTIRE TIME. As in, she literally slept all but 3 of the 24 hours of our trip (that includes sleeping while nursing!). I was so stressed that she was going to wake up that I didn’t get a wink of sleep and I couldn’t relax. I had completely over prepared, and ended up having to lug an overpacked carry on bag and diaper bag with a million things sticking out of it through the airports on both of our layovers. I was exhausted, grumpy and already dreading our return flight home…. even though it was four weeks away!
Fast forward to when Shiloh was twenty-one months old. We did the same exact trip, itinerary and all. This time, I did basically nothing to prepare. I didn’t waste money on a bunch of new stuff to entertain her with. I kept the carry on bag simple, and even packed a book for myself to read. While she didn’t sleep near as much as that first international trip (obviously because she was no longer an infant), everything was more relaxed and dare I even say, enjoyable?! Yes! It was a fun trip and one that we have sweet memories of! I honestly think 90% of the reason I can say this is because my attitude was totally different. That doesn’t mean it went without a few meltdowns or that we weren’t tired by the time we made it to our final destination. But afer that first big trip, I had learned the invaluable lesson of relaxing and rolling with it.
There are about a bazillion other blogs that give in depth descriptions of everything you could ever hope to know about traveling with kids from how to pack everything in labeled plastic baggies to the different types snacks you should have on hand to how to find the best airline seats. And so much of it is helpful! But just keep in mind- every child is different, and so is every parent. What some people swear by as their life saving method might not work at all for you, and that’s perfectly ok. You will find your rhythm, I promise! It just takes getting a few trips under your belt. But to help you at least have a good head start, I’m going to share a few things that have worked well for our family when it comes to preparing for a big trip in the remainder of this post- whether on the road or in the air. Please take what would be a good fit for you and your tribe and don’t feel bad about leaving the rest. Are you ready to get started? Here’s a few things to consider before you go:
- Set aside time for yourself. If you are stressed out, chances are your children will pick up on that. They will be following your lead, so it’s a good idea to make sure you’ve taken some time to get your mind and heart where they need to be before you leave the house. I know how hectic the days leading up to a big trip can be, but try and pencil in at least thirty minutes for yourself. If you are like me, this seems like the last thing you should make time for as you’re looking to get your family to wherever it is you’re heading, but trust me- this is important. Go alone to your favorite coffee shop or soak in a nice bubble bath. Turn off all the noise and let yourself relax and breathe. Then, take a few minutes to go over the details of your upcoming trip. I’m a huge list person, so I like to go through my lists to see what I still have left to be done (and I usually have to let some things go at this point because I can tend to be a bit unrealistic in my goal setting…), then I go over any flight itineraries, etc. and just give myself a minute to catch up. I try to spend a few minutes focusing on all the wonderful memories we are about to make as a family and I can’t help but start our trip excited and with a positive outlook. We all want to be the best moms and spouses we can be, and let’s face it- the more mentally, emotionally and spiritually prepared we are, the better we are to travel with.
- Take health seriously. Depending on where you are traveling, your kids might need vaccinations. Schedule an appointment well in advance with the pediatrician and explain your plans. Make sure your kids immune systems are strong by giving them vitamins, probiotics, plenty of water and sticking to a healthy routine. Make sure they are getting plenty of good sleep. If you are flying, consider packing some sanitizing wipes to give the seat and tray a good quick clean. Airplanes are notorious for germs! To avoid motion sickness, offer your child a small, light meal before you leave. If your children are old enough, talk to the doctor about what kinds of medication they could take to help with motion sickness and be sure to pack it. I also like to carry travel sized bottles of children’s tylonol, ibuprofen and benadryl in case of an emergency. Because Shiloh has epilepsy, we always are sure we have her prescription medicine with us at all times. It would be awful for a bag to get lost or a flight to get delayed and us not have her medication!
- Start talking to your kids about the upcoming trip. If you have small children, this can wait til the day before. If they’re preschool aged or older, it wouldn’t hurt to give them a few days to get excited and prepared for what’s coming. If you are going to be flying, explain step by step what that experience will be like for your child. If your kids are old enough, you can even act this out with them. It may sound silly, but it could help things like TSA check points go a little faster if they know what’s coming and what’s to be expected of them! Talk through how they should behave, what is allowed and what isn’t and if they are old enough, what parts of the airport and airplane they are not allowed to go to. Another way to help your children prepare is to read books about roadtrips or airplanes so they are more comfortable and familiar with the idea. Even with all the preparation in the world, it is highly likely that your kids aren’t going to be the perfect angels you hope they’ll be. But helping them understand what to expect will make it easier on everyone!
- Practice having your child sleeping outside their own bed. Will your child be sleeping in a sleeping bag? A pack and play? On a family member’s couch? Sharing a bed with a sibling? It could help to try letting your child sleep somewhere other than their own bed before your trip so that they aren’t completely unfamiliar with their new sleeping arrangements when you arrive at your final destination. It could also mean a better first night’s sleep for everyone!
- Involve your child in the process. If your child is old enough, you could give them a bag and allow them to pick a few small toys or books that they’d like to bring along. You’ll probably have to go back and add/ edit the things inside, but it can help them feel involved. During your trip, just seeing a few items from home will bring some extra comfort.
- Sort out the details well in advance. Call and confirm any hotel reservations, car rentals or airline bookings. Print out copies of any paperwork (this also includes copies of your child’s birth certificate, vaccination record, your child’s medical history and everyone’s passports), and keep them in a folder in your carry on. Read up on your airline’s luggage rules. Make sure you have all the numbers you’ll need in your phone. Look at a map of the airport and figure out where you’ll be going, and what restaurants are in your terminal if you plan to grab lunch or dinner. (there’s a great app called TripIt that has been really helpful to us with this part of the planning!) If you or your child have a medical condition, find out where the closest urgent care, clinic or hospital is to your final destination and write down the address and phone number in case of an emergency. If you’re traveling abroad, try to see if one of these medical facilities speaks english. Educate yourself with as much information surrounding your trip as possible before you need it. This can literally save your butt, and yes, you can thank me later.
- Have realistic expectations. Going into your trip with healthy and realistic expectations can make all the difference. Whether you are traveling with a newborn or a toddler, accept the fact that they are what they are- little! And little people will behave like little people. (Okay, sometimes crazy little people). But it’s just part of the stage they’re in. I rarely get embarrassed when my child hits her limit and is crying inconsolably on an airplane. Her schedule has been completely wrecked, she’s exhausted, and she’s been confined to an aircraft for the last six plus hours. She’s only two! I don’t blame her. In fact, sometimes I wish I could cry right along with her! Try to stay calm and positive.
- Don’t let other people’s opinions ruin your experience. We believe it’s our responsibility as parents to make sure that our daughter is behaving appropriately. We would never let her run wild through an airport or rest stop and do whatever she wants. There are rules and a structure in which she lives, all of which we’ve set in place for her. But sometimes, that structure can crumble. And sometimes, other people feel it’s their job to let you know you’ve failed at yours. It’s always good to be considerate of the people around you and try and look at things objectively, but there comes a point where you have to just do your thing. We’ve had a few people turn their noses up at us while traveling (one time when Shiloh was around six months old, a man let us know how annoyed he was because she was laughing too much… that one still makes me chuckle. People are awesome, aren’t they?). For the most part, everyone we’ve come across has been friendly, understanding and at more times than I can count, they’ve jumped in and helped. I do all I can to be mindful of the people who I’m traveling with, but some people just don’t like kids. If someone else has a problem, let it be their problem, not yours. Haters gonna hate.
- Stay positive. Did your flight get delayed? Got a flat tire? Is your luggage missing? Stay. Positive. Again, your children are watching you and taking cues on how to react and respond. Even when I feel like I’m going to lose it on the inside, I try to take a deep breath, speak calmly (and kindly), and not let it get to me. My husband is often the one who reminds me to relax and roll with it. Sometimes, you just have to fake a smile and then vent and laugh about it later on when the kids have gone to bed!
- Snacks save lives. Ok, so that was a bit dramatic. But never underestimate the need for plenty of snacks! Or, if you’re traveling with a baby, extra milk/ formula. Not only will packing your own food save you money, but you never know what kind of bumps could be ahead in your travel plans (think traffic, breakdowns, delays, etc.). It’s smart to be prepared. A plus for anyone flying- depending on the length of your flight, most airlines offer special kids meals on request, so don’t forget to secure that before you go. Full bellies make happy babies (and if you’re lucky, sleepy babies) at least that’s been the case for us!
- Book good seats. Our first long flight with Shiloh we got lucky and scored bulkhead seats without even knowing what that meant. Why was this important? Because on many airlines, the bulkhead seats have an attachment for a baby cot. Shiloh was allowed to lay in the cot (as long as she was buckled in) practically the entire flight with the exception of take off, landing, or any time the captain had put on the fasten seat belt sign. It was a game changer because our hands were free for most of the flight! And she was able to get good quality sleep. We found out that the baby cots are often first come first serve, so be sure to checkin early and ask for it. Sometimes, calling a day or two beforehand can help. (If you let your airline know you are traveling with a baby or small children and they will give you priority boarding as well). Booking your seats before the day of the trip is really important. I’ve heard horror stories of families who didn’t book their seats in advance and were then separated from one another the whole trip! Children as young as four years old sitting by complete strangers who refused to move at the parents requests. Can you imagine how that trip went? Even if it costs a little extra, I think booking in advance is worth it. Check out Seat Guru to find the best seat options.
Just because you were patient enough to read through this entire post (and please, don’t tell me if you just scrolled down to get to the free stuff…!), here’s a printable with my most valuable tip- Relax and roll with it. If I can do it, you can do it! You’ve got this!!
What kinds of things does your family do to prepare for a big trip with kids? I’d love to hear about them!
Stay posted for the rest of my series on Traveling With Little Ones. You can subscribe to my email list below and never miss a post.