Travelling with young kids — tips to survive
As we stood to exit the plane after the short flight to Toronto, another passenger looked over and said, “They did really great!” She nodded at our two little kids, a three-year-old and a 10-month-old infant.
“We’ve got 13 hours of travel to go. We’ll see how they are doing by the last flight,” I joked back.
A pained look crossed her face. “That’s a long day. Where are you headed?”
The sympathetic look disappeared instantly. As it should have. We decided to take our kids on a trip to Hawaii to piggyback off a work trip my husband had. It’s hard to feel sorry for us about any part of it.
Travelling with a kid is not new to us.
By the time my daughter was two, she had been to the U.S., Portugal, France, Germany and to Canada’s East Coast a few times.
Our son was on his first flight when he was 10 days old, but this would be the farthest he had travelled and the longest he had been away from home.
Based on our experience, here are a few tips to surviving travels with children
Check your expectations
This is something I have to remind myself of every time, but honestly, everything always comes back to setting realistic expectations and planning accordingly.
Let’s start with the flight. The first time we booked a long trip with our daughter, we booked an overnight flight thinking she would sleep the whole time. She didn’t. We tried and tried and she cried and cried. It was horrible. By the time we landed in Europe, we were all bagged.
I realized afterwards that the most peaceful moments on the flight were when we stopped trying to force her to sleep. We learned not to expect her to sleep no matter how long and what time our flights were and suddenly, flights became much more manageable. If she sleeps, it’s now a bonus.
Being realistic about what our kids need drives our decisions about where to travel, where to stay, how often to change hotels, and how we are going to plan our days. Setting expectations too high always leads to trouble!
For any long travel I pack a tablet full of Big G’s favourite shows and some healthy snacks. We also pack some paper and markers, and a few small toys. I have no problem relaxing the rules a little on a very long travel day and allowing her to watch TV as long as she wants.
The rules around snacking are also bent; if she wants one of the healthy snacks I packed for her, she can have it, no matter what the time. Smarter travellers than me realized a long time ago that you can pack a lot of food for flights without any problem. It sure beats buying something off the cart.
I’ve listed some important gear at the bottom of this post.
Don’t veer too far off the routine
This one really is key, but it was also the hardest thing to wrap our heads around. When we travelled without kids, we were on the go the entire day. With a kid that’s a one-way ticket for meltdown city. We realized early that when they’re on a two-nap schedule, you can have them do one in the stroller while you are out doing touristy things, and one in the hotel for a better sleep. In Hawaii we found if we were out close to nap time it was better to let them sleep the two hours in the car (road trip!).
Keeping their regular bedtime is just as important even if it’s a drag to be back at the hotel so early (keep this rule in mind if you are on the fence about travelling. You might want to wait until they are done with naps).
Get a hotel with extra space
Whether it’s a suite or just a nice balcony, you’ll need that space to follow the rule above. One night sitting in a small Portuguese bathroom after we put the baby to sleep was enough to remind us how crucial this is.
It’s also nice to have a place with a kitchen so you can prepare some of your own food. As awful as it might sound to be cooped up in your hotel for a nap and early bedtime, we’ve found it forces us to relax a little. We sit out on the balcony and do some reading during nap, and even watch some movies after the kids have gone to bed. It means we are a bit less frazzled by the end of the trip too!
Find out what you can leave at home
Kids need a lot of gear. Whether you are travelling to stay with family or friends, or heading to another part of the world, check to see what equipment you can borrow or get from your hotel. We rented an apartment in Portugal and the owner had a stroller and highchair, which meant we didn’t have to lug them around.
Remember to pack a little bit of home
My daughter has a playlist she listens to before bed at home. While we were driving around Oahu, Hawaii, she was struggling to fall asleep in the back seat. I put the playlist on through the car’s stereo system and before we hit the third song she was snoring softly.
For our son we brought his sleep sack and owl stuffy he loves to sleep with. We always pack a few books to read before bed and follow our regular bedtime routine. Everything is so foreign to them when you travel that little bits of home can provide much-needed comfort.
Keep in mind the trip is for you, not them
Don’t be surprised when they are more impressed with some rocks they’ve found to stack than the stunning architecture around you. Our kids would be just as happy being home with their own toys, friends, and bed. They certainly couldn’t care less about museums. Make sure you plan to do things they will enjoy. A pool is a huge hit for our kids, as is the beach, or a hike (just plan on going slow).
We obviously still find it worthwhile to travel with young children. It’s different, but what I really love is that it takes us away from the to-do list at home to just explore and enjoy new things together.
If I haven’t completely put you off travelling with your children, here is a list of some essential travel gear:
- Stroller: You will likely walk a lot more than usual on a trip, so this is key. If you hope to have your child nap on the go, you need one that allows them to lie down and has good sun cover.
- Travel crib: As I said above, this might be provided at your accommodations but you need to be sure. We tend to bring ours more often than not.
- Carrier: Even if you have a stroller, a carrier can be helpful if you plan on going hiking or other places where the stroller won’t be very useful. If you are OK with carrying your child all the time, you can even leave the stroller at home.