After several vacations with kids, I still don’t know if we have figured out the secret sauce for easy family traveling but we are parents with wanderlust and we made a decision long time ago to not give up what we love and to have a great time through it all.
We started with short trips when Asha was about 7-months old. And when those didn’t prove disastrous, we got bold and ventured out farther to Hawaii, Paris, Amsterdam, and Lisbon. I have plenty of stories of delays, melt-downs, transit outages, bad weather, bad accommodations, and so on. But at the end of it all, we never had a regret and in fact the good times always outnumber the challenges. Seeing Asha being exposed to new cultures, cities, foods, and people is nothing short of amazing.
While all our trips have been at varying stages of mobility, there are a few universal lessons that I’ve learned:
- Leave the toys behind and opt for one or two favorite books (and stickers).
- Buy bulk of the diapers and grocery items like snack after arriving at the destination. I don’t think they cost that much more and I’d rather not lug all that stuff around. It also forces us to go in a local grocery store and buy food items that we don’t get at home.
- Pack clothes for three days regardless of the trip length and use laundry facilities at the destination. In a pinch I have even used shampoo and soap from the hotel to clean a few baby items in the sink.
- Load the Smart-Phone/Tablet/IPad with age appropriate Apps. Now that Asha is older she likes to do puzzles or watch videos from Sesame Street to keep herself entertained on planes, layovers, and restaurants. We don’t allow for a lot of screen time outside of travel so it seems like a huge deal to the kids.
- Don’t pack for every random scenario and know that things can be purchased later when truly needed.
- Having less stuff will allow you to comfortably travel using public transportation to and fro from airports saving you even more dough.
A no brainer but worth repeating – Pick flight times that match nap/sleep schedules; overnight and red-eye flights being the best (I am willing to pay by being tired the next day instead of going crazy on how to entertain an awake child for hours in a plane). Recently we were not so lucky and had a direct daytime 8.5 hour flight from Chicago to Oahu, Hawaii. To my surprise, except for one mini meltdown, Asha managed to do fine. She napped for about 3 hours, played with the IPad, walked around in the aisles, played with her stickers, and socialized with other kids of which there were many. Devang and I took turns entertaining her; giving the other an opportunity to relax a little.
For kids under two consider still book a third seat or upgrading your current two seats. It was easy to carry Asha in our lap when she was little (under 1). Now we buy an extra seat or upgrade on longer flights even though she can fly for free until the age of 2. The extra space makes a huge difference and keeps everyone sane. Also, try and use airline lounges during layovers. I thought these were just for business folks until we used one in Copenhagen. It had a huge play area with toys, food, libations, showers, magazines and TVs. We felt so relaxed and Asha got all her energy out before boarding the next plane.
Stickers seem to be the only “toy” that works for Asha on a plane. She spends a lot of time pealing them, sticking them, repealing them….
After experimenting with apartment rentals and hotels we tend to prefer hotels even though they offer less space and are a bit more expensive. This is mainly because hotels seem a little more luxurious given that someone is still making our bed and cleaning up when we are away. They have guaranteed great showers which is something we have lacked in rentals especially in Europe where the water pressure or the water tank have not measured up to our expectations. The room service and a hotel lobby also provide good options to hang out and mingle without going too far. While I see the downside of being in a too touristy area, with kids it’s not a bad idea to be in a hotel in a touristy area reducing the time one might spend in commuting to various tourist sites. Another perk of a hotel is that most have a crib for no charge leaving the massive king size bed just for the two of you. We have used hotel wi-fi to convert our phone/IPad device into a baby monitor using Facetime or other video-chat App. This way when Asha goes to sleep, we can sneak out to the lobby and have a drink or snack and still keep an eye on her.
OTHER GREAT THOUGHTS
- Plane for some bad weather activities beforehand. Museums are a great place to explore on a very cold, hot, or rainy day.
- Research pharmacies and hospitals beforehand just in case there is an emergency.
- Don’t be a tourist with a list of activities to check off. Enjoy the place as if you live there. This includes picnics whenever possible, strolls through markets, and general people watching. We tend to spend more time in parks too which is where Asha can run around with other kids. As Rick Steve would say, plan a trip with the intention to return again. So pace yourself and focus on having a good time instead of keeping up with an itinerary.
- If your kids are young, invest in a good baby sling. Ours is from Ergo baby and comfortable enough to wear for many hours (on the front or on the back). Certain destinations (I am looking at you Lisbon) are just not conducive to strollers because of stairs, hills, cobble stones, or narrow sidewalks.
- Lastly, the biggest tip for fun travels is for the parents to be patient and kind to each other. Devang and I have this unspoken understanding that travelling with young kids is not easy and that each of us will do our best to make the other feel happy and comfortable. This means no yelling or finger-pointing, giving unexpected neck or back rubs on the plane, foot rubs while watching a late night movie, and letting one sleep-in while the other plans a morning activity with the littles. After all, it’s a vacation and everyone should be having a good time.
So while the frequency of our travels hasn’t changed, the way we do travel is drastically different. The slower pace has helped us come home relaxed instead of tired. The biggest satisfaction of course is to see our kids being exposed to so many new things. So set a good example for your kids and show them how beautiful our world can be. Go forth and explore!