What to Expect When Traveling with Kids
You may have traveled the globe many times over. But throw in a toddler and a napping schedule and you’re in a brave new world. Traveling with kids for the first time can put even expert globetrotters on a steep learning curve. For starters, your other travel companions probably have better bladder control and a much broader palette. They probably have some experience sleeping outside of their own cozy beds or cribs, with unfamiliar sounds and lights.
If they need a special pillow or wooby, you can count on them to pack it. And even your hardest partying backpacking buddy never rolled around tantruming on the floor of the MoMA, or dumped Cheerios into the holy water at the Notre Dame Cathedral.
I did not heed the warnings. Friends and family tried to dissuade me from some of my early escapades. They told me that it could be dangerous, that I should wait, that my kids were too young to appreciate the experience. We went anyway. My friends were right, but they were also wrong. And I have no regrets.
If we let them, our kids will show us new colors, flavors and other hidden treasures in the places we think we know.
For our first trip to Costa Rica, I packed everything. At least, I thought I did. I brought car seats and cases of almond milk and snacks and boxes of diapers. I had toys and coloring books for the plane and clothes for every kind of weather. I had rain gear, piles of sunscreen and herbs (my husband and I have a Chinese medicine practice) for just about everything. Except motion sickness. My eleven-month-old daughter screamed for some of the flight and much of the scenic two-hour drive.
My son vomited twice. Ninety minutes into that drive, on a narrow road (the only one in sight) in the middle of the mountains, we found ourselves on one side of a broken bridge over a river 100 feet below. It had been temporarily repaired with two long planks of wood. Without cell service or an alternative route, we panicked and prayed and finally, after watching a rickety pick-up truck full or watermelons successfully make it across, we made our way over. Needless to say, I learned many things that day. And that was just Day One.
What to Expect When Traveling with Kids.
That trip to Costa Rica was ten years and many trips ago. I have since learned to consider the travel routes and modes of transportation. I have learned to have a change of fresh clothes handy. I have learned that I need to consider the kinds of public restrooms I may encounter, and prepare accordingly. I have learned to scan the menu for kid-friendly food so I don’t end up with miserable kids at an adorable outdoor café. I carry baby powder to the beach for my sand-sensitive daughter. I have also learned to breathe through many, many uncomfortable moments.
We have gotten used to finding ourselves in unfamiliar territory. We’ve been unprepared so many times that we no longer panic. We’ve developed coping skills. We’ve learned that we can actually find another pair of goggles that fits almost as well as the ones we forgot.
My children–now 8, 10 and 13–have gotten really good at packing for trips abroad and thinking about what they might want for the airplane, or what they might need to help them fall asleep. We’re better on the plane now, but I also know that I’ll probably never have to see the grumpy stranger flashing dirty looks at my fidgety kid any more.
While my children may not remember the details of some of the trips they took early in life, impressions have certainly been made. I regularly find their fondest travel memories recounted in their school assignments. They love to talk about how they found the names of our ancestors written on the wall of a synagogue in Rhodes, Greece, where my husband’s great-grandmother lived as a child. They embrace new languages, foods and cultures. Perhaps, best of all, they are curious about what else is out there, and they are willing to try new things.
When traveling as a family, it becomes more about the togetherness than the smooth ride. The powers of selective memory tend to take care of the rest.
As for me, I have had to adjust my expectations and some of my itineraries. My road trip up the California coast is on hold until we sort out the carsickness and find more kid-friendly activities along the way. My son has requested that I keep good surf in mind as I explore new destination possibilities.
I have also learned to relax and let them decide how they want to embrace each experience. On a recent trip to Washington, D.C., that meant allowing them to skim the inscription at the Lincoln Memorial so that they could spend a few minutes discovering how much fun it is to slide down the smooth marble that flanks the stairs leading up to it.
If we let them, our kids will show us new colors, flavors and other hidden treasures in the places we think we know. For each inconvenient diaper change and expensive uneaten dinner, there has been a moment of awe and discovery that we’ve been lucky to share with our children.
Yes, you may also be asked to leave a few restaurants or museums along the way, but I dare you not to laugh at those stories in a year or two. And you’ll learn to do it better with each new trip. When traveling as a family, it becomes more about the togetherness than the smooth ride. The powers of selective memory tend to take care of the rest.
Do you have experience traveling with kids? Email [email protected] to share your tips and advice with the Pink Pangea community. We can’t wait to hear from you.