There's no doubt about it - traveling is stressful. Traveling with children is even more so. Fortunately, a dose of ingenuity and good-old-fashioned preparedness go a long way to making travel with kids go much more smoothly. Here are a few tips from parents in the know:
Out and about with the baby
Many pediatricians recommend not traveling during the first month so the mother and newborn have time to recover and adjust. After you've passed the one-month marker, however, the sky's the limit!
The Hannons trekked from the United States to Denmark when their daughter was three months old. Christa Hannon, a kindergarten teacher turned stay at home mom, advises keeping relaxed and positive. "If you're happy, your baby will be happy," she says.
This was a lesson Lydie Thomas, author of Your Guide to Visit Paris for Free and Your Guide to Visit San Francisco for Free, learned the hard way on a flight from California to Australia. "It was an eleven o'clock flight, so I thought if I had them skip their afternoon naps, they'd sleep through the flight," says the mother of two. "I was so proud of myself." Until the plane took off, and she and her husband found themselves with two screaming overtired and overexcited daughters.
"They cried for an hour," she continues. "My husband and I took turn carrying them but we were too nervous to be efficient. Finally, they fell asleep exactly at the same time. It was past midnight, the whole plane hated us, and I hated myself for my poor judgment."
To avoid this, Thomas recommends sticking to your kid's routine as much as possible on the day of the flight. After take-off or before you board the plane, dress your child in their pajamas to send the message that it's time to sleep.
What you pack (or don't) can also make your life easier. "There is no need to pack everything but the kitchen sink," says Hilary Scott, mother of two and an expatriate living in the Netherlands. Instead, she recommends packing enough disposable diapers and baby food for the trip and purchasing the rest once you've reached your destination. "They have disposable nappies in all major cities in the world and every country will have baby food."
She suggests that you do pack ready-made cartons of milk, disposable cold-water sterilizing kits, dummies ("Pacifiers, if you're not a Brit"), and spare bottle nipples.
Both Hannon and Scott are fans of the bassinet, which should be booked in advance (the sooner, the better). Scott also advises checking with the airline to see what carseats they will accept and whether seatbelt extensions will be available.
Also, consider ditching the stroller and wearing your baby instead. Hannon says she checked her stroller with the luggage and toted her baby around in the K'tan Baby Carrier. "It was much easier to walk around the airport and going through security was a breeze," she says.
Wraps also make nursing a cinch, and baby can take naps nuzzled cozily against Mom or Dad while you walk.
Underway with toddlers and pre-schoolers
Here's where the real work begins! Whereas babies are content to nurse and sleep, toddlers and pre-schoolers need to be entertained.
Lois Jarman, mother of two (now adults), is a proponent of providing your little one with his or her own rolling suitcase packed with toys and other entertainment. "They hadn't been invented when my two were little, but just having their own bag to carry gave them something." Jarman, whose husband is a pilot for a major airline, has traveled all over the United States and abroad with her children, friends, students, family, and granddaughter.
Now that your little traveler has a bag to carry, what should go in it? Jarman suggests toys and books not typically played with so that they are 'new,' crayons and paper, and small snacks, for starters.
Scott chimes in with items such as snap cards, Duplo or Lego bricks, colouring book and pens, Polly Pockets, and anything else that can be packed into a little bag. "Depending on the length of the flight I might splash out on a new DS game, too," she adds.
Jarman also recommends non-electronic games like the Alphabet Game ("Do you see something that starts with the letter A?") or I Spy ("I spy something grey with a shiny silver buckle...").
"Be prepared not to do anything for yourself during the flight," warns Thomas. "Just be glad if you're able to read more than one in-flight magazine or go to the bathroom alone!"
But, rest assured, it does get better. Now that her daughters are eleven and fourteen, Thomas says traveling is much easier: "Both children pack their entertainment, books, music, favorite snacks and they're good to go for hours."
The experiences you will be able to give your child and the fun you will have with your family once you've reached your destination make it all worth it. And, once you have a few outings under your belt, even the traveling part becomes enjoyable.
"A lot of people thought we were crazy to travel to Europe with her at this age," says Hannon "But I'm glad we traveled when we did."
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