The following post is by contributor Catherine Way of Indirect Observations and originally appeared in June of 2010.
The first time I took a big trip with my son, then two years old, I was looking forward to a break from the mundane, a chance to have some time to myself and the opportunity to have a few new adventures. After all, that is what holidays had been about before I had children. But that expectation nearly spoiled my holiday.
I found myself upset at my child for just being a child. I worried when he missed naps or didn’t sleep at night. I worried about disturbing other people on the plane or in the next hotel room when he wouldn’t stop crying. I worried when he wasn’t enjoying what were doing. And I got upset that I didn’t have time to sit and read my book or go and see what I wanted to see.
As I got more and more stressed I realised I was ruining my holiday. I was missing my son’s excitement at new experiences and I wasn’t enjoying the time I did get to myself or the new sights and experiences. Trying to make the holiday fit my expectations was making things harder for me.
So, I let go of my expectations of how the holiday should be and started to enjoy it just the way it was. And I found my son went to sleep more easily, my husband was less grumpy and I was enjoying myself. Nowadays, after many big and small trips with my children, I find it easier to relax and enjoy the holiday.
Here’s what helps me to get in the right mindset when I’m travelling with my children …
Plan Before You Leave
Before your holiday, think about what might cause difficulties while you are away and arm yourself with tools and information to help you deal with those problems.
For example, how will you entertain your child on the plane or in the car? What are some attractions your children might want to visit? What do you need to pack?
One caution though, avoid planning a strict itinerary, you need to be flexible and able to change plans when travelling with children.
If you’d like some advice about planning from a veteran at travelling with children I recommend Delicious Baby. At the website, there are tips about everything from what to pack to dealing with jetlag.
Relax, or Put Aside, Your Routines
Your child is sleepy, but it is not nap time. Let them sleep. Now’s your chance for some down time. Routines suit home life. When you’re travelling and everything is changing you need flexibility, not routines. I usually try to stick to a guideline of keeping 3 hours between a nap and when you want your child to go to bed for the night and leave it at that.
When something goes wrong, do what needs to be done and forget it. Whilst you are travelling there will be challenging moments. Imagine, your child won’t stop crying on the plane. You’re the person everyone is cursing. But thinking about that is not going to help you calm your child. It is probably going to make you tense and it will take longer to calm your child.
So, expect that things will go wrong but don’t focus on short term difficulties that come up. They won’t be what you remember about your holiday.
Find the Adventure
Let your child be the guide on your travels. I don’t mean only do what your child will enjoy, but I do mean work with your child’s mood. Let them set the pace. If you’re driving and your child wants to stop, then stop. You might find a hidden gem by stopping somewhere you otherwise would have driven past.
One of my best travel memories was made when we had to stop because my son wouldn’t stop crying. We saw a little farm shop and stopped, just in time for my son to give the lambs a bottle of milk.
Try the activities and visit the places that will entertain your children. It will give you a whole new perspective on the place you are visiting. And these are often the places to meet other parents – travellers or locals – who can further enrich your experience of the place you are visiting.
The thought of travelling with young children can be daunting. But it can also be a great adventure with your children helping to open your eyes to new experiences. Even the airport is an adventure for young children. Children are experts at being joyful and living in the moment, so follow their lead.
What are your tips for travelling with young children? What things have made trips with your children memorable?