Tips for travelling with children

Travelling with children

“Travelling with children.”  Sigh.  It’s almost an oxymoron really and mildly comparable to “leaping tall buildings in a single bound.”  Take small, restless, wilful, animate, unrelenting and unyielding creatures who don’t sit still for more than six minutes and strap them into the seat of the selected mode of transportation for six hours with only your (already wearied) selves to distract/engage/entertain.

You arrive at the destination, wondering for the zillionth time since you became a parent how on earth sleep deprivation equals boundless energy and how said creatures could possibly be hungry after snacking on goldfish crackers and chocolate biscuits at will for the last six hours.  You somehow manage to lure creatures into a blissful, only too brief sleep at the hotel, three hours past their normal bedtime, while you and your spouse sit in silence in the dark so as not to disturb this process. 

You start the next day at the crack of dawn (thanks to your children’s inexplicable, but at the very least predictable ability to wake up a full hour earlier than usual when put to bed late) with a clear heavily caffeinated head of steam ready to take on the navigation of a new and exciting city full of amazing cafes, pubs, museums, architecture and attractions (or whatever the vibe is of the place to which you have travelled). But, all your little ones what to do is play with their matchbox cars (which by the way,  they have never any interest in playing with at home) in their pyjamas on the hotel bed.  Cue meltdown number twenty-five since you left home.  It’s a toss-up at this point as to who is having the meltdown because somehow in this situation, everyone reverts to their inner child really.  Why did we think this was a good idea exactly?!  Would a day out at the community pool at the end of our street not have been absolutely divine?!  After literally coming face to face with this scenario more than once, here are the things we have learned about the daunting phenomenon of “travelling with children.”

Don’t leave the house without peanut butter and jelly sandwiches

You can never leave home with too many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  You may think I have randomly selected this uncomplicated tip as number one on my list, but no.  Seriously.  It is of paramount importance.  I cannot explain it. Perhaps Paddington Bear could enlighten us, but peanut butter and jelly always, always, and always brings a smile back to my buddy’s face.  It takes the edge off.  It disguises good protein.  It travels well.  It is good for breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner and therefore, comes quite in handy for restaurants in which you know ninety per cent of that 8-pound entrée your child’s menu (and therefore ninety per cent of your 8 pounds) will end up in the bin.  It is soft, gooey, and warm, it is sweet and savoury.  It is sticky, and therefore, keeps little whining mouths glued shut momentarily.  Just saying.
Stay happy

Sort out your luggage at home

Boy on suitcase

Kids come with baggage of their own and sometimes you find yourself knee deep in clothes, activity books, and crayons melted on your shirt from the less than generous seat space provided on the plane. And, at some point in the journey, your little ones have decided that you are carrying all of their stuff on top of your things and what seems like everyone else’s at the airport. Nope. Everyone now carries their own hand luggage. I am not a suitcase or a bag rack. If you have hands and feet, you can carry your luggage. Make sure that your luggage is small enough to fit the airline’s policy so you don’t end up with the palaver of shifting items into your suitcase at the check-in desk with an energetic child in tow. It’s not worth even thinking about. Check out the infographic below from Left Luggage about what size cabin luggage you can take on some of the most popular airlines.

Your essential cabin luggage size guide

Relax the routine

Happy child = happy parents = happy child = happy parents . . . and so on and so forth.  Check all the holier-than-thou parenting ideals regarding television time, nutrition and hygiene, I-phone tinkering, sleep routine, bribery and behaviour at the door you locked behind you as you departed on this journey.  Those intentions are from a past life and can certainly be revisited once returned to the safety (and piety) of your home all in good time.  However, upon making the decision to “travel with children,” you have catapulted your family into a hedonistic life, and who is complaining really, of daily morning cartoons in the hotel, I-phone tinkering in restaurants pretty much upon demand, chocolate croissants for breakfast, ice cream for snack, dessert after dinner, partying past bedtime on a nightly basis, and completely and conveniently forgetting that the small bathtub in the hotel could, in fact, manage to wash away the last two days of travel grime from your child’s body. But then again, bedtime has already been delayed by two hours and truly only a mother would notice the dirt beginning to build up behind his ears.  I dramatise just a wee bit, of course, but I-phone tinkering, mandatory pudding partaking, late bedtimes . . . all these things lead to one glorious important scenario.  More time in the pub for Mum and Dad . . . which brings me back to my initial statement, “Happy child = happy parents = happy child = happy parents . . .” You get my drift.

Self-catering accommodation!

To avoid sitting silently in the dark with your spouse in the hotel room as your child has a fitful time falling asleep because he stirs even when you breathe, three words:  self-catering accommodation.  Why, oh why, did it take us this long to figure this out?!  We’ve actually found these types of places to be comparable in price to hotel rooms and often times, less expensive.  You can spread out, bring groceries in, and feel at home.  Often there is outdoor space for little people to unleash any extra pent up energy they somehow forgot they had earlier in the day while sightseeing and at least the first half hour upon arrival, children are thoroughly entertained by the exploration of someone else’s drawers, closets, and cabinets.  Most importantly, children go to bed in their own bed, in their own room, with doors closed, and lights out.  Downstairs, in another room, Mum and Dad can, oh I don’t know . . . chat, drink wine, eat cheese, watch a movie, maybe even go so far as to get romantic, although passing out on the couch from the long day travelling with children is more likely.  But hey, the opportunity is there and if passing out is what ends up happening, at least you can do it without the fear of waking up your children with your snoring.

Let your child pack their backpack

Probably, this is a no-brainer, but a small bag of belongings that the child has selected that can be thrown in the backpack while walking around will come in handy during down times . . . and times when your concern for junior’s time with Daddy’s phone annoyingly comes sneaking back into your mind.  (Incidentally, mostly I joke about the I-phone, but on occasion, it actually serves a valuable purpose while travelling such as functioning as a camera for scavenger hunts or taking pictures of cool things in museums.  We’ve also even encountered museum websites that offer activities your child can do on the phone while visiting the museum.)  At any rate, my guy fills his little toy bag up seemingly with no rhyme or reason (at least to my unoriginal and boringly adult imagination) with things I would have never chosen, either on their own or to go together. But, I don’t interfere because when the time comes for him to dump this little collection out on the hotel floor or pub table, the unadulterated and focused playtime that ensues is always completely captivating, beautifully creative, and entertaining for him and us no doubt.  The endless plots involving dinosaurs, trucks, Octonauts, and Legos is good for at least forty five minutes of peace. Once that has run its course, I always try to carry a deck of UNO cards, a travel version of Snakes and Ladders or a sticker book because I have a tough time leaving my reservations about my I-phone time at the door.  AND….believe it or not, ultimately, pub time CAN actually be really good family time 🙂

Let your child have some say in the travel planning

This was an especially tough pill for the very independent-minded Keegan and me to swallow having travelled so much together sans child. But, truly, you cannot go on a trip with your child without allowing him the opportunity to have some say in the decision-making process.  When I think of it now, why would you even want to, how is that even fair?!  Yes, I scour over travel books and Keegan scrolls through tripadvisor somewhat exhaustively before departure.  Together, we come up with a good rough outline of the highlights WE think we should hit . . . BUT, we never put ourselves in a stressful situation in which we cannot revise, improvise, eliminate, add, or delete items on the agenda in order to hear Liam’s voice or to just simply go to the local playground for an hour.  For example, when we were on a day trip to Cambridge, Keegan and I would’ve been very happy to have spent the day walking somewhat aimlessly around the town to get a really good general idea of the layout and in doing so, we felt that a stroll around the Chapel of King’s College would’ve been sufficient, instead of paying the fifteen pound entrance fee.  Liam, however, insisted that we go in.  While touring these kinds of sights ad infinitum is not our forte, we yielded.  And SO glad we did too.  All three of us were floored by the majestic interior.  That is the moment I realised he should give input as to how we spend our day touring because inherently, it will force us to think outside the box and to see things we wouldn’t have seen if we hadn’t brought him.

Travelling with children is fundamental for development

And so I come to the last yet most important point.  I joke and poke fun at the meltdowns and sleep deprivation that inevitably comes with the territory.  Travelling with children is yes, without argument, exhausting, but at the end of the day, at the end of the journey, as the sun sets and everyone is tucked snuggly into their own comfortable beds, is completely and utterly one hundred per cent the most rewarding thing you could ever do as a family.  It doesn’t matter if you travel to a tent in your backyard for the night, the next town over for a weekend, or to a different country for two weeks.  When we are away from our home, Liam has our undivided attention in a way that life at home with computers and jobs and daily routines somehow doesn’t allow.  Exploring, sharing, experiencing all of these amazing new places, people, and things together and then being able to reflect upon it, to laugh about it, to remember it . . . in the end, it doesn’t matter where we went or what we did, but that we went there and we did it together.  As a family.  With children.

Tips for travelling with children

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Sarah Anderson (1 Posts)